On 16-17 January Housing Europe President, Cédric Van Styvendael was invited to the capital of Cyprus, Nicosia to participate to the conference “Social housing, challenges and contemporary European Practices” organized by the Cyprus Land Development Corporation (CLDC) and also to meet key policymakers in the field of affordable housing to discuss the challenges and opportunities to deliver an effective policy. He was accompanied by Gabriel Amitsis, Vice-Chair of the Housing Europe Working Group in support of countries with housing systems in transition and by Edit Lakatos, Policy Officer from the secretariat. The visit of the Housing Europe delegation has been very timely as Cyprus currently faces increasing needs to deliver affordable housing.
In the morning of January 16th, Housing Europe President met Averof Neofytou, the President of the ruling party, Democratic Rally and discussed the housing needs in Cyprus and the role of Housing Europe at EU level.
Cyprus has currently the second highest population share unable to keep their home adequately warm after Bulgaria, according to EU SILC, while it also has a high share of the population with mortgages in arrears.
Cédric stressed that Housing Europe is willing to cooperate with CLDC and Cyprus in finding solutions to the housing needs and energy poverty by exchanging best practices. Mr. Neofytou highlighted that until now the policy preference of Cyprus was towards affordable home ownership, however recently more and more young and low-income people cannot access affordable loans for homeownership with the number of persons needing other solutions increasing.
Affordable housing is part of the solution, not the problem, said Cédric Van Styvendael illustrating that Housing Europe Members are already delivering results on the ground. CLDC would like to learn from these practices and see how they could be implemented in the national context. The newly set-up Housing Europe Working group on housing systems in transition aims to serve this purpose. As Cédric pointed out during the conversation, Housing Europe has a facilitator role in the process. The participants of the Working Group-such as CLDC-are exchanging about their national housing needs, learning practices from other European countries that help them develop their own affordable schemes or strategies.
After the meeting, a press conference was held where the President of the ruling party, Democratic Rally (DISY), Averof Neofytou formally expressed his interest in developing affordable housing. He said that Cyprus is about to move towards a new national housing strategy.
Mr. Neofytou stressed that mortgages in arrears are one of the big problems for the Cypriot society today, since a lot of them are linked with the primary residence. Therefore, according to the President of DISY is crucial to address the housing challenges for the future, especially taking into consideration the needs of young couples for access to affordable housing. To this end, he welcomed the “innovative, interesting and to the point” initiative by the Cypriot Organisation for Land Development to invite to Cyprus the Housing Europe delegation, adding that “we have to design our future housing policy with focus on affordable social housing as well as by launching funding programmes that will facilitate access to homes, especially for our youth”.
Responding to reporters’ questions the leader of the governing party in Cyprus, said that “we do not need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to housing policy. There are many ideas that we can adapt to our context, for instance with regards to land development we may define parts that will be offered to the lower income groups.” Identifying the key steps for the Cypriot social housing sector, Mr. Neofytou stressed that “first of all, we need to have just one umbrella organisation that deals with housing policy and secondly we have to implement a proper social housing strategy. Therefore, we appreciate the visit by the President of Housing Europe, the European Federation of Public, Cooperative and Social Housing”.
Meeting the Minister of Interior, Constantinos Petrides
The Minister, the President of Housing Europe and the Chairman of CLDC exchanged views around the current situation in Cyprus that is characterized by a mix of more vulnerable people, increasing housing needs, a significant issue of non-performing loans and the outdated rental subsidy system. Constantinos Petrides pointed out the need to develop a national housing strategy in which Cyprus would define the policy framework and financing means paying special attention to the diference between rural and urban areas. He concluded that in the years to come Cyprus would have to set up a modern policy which provides with means to achieve social justice leaving no one behind.
President of Housing Europe, Cédric Van Styvendael said that Housing Europe is happy to support CLDC in the efforts by facilitating the exchange of best practices with Housing Europe Members and partners.
Meeting the Board of CLDC
In the afternoon of January 16th, Housing Europe delegation met the Board of CLDC to exchange about each other’s activities and to explore potential cooperation.
CLDC was established in 1980 with the mission of implementing the government housing programmes and land provision. The latter instrument was abandoned later because it did not solve the housing problem in long-term. CLDC is currently under the responsibility of Ministry of Interior. CLDC provides housing for 20-25 % cheaper than the market price and helped already about 5000 families (2720 dwellings).
CLDC is now confronted with new challenges:
- Buying land for construction is unaffordable
- Increased social problems (poverty, ghettos)
- Maintenance of common spaces
- Increasing demand for affordable homes, especially from young couples and low-income families
The following day a conference organized by CLDC took place under the title of ‘CLDC: Social housing, Challenges and Contemporary European Practices’ which gathered key policy makers, academia, and civil society. The conference kicked off with welcome addresses by the Chairman of the CLDC Board, Andreas Frangos, the Minister of Interior, Constantinos Petrides and President of Housing Europe, Cédric Van Styvendael.
Andreas Frangos expressed CLDC’s ambition to become Member of Housing Europe in order to deliver affordable housing to the citizens of Cyprus. Constantinos Petrides was pleased to welcome Housing Europe to the conference and highlighted the importance of the European Federation given that it is the main interlocutor of the European Institutions on affordable housing. The aim of the government is to set up a modern policy in housing, therefore the presence of Housing Europe at the conference represents an added value to the country, he added.
Constantinos Petrides also emphasized the challenges the country is facing, including difficult economic and social conditions, more vulnerable groups, growing housing cost overburden rates, outdated minimum income scheme, non-performing loans. Therefore, setting up an efficient policy which provides access to affordable housing and introduces innovative financing is of particular objective. These elements should be formulated in a new Housing Strategy in whose delivery CLDC is going to have a key role to play.
Cédric Van Styvendael highlighted the key position of Housing Europe in the formulation of the affordable housing policy at the highest European level. He emphasized that Housing Europe is working in Brussels for 30 years which is already an indicator showing how important has been the issue of affordable housing provision in Europe over these years. He added that this also shows that working for social housing is a never-ending challenge. It is what I call today Europe’s main challenge.
He said he believes that it is particularly crucial to try to activate adequate housing solutions in all EU Member States. Therefore, the potential collaboration with Cyprus is of strategic added value as it is the partnership in Greece with the Technical Educational Institute following the closure of our member organization in the country, OEK. Looking at the facts and figures included in the ‘State of Housing in the EU report’ one sees immediately that the demand is growing across our continent for livable neighborhoods and affordable housing providers already delivering solutions. This is why such a conference about delivering affordable housing is both timely and crucial.