Spotlight: WGE!-Gemeinsam Wohnen

WGE!-Gemeinsam Wohnen is establishing a model of shared multigenerational living in Vienna. They arrange and supervise shared living between elderly and young people enhancing mutual activities and support while keeping the rent lower than the market average. Their services include a platform for single and institutional clients.

Marlene Welzl is in charge of Communications, Sales & Marketing for WGE! We chatted about how it all started, some of the difficulties the organisation has faced along the way, and the vision they have for the future.

How did WGE! start?

Marlene: It started with the idea of bringing young and old people together. We felt that there was a growing lack of interaction between generations so we wanted to create something that would foster intergenerational dialogue and solidarity leading to mutual learning and understanding. In order to put this idea into action, we identified some socioeconomic issues affecting the young and the elderly and thought about a possible solution. Young people from all over Austria and other countries move to Vienna to study–there are around 200,000 students here and they face rapidly increasing rent prices. At the same time, there are also elderly people who might need some help with daily activities or who just enjoy company, who live in big apartments and have a free room to offer. We put two and two together and WGE! was born.

What brought WGE! to Impact Hub Vienna?WGE!-Gemeinsam Wohnen

WGE! started arranging mixed generation housing 18 months ago and we’ve gotten to a point where we feel that we’re ready to develop the organisation further. We applied for this year’s RE: Wien development program and were selected which is great because it gives us the opportunity to get different perspectives, to develop and improve our business model, to explore different sales and marketing strategies while also allowing us to tap into the existing Impact Hub community with all their talent and experience. We love the environment here.

How do you find the RE: Wien development program so far? What does that mean for your organisation?

The program is great! We’re in the third month and we’re all extremely excited. So far, we’ve taken part in acceleration workshops and have received business coaching. It’s also given us the opportunity to connect and collaborate with other start-ups. We’re a small team of 6 people and we all feel that we’re getting the support and the outside input that we need for WGE! to grow further. It’s just such a wonderful opportunity for the organisation.The program lasts for 6 months so it’s a set period of time and that means the next months will be an intensive period of development for WGE! By the end, we’ll be closer to if not exactly where we want to be. It’s a great incentive that’s motivating the entire team.

WGE-Gemeinsam Wohnen 1Can you tell us about some of your successful projects?

One of our clients is a 75- year old woman who lives in the 8th district on the third floor of an apartment building with no elevator. Managing her day-to-day-life became increasingly challenging, so her son got in touch with us to help find a suitable roommate for his mother. We matched her with a 30-year old young professional who is now happily living with her and helping her with her day-to-day needs.

There is also a 55-year old single mother who works in Prague during the week. She lives in a big house in the 23rd district with her 16-year old daughter. While the daughter is fully capable of taking care of herself, the mother felt that she needed an older sister-like figure from a different cultural background so that there would be someone at home for the daughter to have conversations, breakfast and dinner with as well as have an intercultural experience. We arranged for a 22-year old student from Armenia who is studying English to move in with the family.

There’s one more that I’d really like to share because he’s a really cool guy! He’s a retired professor of architecture in his early 60’s who has a 200 square meter apartment in the 4th district. He is now sharing his flat with three other students. It’s great because he enjoys being surrounded by young people and the students benefit from his professional and life experience. Everyone is very happy with their respective arrangements.

Has WGE! experienced any major challenges?

It took us some time to understand the needs of some of our clients, particularly the elderly, and the fact that every client has a unique situation. In order to address these issues, we are continually redesigning and evolving our services to provide better support for our clients. Developing the proper legal framework for our clients was also a significant obstacle to overcome. Finding the correct balance that benefits both parties while providing adequate security was a bit tricky. There is also understandably a greater demand for rooms as there are rooms available. This is the main challenge that we continue to face: finding open-minded people who are willing to offer a room. For some people who do have rooms, they are hesitant to allow a stranger to live with them, which we can understand. But we continue to push our message and try to find open-minded people because we believe, and from the feedback we’ve received from our clients, that this experience is worthwhile and enriching for all involved.

WGE!-Gemeinsam WohnenFor people who might be interested in joining WGE!, what are some of the benefits?

The benefits for people using our services is actually everything beyond the living arrangement that we facilitate–it’s the environment and the experiences that are created when people from different generations spend time doing activities together and learn from one another. We help create this opportunity but it’s the people that create the magic that can only exist between them.

Think about the retired professor of architecture that I mentioned before. He has a lot of knowledge and experience in his field and one of his roommates is studying architecture. She is learning a lot from him while she is helping him with IT.

Another benefit of WGE!, especially for young people, are the lower rental costs. For example, WGE! is able to offer a 20 square meter room for less than €300 (all costs included) in the 3rd district. This is almost impossible to find otherwise.

What would you like to see WGE! become?

Our goal is for WGE! to become a sustainable social business that offers a viable alternative to the traditional housing market. Our long-term goal is to take our platform to the next level: everybody who is looking for a roommate, whether they just want some company or need some help in their daily life, can find the right roommate, and where everyone looking for a room can find comfortable and cosy rooms, regardless of their financial situation. It won’t matter whether you’re a private person or an institution looking for the perfect match. Through this process, we hope to create new communities who support and benefit from each other.

WGE!-Gemeinsam WohnenWhat effect do you see WGE! having on Vienna and/or society at large?

Our hope is that we create the opportunity for a greater understanding between generations. Our service is also designed to transform unoccupied living space into occupied living space, helping to reduce the need for new living space. Our hope is that this helps create a more sustainable housing market. We also would like to prolong the time that elderly people can live in their homes while also lowering the rental costs for young professionals and students.

How can Impact Hub Vienna members help WGE!?

Ask your parents or grandparents whether they would be interested in joining! While we are currently more focused on intergenerational housing, we understand that there are other living situations that merit our services as well. So if you happen to have a room and are interested in what we do, please let us know!

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Baldwin Tong A writer who wears many hats, mostly metaphorical ones.