Bielsko-Biala, Poland: Interviews

Malgorzata Lyko


With an engineering diploma, Malgorzata has been active in the construction sector in various roles since the early 1990’s. After joining the first group of CHF trainees in 1994, she established her own AWIM-Bielsko with main areas of business identified broadly as: new construction; planning and complex management of construction projects; project quality oversight and inspection services; and housing advisory services. She continued managing the business over many years, producing additional housing in Bielsko-Biala, and later specializing in construction oversight and supervision. In the summer, she likes to travel with her husband to various locations where his choir group is invited to sing….this year, it is Barcelona, Spain!

"Straconka" development was completed in 1996. It attracted attention with its novel row-house design.

Malgorzata: Even though I had my engineering diploma, I was willing to join the program and learn "on the job" while working with CHF advisors. We learned about the entire process of organization, planning, complex preparation, and execution of an investment project. This was quite intense and very practical and the results were seen quickly. Between 1994 and 2015 AWIM-Bielsko completed:

  • 147 row-houses (at various locations, one of the first ones was ‘Straconka’, pictured right),
  • 3 single-family homes and
  • 1 multi-family building.

Among these units, 128 were built through a local housing cooperative which AWIM helped establish.

What we offered our members in the early AWIM projects (and this was really different and new) was a chance to participate in the decision processes every step of the way. Some people really liked that and -- since we provided houses advanced to a ‘raw finish’ stage of construction -- a chance to individually decide about how to complete construction of their homes. Once construction ended, and especially in case of row-house developments, we finalized all accounting matters and transferred ownership to individual owners. In due time the cooperative was dissolved and de-registered, and each owner took care of his property. But in multi-family apartments, typically a homeowner association (HA) was formed to continue managing parts owned jointly. In practical terms, this could be also done through a continued existence as a housing cooperative, but the administrative, financial, and regulatory burdens relating to managing through an HA are much easier than through a cooperative.

U.S. Ambassador in Poland, Nicolas Rey, Bielsko-Biala Vice Mayor J. Krawczyk and AWIM’s M. Lyko cut the symbolic ribbon (Sept. 1996).

Also in practical terms, collaboration with municipal authorities to prepare and improve terrain designated for housing construction in the city was difficult. In spite of all the intentions to collaborate and help individual home builders, these matters were difficult. One really needed to put in a lot of effort to make things work.

Over the years, since the late 1990’s, the situation has definitely changed in Bielsko-Biala. A number of new developers appeared, now perhaps three or four. They offer ‘turn-key’ projects and finished apartments for sale. This seems to be more appealing to buyers compared to a cooperative housing mechanism. People do not want to be engaged in the planning and construction process -- they just want to buy an apartment and therefore look at a developers’ offer, select, and pay, without the burden of participation in the whole process as is expected in a cooperative.  It happens quite often that people buy a unit with a bank mortgage and then rent it out so that the rent covers the monthly mortgage payment. They may complain that this or that is not to their liking but they prefer to go to a developer and do not want to be in a cooperative. Something of the old resentment of cooperatives still persists.

I could not really see myself acting as a developer, although I know that some of my AWIM colleagues went in that direction. Besides, one has to have an enormous amount of money to advance the project (which I did not have) while expecting to re-coupe it later. Now I am still actively working in the construction sector but specializing in construction oversight, coordination, and project supervision. These are not always residential housing projects. Recently I have been acting as the construction coordinator and inspector for a complex hospital construction project and also other big projects in the city. But as AWIM-Bielsko, I am not planning any new construction.

You are asking about my experience as a professional women in a typically male-dominated profession. In short, it was not easy. Some things have changed since there are many more women in the sector today but on the ground level there is still the same old attitude ‘a woman will not tell me what to do, or how to do it’… I had contractors refusing to take orders from me or accept instructions. I have to deal with this but I am well-prepared. And investors generally like women in supervisory roles because they consider them more detail-oriented. So at the highest management level there are no problems whatsoever – it is the small firms or individuals who are troublesome.  But things continue to change so I am hopeful.