Initiating, constructing and operating a cooperative multi-apartment building is a daunting task. Not only due to the wealth of issues to be considered, but equally because envisioning and testing relevant development scenarios for such a building is a highly complex endeavour. However, it is precisely with this “design” of parameters that such a cooperative gains power over their future housing reality.

OpenFRM has come to life to aid this ambition. It is an open-source toolkit that gives insight into the anticipated financial flows during the process of developing a multi-apartment building and throughout a 35-years period of running it. As it can be easily adapted to individual needs, self-developing co-ops can quickly gain insight into the financial / spatial feasibility and the affordability of their housing project.

Triggered by a new wave of co-ops

The development of this toolkit has been tackled with a young, innovative group of coops in five Central and South-eastern European cities (Belgrade, Budapest, Ljubljana, Prague and Zagreb). The housing sector in their CSEE region has been in a crisis of accessibility, reliability and affordability for more than two decades. Since the privatization of the (collective) housing stock in the 1990s, private homeownership has now become dominant (often more than 95% in these countries) while the share of social housing is marginal. Given the low average household income in this region and the exorbitantly high prices of real estate, a deadlock exists for people looking for an independent and reliable living situation.

It is not entirely surprising that this last group in recent years has taken the initiative to break through this stalled and “toxic” housing supply. They come to the same conclusion: where government and the market fail, groups of enterprising residents will have to take matters into their own hands. Since 2012, STEALTH.unlimited is involved with the Smarter Building working group of Ko gradi grad (“Who Builds the City, Belgrade) in forcing this breakthrough.

The challenge of outlining a new co-operative ecosystem

Now, in five cities throughout the CSEE region, several emerging co-ops have joined forces in the MOBA network. They are about to realize their first residential building – each in their own context. A pioneering step, requiring knowledge to be able to properly determine the scope of the projects, to estimate the risks and to manage these both in the short (development) and long term (operation). 

The open-source OpenFRM toolkit is developed to provide these insights. Driven by the pioneering work of MOBA participants and a development grant from the Creative Industries Fund NL, it is now available to any collective or professional tasked with this challenge.

Where to find OpenFRM

The tool can be downloaded as a zip package (including additional documentation) from the website, or – for those more accustomed to open-source development – directly from its GitHub repository.

It comes in the form of an .ods file (OpenDocument Spreadsheet file). You can open the .ods file with LibreOffice or any compatible tool.

How OpenFRM works

The toolkit is built around a spreadsheet with six different modules: Inputs / Outputs, Design, Build, Finance, Maintain & Operate and finally the Life Cycle Cost Analysis (LCCA).

Navigating to the Inputs/Outputs module, primary date about a project can be entered. Important is to understand that OpenFRM can be used as a tool to design a project or review different scenarios for it – not just to “validate” a well worked-out proposal. This means that with providing only a few parameters, you will already be returned some essential insights in a project.

From here, a more detailed overview can get generated. The Design and Build module provides an overview of the actual investment into the project, the Finance module details the structure and cost of capital, while Maintain & Operate brings the logic of keeping the building up & running on the long-term. The LCCA module finally shows the cash-flow, financial performance and viability of a project over the long term (35-years).

Where further development takes place

The toolkit is provided as-is, under Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 4.0 (cc-bysa-4.0) licence. As OpenFRM is not strictly working with source code, Creative Commons (CC) has been chosen above typical software/coding licences (like GNU). The full licence is available at the GitHub repository.

OpenFRM is developed and maintained on the platform GitHub. This is an “industry standard” code hosting platform for version control (work on updates, upgrades) and collaboration – and thus will not need much explanation for those active in the open-source community. On GitHub, anyone involved can contribute to the further development of the tool or can file issues about the currently active “master” branch.

  • [background ] OpenFRM has been initiated by STEALTH.unlimited and the team of Ko Gradi Grad (Who Builds the City, Belgrade), and collectively tested and reviewed within the MOBA network in a series of successive workshops and technical validation sessions. This involves close consultation with the Cooperative for Ethical Financing (ZEF, Zagreb) and the collective Sociálni Inovátori (Bratislava). Creative Industries Fund NL has provided vital funding to develop it as a tool for the broader community of emerging housing initiatives and co-operatives.
  • [timeline ] proof-of-concept January 2018; functional development August 2018 – February 2019, public release March 2019, launch GitHub repository October 2019