The IBWA model – Designing housing solutions by, with, and for homeless citizens

Cologne , Germany Local social sustainability, Organizational structures, Relations to stakeholders, Target groups of housing


The motto “homeless building for homeless” illustrates the goals of the IBWA: Bauen – to build, Wohnen – to live, and Arbeiten – to work. The initiative integrates and qualifies homeless and long-term unemployed citizens, students, the elderly, families with low resources, and people with mental or physical limitations. It accomplishes that through the housing, support, and employment of this target group. The IBWA organisation is located in the district of Ossendorf in Cologne, Germany and works directly on solving the roots of homelessness.


Countless organizations are working in the homeless sector; nevertheless, Germany has 1.2 million citizens living this reality every day. Solutions normally range from emergency charity services to quick-fixes, such as temporary accommodation. Because housing is not recognized as the first thing a person needs to be able to get out of homelessness, investments are still made in services which manage the problem with temporary fixes like shelters, showers, soup kitchens, among others. What is needed is a paradigm shift towards the provision of housing as the basic foundation that a homeless person needs to rebuild his or her life.


It provides affordable and permanent housing to 130 people who are individuals with limited resources, families, students or formerly homeless citizens. To this day 400 to 500 persons have been housed already. Additionally, it offers assisted living support to those in need of it. Finally it offers job opportunities for all tastes. These three aspects are crucial for the initiative in order to create a community who build, live and work together. In order to access the success of the IBWA, a series of qualitative interviews with staff members and inhabitants were conducted. The IBWA has a housing retention rate of 99% and inhabitants have reported that they feel more independent, free, self-controlled, supported, socially integrated, healthier and more at home since moving in.

Why it works

Similarly to the Housing First model, the IBWA model is also rooted in user needs. However, it works with a broader target group and goes one step further by using the community as a tool to support the social reintegration process through group work, common areas, and participative decision-making.

“Self-representation of homeless people” to guide the collaboration hand by hand between service providers, policymakers and homeless citizens. Thus, the IBWA puts in practice two main approaches: a self-help group approach and a co-production approach.