Affordable housing from Malmo, Hamburg and Freiburg to Fremantle.

Housing affordability in Europe, as in Australia, is a major issue and it has been a major theme of the study tour. What many of you might not know is that this European liveable cities study is based on a book by Peter Hall called Good Cities, Better Lives: How Europe Discovered the Lost Art of Urbanism.

In the second chapter Hall addresses the key challenge of housing by breaking it down into four clear challenges:

First we are not building nearly enough new homes. Second, we are not building enough of the right kinds to meet expected demographic changes. Third, and associated, we are not building them in the right places. Fourth, we are not yet building them to the right standards of best design especially to meet future environmental standards.”

It has been interesting to hear how leading cities in Europe are dealing with this challenge. This was area that that wonderful Malmo was still grappling with. It has not been as successful as it hoped was in providing affordable housing. While diverse and affordable housing was a key focus from early in the project, the success of the development that I described in the last few blog posts meant it became a desirable place to live and pushed up prices in Bo01. Following stages in the Western Harbour development have learnt from this and the third stage now underway will have 60% of the planned 600 apartments as affordable housing.

The German cities have especially come out with a creative way of dealing with affordability.

In Hamburg we did a tour of Haffen City – a redevelopment of the old docklands area. When completed Haffen City will have more than 7000 new homes, of which around 2000 will be subsidized housing. In total 12,000 residents will be in the former port area.

Here we looked at a family friendly high density housing development. These included a high density school which had most of its play area on the roof. Directly next to the school live the new occupants of a joint building venture of 55 family homes. This was built using a model call Bangruppen – a form of cooperative housing  and building groups that have substantially reduced the cost of housing. Peter Hall estimates that these cooperatives save on up to one third on the cost of housing in part because there is no developers profit (page 260).

This process is assisted by the city in which they facilitate bringing people with similar or compatible housing demands together. This resident group then pays a deposit and co-designs the development together with the project facilitator. Not only does it bring costs down and ensure the design suits the future residents but it also build social capital as everyone in the building knows each other before they even move it creating a strong sense of community in an area. Here are photos of the outcome in Haffen City in Hamburg.


This model was also widely used in Reisefeld and Vauban in Freiburg. Peter Hall argues is one major precondition for making this model work is that the city owns the land and puts in place the necessary infrastructure (roads, sewerage, water etc) to enable the development to occur. The city’s investment is then recovered by selling of sites to builders and individuals. In Freiburg this has worked extremely successfully and according to long-term Freiburg planner Prof Wulf Daseking the city in the end was never a cent out of pocket – it funded itself.

The other upside was this model resulted in most lots been sold to small investor and owner groups creating architectural diversity throughout the development. In Freiburg over 150 Bangruppen have been built and Malmo has taken this model and is applying it to later stage of the Western Harbor development to bring down building costs and increase affordability.


Jumping back to Fremantle a similar model is about to get underway on part of the old Kim Beasley school site now been redeveloped by Landcorp in White Gum Valley. A housing cooperative called SHAC (Sustainable Housing for Artists and Creatives) is working with Access Housing who has purchased the land to build affordable housing and workspaces for artists.  It is a great project and one which may will be the future of more diverse housing in WA. Watch this space – Bangruppen might make it into the Australian vernacular yet.

About Mayor of Fremantle Brad Pettitt's blog
City of Fremantle Mayor

5 Responses to Affordable housing from Malmo, Hamburg and Freiburg to Fremantle.

  1. freoishome says:

    How do Malmo intend to keep the affordable housing affordable? I don’t see the point in lowering building cost in highly desirable areas designed to make development affordable, if, subsequent resale just leads to windfall profits to the initial owner/builders, who sell at elevated prices due to demand?
    Has this been discussed within your groups and with these cities?

    • Paul
      Good questions and we have been trying to get our head around these. Bo03 in Fullriggaren Malmo is aiming for 50% rental apartments to deal with this but they are also aiming to keep building costs down to make communities as diverse as possible
      cheers, Brad

    • Paula Amaral says:

      Good question Paul. I’ve asked this same question regarding the Burt St/ Skinner St redevelopment. How is the City going to make sure that the mandatory 15 or 10% affordable housing remains that way?

  2. Diana Ryan says:

    It should be noted the Kim Beasley school site project SHAC utilised the now-defunct National Rental Affordable housing scheme, heavily facilitated by and dependent on the federal govt, and provided a lot of benefits for the investor at public expense.

    It was fraught with problems, and even during the time of the initiating Labor govt did not reach anywhere near its potential, despite otherwise being an excellent product (a genuinely low to medium income rental housing product that allowed those in the leases to save a sizeable home loan deposit if they so chose, while their rent was subsidized).

    The subsidy was 20% of what it would cost to rent a new home (in Fremantle, at Fremantle prices, I assume).

    This still leaves a sizeable rate of rent payable, so presumably one would have to have a full time job to facilitate this. I don’t know this would fit in to the world of artists – would be interested to know. I understand the design, rather than any great alleviation in cost, is the main attraction of SHAC.

    A lot of these “great” affordable housing ideas are not what they seem, and exist in nowhere near the quantities, still, today, that is needed when for many that is the only way to have a roof over one’s head and be able to thrive.

    That’s why it is important to have the long term local knowledge of how these developments Brad is previewing panned out, and that is constantly missing from these previews.

  3. Megan says:

    I do not understand why such a precinct is just for artists? This seems a bit self selecting and at odds with the social diversity and principles of equity characteristic of community housing endeavours. Otherwise it presents as a form of cultural elitism.

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