Gdynia, Poland: Interviews

Barbara Kowalska


Kowalska is a Civil Engineer and received a diploma with a specialty in land construction from Gdansk Polytechincs in 1982. Her additional post-graduate studies from 2008-'09 were in Business and Administration, with a specialty in Management and Entrepreneurship. Professionally active and always busy, Barbara still finds time for her family, including her two granddaughters, which she call her "pride and joy."

Housing Cooperative ‘DABROWA’ in Gdynia: homes were built by AWIM at cost around 25% lower than prevailing market prices (2017).

In 1994, Barbara joined CHF’s program and established its local branch as AWIM-Gdynia. As its leader, she facilitated organizing a small housing cooperative called DABROWA to build 27 single-family homes. This successful project was planned and implemented in close collaboration with local authorities of the city of Gdynia, which designated land and ensured connections to land imporovement systems. This first project led to subsequent ones done in collaboration with city authorities, who were eager and willing to learn their new role in supporting residential home construction to address the unmet housing needs of low- and middle-income residents.

Barbara’s interest to help an "average" person to reach the dream of living in a decent home prompted her to work closer with and play an advisory role to the city on issues relating to social housing (Polish acronym "TBS") which the city was mandated to provide to residents who could not afford to finance their own homes. In 1998 she co-founded "TBS Czynszowka LLC" and, together with the city authorities, developed a model of TBS adapted specifically to local Gdynia conditions. She conducted extensive market research and designed all organizational and managerial aspects of the project. She continued in her advisory role to include strategic planning, financing, construction and marketing. Over time, she continued to manage the servicing of all credit arrangements for this TBS and took over that of another one called "TBS-ABK LLC" located in Pruszcz Gdański between 1999 and 2003. She moved on to fund and support another TBS called "DOMATOR" in Gdynia, with the usage of private capital.

A multi-family residence built in 2005 by ‘SZANSA’ cooperative in Jurata, near Gdynia, provided homes for 12 families (2017).

At the same time, Barbara did not cease to work with local cooperatives – she facilitated the establishment of another small cooperative called "SM SZANS" in Jurata, near Gdynia, which resulted in the construciton of a 12-unit multi-family residence (built between 2001-2002).

Using her skills and experience in putting together TBS-type developments, Barbara participated in a nation-wide competition called "TBS with participation of private capital." She co-authored a project which was awarded first prize in that competition. She continued to work for the local TBS, starting another development in Wejherowo in 2004, and led this TBS until 2012 as deputy director for new investments (managing preparation of credit documentation, servicing of credit arrangements, supervising investment projects, etc.).

But not only did new construction hold Barbara’s interest – but so did issues of existing housing stock, often in bad physical condition after many years of delayed maintenance or neglect. When condominium associations were formed based on legislation of 1995, Barbara was ready to support them as part of CHF’s Cooperative Development Project (CDP). Barbara established a collaboration with a specific condo association in Gdynia, which piloted a renovation and improvement project to bring its building up to par in a physical and managerial sense. She worked with the then Big Bank Gdanski (now Bank Millenium) in Sopot to develop a tri-partite pilot project with the participation of the bank, city authorities, and the condo association to obtain and issue a condo renovation and modernization loan. This important project helped the bank in developing processes for condo-lending for renovation projects.

Barbara with Condo representatives inspecting installations in need of renovation.

Recognizing the needs at the time, she served as the President of the Board of the Condominium Association Branch in Gdynia, providing advisory and consulting services for condo-association-members (through the Center of Non-Governmental Organizations in Gdynia).

AWIM-Gdynia was active until 2013. In 2012, Barbara pursued her interest in working with the city of Gdynia. She accepted the position of Coordination Director in the Department of Roads and Parks and has worked there until now. She assists local investors in coordinating arrangements, in preparation and consultation of contracts relating to all roads, construction, and supporting infrastructure including for housing projects.