Wooden construction and social exclusion, initiatives in the Walloon region

A look back at the experience of the Julienne Javel Association

Pascale Thys, September 2001

Habitat et Participation ASBL

To echo the project of the association Julienne Javel, whose goal is to involve people with social and professional integration difficulties and housing problems in the development and construction of their wood-frame housing, this sheet proposes to look at what is happening in the Walloon region and what could be replicated there.

Examples of actions implemented in the Walloon region

More and more architects and individuals are using wood in their constructions. Examples include the youth hostel in Saint-Vith, public buildings such as the forestry counter of the Walloon Region, social housing in Dison, constructions made by Public Centres for Social Action (CPAS), and many private projects, self-built or not, such as, for example, this private individual who used old wooden railway wagons to build a second home in Jalhay. The demand is growing significantly1.

On the other hand, very few experiences are initiated -mostly still at the project stage- for people facing the problem of exclusion.

The association «  Le 210  » - a reception center for adults in difficulty which takes care of all the problems of the person (accommodation, social aid, medical aid…)- has initiated a pilot project of construction of a house, part of which is made of corded wood2, for a family living in precarious conditions. The original project was to build the whole house in corded wood, but it had to be adapted due to some difficulties (especially financial). The Housing Fund for Large Families is supporting the project. The structural work will be carried out by a contractor (finalized for the summer of 2002) and the finishing, in corded wood, will be carried out (2002-2005) by beneficiaries of the 210. Some of them will have previously been on a training course to (re)acquire3 technical know-how at the Julienne Javel association. The building will be a good example of sustainable development: it will be equipped with a rainwater tank and solar panels. The project, in its first draft, is presented as an example by the European pilot project Igloo, for global integration through housing and employment4.

The coordination Integrated Pilot Action Camping (APIC) 5, based within the asbl GREOA (Groupement de Relance Économique des vallées de l’Ourthe et de l’Amblève) is looking for alternative housing project leaders among the population of campsites and residential parks. One idea would be to get the communes to equip a piece of land that would be made available for development with alternative habitats, particularly in wood. However, this project is fraught with difficulties: « innovative experiments » are not popular with the inhabitants of campsites and residential parks, who, moreover, have no guarantee of financial incentives 6 (some have invested in their habitat and do not wish to lose everything). The public authorities, whose objective is not to make the residents of campsites and residential parks even more precarious, are waiting to gather as much information as possible about the projects in progress before taking a position.

A charter has been signed by the municipalities of the Ourthe-Amblève region in order to freeze entries to campsites and parks, but the means have yet to follow.

Apic is also interested in other concepts such as :

We can also mention the makeshift shelters scattered in the woods8 or some caravan owners in the residential establishments (campsites and residential parks) who have extended their space by building wooden annexes9.

On the initiative of the Province of Luxembourg, Valbois Ressources Naturelles manages a project for the construction of a housing estate for the elderly, a compromise between the individual house that has become unsuitable and the classic retirement home. A dozen communes have responded to the call. The houses will meet the standards of construction for the elderly and the different urban planning rules of the municipalities (for example, some require two-story buildings). Shortly afterwards, a social economy enterprise should be created10. It would compensate for the tasks not taken into account by the communes (e.g. meals on wheels, garden maintenance). This will allow the inhabitants to live in another structure than the traditional ones with many advantages.

On a private level, a few companies offer self-build wooden houses. Like the Biospeedhome kit, for example, which takes a team of a dozen volunteers three days to assemble. Their flyer reminds us that unemployed people are not allowed to be part of the volunteer team.

Indirectly, woodworking is also used for socio-professional integration.

The Apides work training company offers training in carpentry and cabinet making for people who are excluded from the world of work. In addition to the technical training, the company offers training in citizenship, business life and refresher courses.

Elements to be reproduced from the approach of the Julienne Javel association

The advantages of wood in housing are well known. For example, wood-frame construction allows for savings because it is prefabricated in the workshop, requires fewer foundations and less finishing work, and can be assembled quickly. You can discover the many advantages of wood and get rid of erroneous prejudices by visiting the websites of wood associations and professionals. The Minister of Land Management, Urbanism and Environment also promotes this material: {"~resolutely modern, this natural material is (...) one of the greatest assets of Wallonia. Important sector of our economy, wood is also the symbol of a Wallonia turned towards the future and the respect of the environment. Used in construction, it allows, by its level of insulation, to offer a healthy, comfortable and environmentally friendly home~"11.

The Walloon forest covers 500,000 hectares of which 50 belong to the Walloon Region, 200 to the CPAS and the other 50% to private individuals12.

The Region, for some years, supports and promotes the wood sector in Wallonia through competitions for architects and contractors, the « Bois et Habitat » exhibition, various publications, the « Habitat-bois » competition, discovery days, training courses… Regulatory texts refer to this:

In some cases, wooden housing can come to the rescue of disaster-stricken populations. As, for example, during the floods in Picardy (France) in April-May 2001 13, where wooden houses « with all comforts » were installed by municipalities on land to accommodate the disaster victims 14.

Proposals could be made in terms of finding alternative housing for permanent residents in campsites and residential parks in the Province of Namur. Indeed, the Province has created a fund of 100 million to support local projects. In the same register, the experience of the «  starting premium  » in Estinnes15 could also be adapted for the construction of wooden housing.

Everything remains to be built in the field of wooden housing for the disadvantaged.

1 Ruwet A. 2000, pp50-51.

2 Masonry made of small logs of wood of about 10 cm in diameter and 40 cm in length. The logs are placed perpendicular to the face of the wall and sealed with plant mortar (sand, cement, lime and sawdust) on the inside and outside, taking care to leave the ends of the logs visible. The inside of the wall is insulated between the logs with loose insulation or rock wool batting.

3 The 210 has already built a multi-purpose room in cordwood 6 years ago.

4 This is a contractualized cooperation between ETUC (European Trade Union Confederation), CECODHAS (European Committee for the Coordination of Social Housing) and FEANTSA (European Federation of National Organisations working with the Homeless) to find and develop concrete and practical solutions for global integration through housing and employment. The platform has carried out action research on the issue and has initiated cooperation contracts with local authorities.

5 APIC’s mission is to find solutions to the problem of permanent residence in tourist areas that can be used at the Walloon Region level.

6 There is an experience of departure bonuses (sum granted to residents who leave their habitat in tourist domains), but it is only operational in Pincemaille (Estinnes).

7 cost between 13,000 and 25,000FB per m2

8 King Baudouin Foundation. 1999, p.21

9 Lemaire P. 2001.

10 One of whose goals is the creation of employment. This enterprise must be managed by the Provincial Social Economy Agency.

11 Carnet de route. L’architecture en bois : Région wallonne et alentours, Bois et Habitat, Chaumont-Gistoux, 2001

12 Ruwet A. 2000. pp50-51

13 Journal parlé de France 3 du 28 mai 2001

14 In the same vein of solidarity, we can also refer to the action undertaken by La Petite propriété terrienne in Charleroi following the risks of a slag heap collapse in Ransart, namely the reception of evacuees in houses that it had built in another district.

15 Bonus granted to permanent residents who leave the establishment in which they reside.


Ruwet A. 2000. «  La relance de la filière bois en Wallonie ", In Imagine, n°15, March

King Baudouin Foundation. 1999. L’habitat prolongé en camping et en parc résidentiel en Région wallonne.

Lemaire P. 2001. «  Le confort, malgré l’eau ", In Vers l’Avenir, 9 January 2001

To go further

Associations developing a social project

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