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Best Practices for Human Settlements
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|Keyword:||Women & Gender equality|
The Women's Advisory Committees are residential consumer organisations that make an important contribution towards the quality and sustainability of housing and the residential environment. Plans are scrutinised and clients advised by expert volunteers. An example is the VAC Woonburo in Nijmegen.
VAC stands for (in English) Woman's Advisory Committee for Housing Construction; it is a residential consumer organisation which is active within a municipality or region. A VAC consists of women of different political and social backgrounds. The number of members per VAC varies from 5 persons in a small community to 15 in a larger one.
The first VAC was set up in 1946 through dissatisfaction with many impractical aspects of new dwellings that were a nuisance to the 'housewife' of that period. The idea was that much could be changed for the better if attention were paid to it at the design stage and account taken of a VAC Advice. The work of the VAC's was extended in the 1960's to the residential environment. The orientation was also broadened, from the interest of the housewife to those of the residential consumer generally. The chief activities of VAC's at present are the assessment of plans for dwellings and the residential environment (land use plan, traffic plans etc.), and giving advice on them. In this connection, the VAC's form part of construction and planning teams and maintain a regular dialogue with the local authorities, builders and housing associations. The organisation now compromises a national network spread over 280 municipalities and coordinated by a central office in Utrecht.
Until recently, local VAC's consisted entirely of volunteers who were trained in
assessing plans. However, it became increasingly evident that, because of the nature and
quantity of the work, there was a need for paid professional support. The VAC Woonburo
('Residential Agency') was therefore set up in Nijmegen in 1991. The VAC Woonburo is one
of three experiments with professional support points in the Netherlands. Other
initiatives exist in The Hague and Assen.
The setting up of the Woonburo was preceded by a market analyse to determine whether, and how, cost-effective operation would be possible following the trial period of three years (up to the end of 1993). Various activities were started on the basis of this: advice to housing developers, advice on the residential environment and self promotion. During the VAC Woonburo' trial period, a great deal of attention was paid to self-promotion. They wanted to make sure that Woonburo became a byword with professional developers and residential customers.
Advice on housing construction varies from a list of requirements for design to
specifications, implementation and management. Aspects such as flexibility, sustainability
and the internal environment receive a great deal of attention. Commissions come
particularly from individual builders, project developers and local authorities. Advice on
residential environments relates to urban development studies, district management plan
and policy plans. Safety, mixing of functions and accessibility are important themes. The
Woonburo is also structurally involved in the planning of the Waalsprong, a new
neighbourhood of 12,000 dwellings now under construction near Nijmegen. Requests for
advice on the residential environment generally come from the municipalities. In addition,
the Woonburo has a public desk where anyone can obtain information on housing and the
The Woonburo's initiative has streamlined the organisation of the VAC. Volunteers
concentrate on checking plans while the Woonburo undertakes all administrative and
recruitment activities. The office also maintains contact with local authorities and
builders. To prevent a gap developing between professionals and volunteers, particular
attention is paid to joint training. The VAC Woonburo operates regionally. Consequently,
it works in more municipalities than just Nijmegen. For this purpose, VAC Woonburo panels
have been set up with volunteers for local projects in various municipalities beyond
The Woonburo was subsidised by the municipality, the Nijmegen Employment Exchange and the province of Gelderland during the trial period (1990-1993). VAC Woonburo has therefore been operating as a semi-commercial residential consumer organisation since 1993. Advice is offered at cost price, the price being kept very low by relying on volunteers.
VAC Nijmegen Volunteer Association, Nijmegen
Housing Experiments Steering Committee (SEV), Rotterdam
Nijmegen Employment Exchange, Nijmegen
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