How a Public Housing Authority Transformed a Neighborhood in Germany

The debate is there.  Should a social housing company focus all energy on being an excellent housing provider?  Why worry about social issues when there are other agencies who can focus on these themes.  Many public housing agencies in the USA are looking for ways to improve the social situations for families and residents in our programs. For many agencies this comes in the form of hiring social workers, community builders and family self-sufficiency specialist.  These agencies believe they must be directly involved with improving the social aspect of families’ life’s.  The level of help is often very micro focusing on the individual or family.  Other housing authorities only partner with other organizations to bring extra services and opportunities to the families we serve.  Regardless of the varying models employed, the debate exists to a social housing companies place in providing community services and social help.

In Germany, there is no national Family Self Sufficiency program funded by a central government for social housing companies.  In fact, the social housing industry is so decentralized every separate state can develop completely different policy on how to handle social housing. Social housing companies are not only different but the politics and administration vary depending on the nature of the State.  It goes without saying the types of social programs or asset building operated by social housing companies are also widely different.  My focus today is a program called Quatiersmanagment (QM) at the social housing company in Hannover the Gesellschaft für Bauen und Wohnen (GBH.)

QM might loosely translate to neighborhood development. The concept of QM varies depending on the organization delivering the program in Germany.  The idea of QM is rooted in another program launched in 1999 called “Social City”.  The focus of Social City is on disadvantaged neighborhoods.  In 2007, over 500 neighborhoods participated in the program throughout Germany with around 50 new neighborhoods joining yearly.  Billions of euros funded the program since inception.  Part of the toolkit for Social City includes targeted investment of municipal resources, incorporation of neighborhood, management process into citywide development strategy and activation/empowerment and participation of local residents/players. [1]

The Social City program created the need for a targeted approach for integrated neighborhood planning, community building and local activism.  Enter GBH the social housing company in Hannover.  The city of Hannover is the major player in organizing and developing Social City but GBH saw an opportunity to join the city and play a role in the neighborhoods where their families and residents live.

QM at the GBH ha accomplished an incredible amount for the few resources invested.  The GBH took on a facilitator role in ensuring important community development activities were completed in four different parts of Hannover. It is an interesting case study in how skilled partnering and relentless effort can make a major impact on the lives of residents throughout an entire neighborhood.

Economic Development

QM specialist Carsten Tech met with me to discuss the work done in one specific district of Hannover Linden Süd.  The neighborhood suffered from empty storefronts and a lack of retail.  QM worked with neighborhood groups to hold a clothing design contest for up and coming clothing designers.  Six winners were chosen.  GBH who owned many of the empty shop spaces awarded these places rent free to the designers for a period of two years.  The activity created a spark that had been missing.  Synergies begin to build and over the following years the storefronts in the area filled in.  Although the designers moved on, all of the spaces are full and renters pay full rent.  The neighborhood continues to benefit from the concept launched by QM.  Carsten informed me that QM continues to work with the neighborhood companies to ensure that the spaces are full and interested parties are connected when a vacancy arises.

Carsten sees the yearly street festival as another big event that brings economic development and interest to the neighborhood.  QM works with partners in the community and neighborhood to plan a large summer street festival.  The event requires a significant amount of funding.  Carsten along with partners works with the city and local shops to ensure the event can take place each summer.  This brings not only thousands of people to the neighborhood but creates a lasting effect throughout the year. QM does not do all of the planning on its own but is an important player in this activity and other forms of economic development in the district.

Increase Attractiveness of Neighborhood

QM works within the neighborhood for the betterment of not only public spaces but the total image.  Examples include marketing campaigns, cleaning up of public spaces and competition to make areas of the city more attractive for residents to use.  A marketing campaign launched a few years ago included postcards, factsheets, and informational pamphlets about the neighborhood. QM did not launch the campaign itself but guided the process to ensure partners and stakeholders were included.  Residents and local business felt a sense of pride because of the campaign.  Neighborhood marketing does not normally fall into the purview of a social housing company.  The willingness to adapt to the situation opened up an opportunity for QM to make a meaningful impact on the image of Linden Süd.

Increasing attractiveness of Linden Süd did not stop at marketing.  Several physical efforts changed the dynamic of the neighborhood for the better.  QM developed a working group to address spaces throughout the district seen as dangerous, unfriendly or full of blight.  The working group signed a contract with a property owner for an empty piece of land that was not in use.  This allowed residents to turn the space once filled with garbage into a community garden.  A children’s playground in disarray cleaned up and painted.  QM partnered with the city to involve students throughout the district to pick up garbage and clean up the district. Partnerships were also responsible for bag stations to clean up dog mess and safety signs for barbequing being placed in a parks.  These are all examples of work that QM took on in conjunction with partners and working groups in Linden Süd.

Supporting the Neighborhood School and Youth

The primary school in Linden Süd called Egestorff does not enjoy a good reputation.  The school children population is made up of many immigrants.  This causes some parents to find other schools for their children to go to.  The social mix in the school continues to worsen because of the bad image which is not good for the school, the children or the neighborhood.  QM believes it is important to support the school because they are often cornerstones of a neighborhood.  QM worked with the school and partners to set up moderated dialogues between parents who cared for the school and wanted to help and teachers/administrators.  The work in the school continues to develop with the idea of increasing registrations, improving the overall performance in the school, an open dialogue with families in the area about the school and an overall willingness of all parties to help the school succeed.  This includes a recent brochure that answers the questions many families ask about the school in a clear and transparent manner.

QM also organizes events for children in the area.  One agency called Offene Kinder+Jugendarbeit gives opportunities for children in the summer to take part in meaningful activities and skill development courses.  QM worked with a local group to create a local meeting place in Linden Süd called Trefftpunkt Allerweg.  The coffee shop serves not only coffee and tea but is a place locals can gather and take part of learning opportunities.  The meeting point offers German training for free for refugees and immigrant children and their parents.  On top of these events, QM helps organize family conferences and events to support youth on a regular basis.

This blog is only meant to give a short case study on what one social housing company is doing to support community development.  There are other stories about the support for refugees from Syria or work being done to help elderly and countless other examples here in Hannover.  What is really interesting in this case is the employee doing this, only spends 20 hours a week in QM.  The rest of his time is spent supporting an elderly program called WohnenPlus.  This gives insight into how targeted coordination can make a very large impact into the lives of families in social housing.  The argument may continue on as to the role social housing companies should play in education, job training and neighborhood development.  The example in Hannover shows a little investment can pay high dividends.

[1] The Program Social City- http://www.kenniscentrumvlaamsesteden.be/kennisbank/beleidsdomeinen/wijkwerking/Documents/presentatie-difu–wolf-christian-strauss.pdf

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