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In Geneva, Europe’s most expensive place to live, unaffordable rents and a scarcity of dedicated student accommodation have created a challenging landscape for students. Many find themselves forced to rent sub-standard dwellings, commute from outside the city, or work multiple jobs and long hours to make ends meet. However, a beacon of hope shines brightly: La Ciguë, the world’s largest self-managed student housing cooperative, established in 1986, has been steadfastly providing affordable homes for students, offering a lifeline to students in a city renowned for its exorbitant housing costs. And today it has been awarded a Silver World Habitat Award.

A Pioneering Solution

In the 1980s, in response to the growing housing crisis, a group of determined students and housing advocates launched La Ciguë, a non-profit cooperative dedicated to providing affordable housing for students. Since its inception, La Ciguë has flourished, expanding its portfolio to manage nearly 740 rooms in prime city centre locations and becoming the world’s largest self-managed student housing cooperative.

Repurposing vacant housing

Around 60% of La Ciguë’s rooms are situated in shared apartments within vacant properties leased from public entities and private landlords. The remaining 40% are within eight purpose-built properties developed by the cooperative. By extending the life of empty properties, as well as adhering to rigorous energy-efficiency standards in new buildings, La Ciguë’s approach is both environmentally and financially sustainable.

Affordability at the Core

Rents for its rooms are typically 55% lower than open market rates, providing much-needed financial relief to students. This affordability is achieved through La Ciguë’s non-profit status, ensuring that any surplus funds are reinvested into future housing projects or solidarity initiatives that support vulnerable individuals both locally and internationally.

A Model to be Replicated

The World Habitat Awards recognise and highlight innovative, outstanding and revolutionary housing ideas, projects, and programs. La Ciguë’s exemplary approach to affordable student housing serves as a model for other student housing cooperatives around the world. Its impact extends beyond providing affordable housing; it actively contributes to making Geneva a more equitable, inclusive and vibrant city.

Gaia, 24 year old La Ciguë resident: “La Ciguë has opened a door for thinking about different ways of living and developing a sense of community.”

Vincent Gerber: Member of La Ciguë and previous resident: “By claiming the use of empty (pre-destruction) housing, the cooperative has shown itself to be a reliable partner for the authorities and various local boards, which have repeatedly renewed their provision of housing.”

David Ireland, Chief Executive of World Habitat: “La Cigue shows that, even in the most expensive city in Europe, it’s possible to provide affordable housing with community, social inclusion and sustainability at its core.”


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