Housing affordability is currently one of the most complex policy challenges our societies in Europe are faced with. As part of our work to identify solutions to this challenge, and in light of the launch of the 'State of Housing in Europe' 2019 report next autumn, we present a series of interviews with institutions and international stakeholders that have been looking at affordable housing, publishing influential reports and generating valuable data.
Our third guest in this series is Dr. Luigi Cuna, Senior Evaluator at the Office of Evaluation of the Council of Europe Development Bank (CEB). The CEB has longstanding experience in the financing of housing programmes for vulnerable groups, in line with its mandate of fostering social integration in Europe. The Office of Evaluation has been very active in undertaking independent evaluation of housing operations in various countries and has promoted outreach and dissemination of relevant evaluation knowledge on housing affordability and other related themes.
- Why would you say it’s important to look into housing affordability?
Nowadays, we are experiencing in Europe an expansion of the population in need of affordable housing. There is no doubt that action in this sector is strongly needed; such interventions must, however, take into explicit consideration the broader human, economic and social development aspirations to which housing contributes. One of the specificities of the CEB is the fact that it sees access to affordable housing as an enabling factor and instrument for promoting broader social cohesion objectives.
- Can you name one phenomenon/issue which shows a problem with housing affordability? How does this manifest in data/trends that can be monitored?
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include the aspiration of “making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” (SDG 11). This goal comprises several targets: one of them stipulates that, by year 2030, the world’s population should have “access to adequate, safe and affordable housing”. Given the SDGs’ worldwide application, the measurement and monitoring focus of the aforementioned target has been placed on the number of people living in slums. Even though the phenomenon of slums may be marginal in Europe compared to other continents, it nonetheless exists and is not irrelevant.
Various European cities, including capital cities, have been facing the emergence of slums in forgotten or peripheral districts. Slums house population groups experiencing the highest levels of poverty and social exclusion (especially Roma, displaced persons and migrants) for whom alternative housing options are not available. Striving to bring this phenomenon to an end is a challenge for our generation.
At the same time, with reference to the targets underpinning SDG 11, it is important to note that housing affordability is combined with issues of adequateness and safety. These dimensions are highly relevant in the European context and they need to be captured in the policy debate as well as in relevant data collection and monitoring processes.
- If you have to choose one element as a major cause of lack of affordable housing, which one would it be?
Our evaluation work has underscored, on many occasions, the fact that affordability has two dimensions: housing cost and household income. In one of our evaluations we pointed out that working on the cost side of the affordability equation is necessary but not sufficient, and that it is equally important to act on the income side. This means sustaining and promoting access to employment opportunities as well as adequate education, health and welfare services. In our evaluations we have called these “enabling factors” for sustainability, without which beneficiaries will likely encounter difficulties in continuing to live on the premises under safe and adequate conditions. Housing policies and programmes should dovetail with initiatives in the social and human development spheres so that the provision of affordable housing for vulnerable groups does not reinforce patterns of social and spatial exclusion.
- Can you name one or more solutions which could help tackling this?
The CEB’s portfolio includes examples of programmes in countries and municipalities that have elevated access to affordable housing as a policy priority. Because of the rapid growth of European cities and metropolitan areas on the one hand (leading to rising demand for housing in general and social housing in particular), and limited fiscal space on the other, policy makers and international financiers will be exposed, in future, to an ever wider and more innovative range of housing operations with new implementation, governance and tenure arrangements. To make the most of such diverse experiences, evaluation is needed. This means that tools (such as the intervention logic) should be built in to the projects already from the design stage, and analysis of the results and lessons learned should conclude the implementation process.