The NieuwLand residential group in Amsterdam-Oost consists of 11 people and a cat. NieuwLand was set up by the housing association Soweto and is a product of the squatters' movement. The core values of the project are self-reliance and solidarity: “Our group is based on the principles of community life, community organisation and radical emancipation. We seek consensus in making decisions, we share all the spaces except for our private rooms and we pay income-adjusted social rent covering all shared expenses, including food.”
What does self-isolation mean in communal spaces that are based on sharing and living with several people?
“Because we share basic spaces such as the kitchen, bathroom and living room, we consider each other as family members or intimate contacts. This entails a relatively increased risk of exposure compared to a person living alone, who can self-isolate completely if desired. This increased risk brings more responsibility: we have revised our hygiene protocols, set limits on the number of guests and visitors, and we are taking a number of related precautions in our daily lives. We have collected our guidelines in a joint document and shared it with other residential communities. This is the document we circulated during the start of lockdown.”
Has Covid-19, or the subsequent government action, affected or endangered your way of living together?
“Considering how many people were lonely during the lockdown period, we were fortunate with our much more vibrant social and domestic way of living. We have introduced regular corona check-ups to keep each other informed, sort out practicalities and support each other emotionally. We sometimes joke that this period is the culmination of our “commune experience”, with communal meals and gardening together, odd jobs, playing games, watching movies, jam sessions and karaoke and all. The housing association, Soweto, also immediately reduced our rent for three months, even before the government announced any financial measures. If the advantages of recent times show anything, it's that in times of crisis a solidarity-based economy and collective forms of living together can be a lot more resilient.”
What forms of mutual solidarity blossomed during this period?
“As both our guest room and our public space were in danger of becoming under-used, we have started using them differently and extended our solidarity to the most vulnerable. We have loaned our guest room to a friend with no home and income for a longish period of time and, thanks to the unbridled efforts of our friends from Here To Support, our public space has been converted into a day care centre for the refugee collective We Are Here.
It is a real shame that the city has not requisitioned empty hotels to provide shelter for homeless people, undocumented asylum seekers and those affected by domestic violence.”
This conversation is part of a series of interviews and contributions on the concept of “domestic solidarity”, or solidarity within alternative forms of housing and cohabitation. The other contributions were created in dialogue with representatives of Macao, Enterprise Community Partners Chicago, Pension Almonde and We Sell Reality, among others. The series builds on the long-running Architecture of Appropriation project, which investigates, archives and represents the vulnerable, collective and often criminalised spatial practice of the squatters' movement.