In Berlin, the situation of refugees is particularly difficult due to the housing shortage. As a state company, degewo has undertaken to offer a minimum number of housing opportunities to refugees each year.
When the state of Berlin ceded a plot of some 15,000 square, the debate about the modular refugee shelters and the negative perception of the neighbours was at its height.
We had the idea early on of setting up one of our many new construction projects in Berlin-Köpenick as a model for integrative housing instead of building modular housing for some 500 refugees as usual. Such emergency shelters are only good as an initial solution. Regarding the existing structures and the surroundings, characterised by detached houses, another, smaller and more sensitive solution was required, one without fencing, containers, and guards.
The overarching goal was to develop a future-proof urban concept with mixed-use new residential construction that actively supports the integration of refugees through varied offerings and that is marked by the early inclusion of future users and neighbours. A total of 164 apartments were to be built using funds for housing construction from the state of Berlin. Half of the apartments were to be used by refugees with a right of residence, and half by non-refugee (new) Berliners.
In the Treptow-Köpenick district, the elderly share of the population is above average, and the share of immigrants is just 3%. At the same time, we had to consider that housing refugees in the neighbourhood would trigger concerns and worries among the neighbours. The aim was to address prejudices early on and to ease the neighbours’ fears through plentiful information, openness and transparency.
In degewo’s view, integration only works by providing access to transport and social infrastructure. It also requires communal areas and a caretaker on-site to answer the residents’ needs and act as a mediator. The new neighbourhood provides 164 rental apartments, a residents’ café, communal rooms, tenants’ gardens and an integration office. The intercultural day-care centre with a 100 places capacity is also open to children from the surrounding area. For cohabitation to function in the ToM integrative residential project, we concluded a partnership agreement with Internationaler Bund (IB), which, as a social welfare agency.
Berlin is growing, and everybody needs a place to live – including refugees. Emergency shelters are only a short-term solution. In 2016, degewo started a pilot project in the Köpenick area of Berlin and developed a neighbourhood that aims to turn old and new Berliners into good neighbours. For degewo, the pilot project ToM – Tolerantes Miteinander (“living together in tolerance”) is the first construction project combining the issues of housing and integration. It aims to show how a housing company can contribute to tenants from different cultural backgrounds not merely living next to each other but becoming true neighbours.
The ToM housing project aims to show a novel way to integrate refugees.
The pilot integrative residential project ToM was completed in autumn 2020. Full occupancy was achieved in the summer of 2021. Today people from 17 countries live here together peacefully. The residents are proud of their community and enjoy harmonious cohabitation, including with the residents from the neighbouring areas. The multicultural activities are well appreciated and are seen as an added benefit. The tenants now have the chance for an independent life with their own apartment, and access to education and social contacts in their neighbourhood.
One of the keys to success is the communal areas: the tenant gardens, the communal rooms with a diverse offer including language courses and collaborative cooking, and a residents’ café. Tenants who have been in Germany long can “sponsor” the new arrivals, help them with language acquisition or assist with bureaucratic tasks.
One challenge, and an element of the innovative participative concept, was the early implementation of a neighbourhood assembly even before the building application and with the participation of the urban planning authority. Worries about the ghettoization of the neighbourhood were openly aired, prejudices countered through information and fears addressed through openness and transparency.
ToM has set new benchmarks for intercultural renting processes. In cooperation with the social welfare agency Internationaler Bund (IB), it was ensured that the refugees were always accompanied by a helpful social worker and interpreter during apartment viewings, contract negotiations and handovers. This ensured that the rental contract, with its rights and its obligations, is clear to all participants and the “new arrivals” can feel at home here.
At the “ToM office” for residents, two social workers provided by the cooperation partner Internationaler Bund (IB) are available for questions and suggestions; for the first two years at least, these will be paid for by degewo. They provide free support and advice on family, health, finances, education, residence and work issues. Furthermore, communal rooms and sponsorships between tenants supplement the varied social offering. A multilingual caretaker is also on call for the tenants and can also mediate conflicts.