News & Events

PhD Defense Nele Aernouts

15 December 2017 , 10.30h, U-residence, Green Room, VUB Campus, Pleinlaan 2, 1050 Elsene

Housing the Social. Investigating the Role of ‘Commoning’ in the Development of Social Housing Initiatives


Neighborhood party of Arc-en-Ciel, the savings group of future residents of the Community Land Trust Brussels project Vandenpeerenboom. Picture © Cathérine AntoineEroding state support for social welfare, a growing social-spatial divide and increasing problems of affordability in cities have led to new social housing initiatives as alternatives to both privatization and state provision. Their inspiration can be found in a long tradition of housing initiatives that focus on the mobilization of shared resources. In the Brussels Capital Region, historically marked by a weak regulation of the housing market and homeownership support, these initiatives have (re)emerged due to an on-going housing crisis.

This PhD research brings together legal, political-economic and social-spatial perspectives to examine the socially inclusive capacity of such initiatives.  It looks at the way social and spatial professionals give shape to these initiatives and projects, and how their diverse characteristics relate to the social inclusion of underprivileged groups. Targeting these issues, this study builds on the notions of ‘the urban commons’ and ‘commoning’. These notions are conceptualized and studied through action research in two case studies in the Brussels Capital Region; a recently established Community Land Trust project and a post-war cooperative garden neighbourhood. Their conceptualization allows to give a critical reading of the strategies and measures applied to resist land speculation and to promote the co-production of dwelling space.

The findings reveal that such co-production generates benefits that go beyond the housing domain, building social capital and empowerment among deprived groups. The focus on the commons however does not ignore top-down/bottom-up tensions and raises questions about the development of strict design rules for the ‘success’ of the commons within traditional commons literature. Moreover, the research reveals that a focus on differential ways of building commons - safeguarding and expanding collective access and control over housing in varying ways, degrees and extents - might be more pertinent to tackle contemporary urban challenges and to offer meaningful alternatives in the here and now.

Please send an e-mail to if you want to attend.