Housing Europe joined forces with the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the European Committee of the Regions and the Metropolitan Region of Lyon for a high-level Roundtable discussion as part of the 2nd International Social Housing Festival. Building on the efforts of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe which endorsed in 2015 the Geneva UN Charter on Sustainable Housing, the Action Plan of the Housing Partnership under the Urban Agenda for the European Union, the ‘State of Housing in the EU’ Report, Housing Europe and the CoR own-initiative report ‘Towards a European Agenda on Housing’ the event brought together senior officials responsible for housing and urban affairs, representatives of local authorities and housing providers, experts and representatives of international organisations to discuss and exchange experiences on how to move forward in bridging the gap in affordable housing. In reaction to this shift at EU level and to take stock of the growing amount of evidence and reports from the Eurostat, OECD & The World Bank, Housing Europe has joined with the UNECE Housing and Land Management Committee to launch an Affordability Outlook to run for one year. As well as taking stock of growing global consensus on the need for a change in direction on housing, the Outlook will work to channel the expertise and experience on housing systems, to guide on the best ways the European Commission can indeed ensure functioning housing markets and adequate provision of social housing. Read more in the end of this article.
Housing Europe President, Cédric van Styvendael opened the event calling for a new alliance at all political levels in support of affordable housing along the lines of the 'Lyon Commitment’, inviting all 250 participants to sign it.
Elena Szolgayova, Chair of UNECE Committee on Urban Development, Housing and Land Management, UNECE and Director General, Ministry of Transport and Construction of Slovakia presented the new global policy context around housing including the SDGs, the Urban Agenda for the EU and the UNECE Charter of Sustainable Housing. Elena stressed the importance of connecting all these pieces of the puzzle to effectively address the housing challenge.
Christophe Lalande, Leader of the Housing Unit at the Housing and Slum Upgrading Branch of UN Habitat underlined that the starting point for tackling the housing crisis must be realising & protecting the right to housing.
Hicham Imane, Member of the European Committee of the Regions and Rapporteur of the CoR Opinion ‘Towards a European Agenda for Housing’ said that it is crucial in the next legislative term to put an Action Plan for Affordable Housing, as presented by the S & D Candidate for the Commission Presidency, Frans Timmermans at the core of the EU work.
The first session was dedicated to experiences in providing affordable housing with a low environmental impact, discussing interlinkages between housing affordability and environmental sustainability.
Maja-Marija Nahod, Assistant Minister, Ministry of Construction and Physical Planning of Croatia showcased a really diverse set of actions with some rather encouraging results in the country's building stock. EurActiv wrote about the Energy Renovation programmes of the Croatian government that ‘they can teach us as much as their football’.
Stimulating investment in new construction, safeguarding affordability and reducing the construction costs were the main pillars of Germany’s strategy for housing en route to its EU Presidency as presented by Jens Schumacher of the German Permanent Representation in Brussels.
In the discussion that followed, Mårten Lilja, Vice-Chairman of Rijkbyggen in Sweden and Member of the Housing Europe Board stressed that the next step for the sector, moving forward from Zero Emission Buildings towards Zero Emission Neighborhoods requires new ways of cooperation between actors in neighborhoods.
Marnix Norder, Chairman of Aedes- the Federation of Dutch Social Housing Associations- and a Member of the Housing Europe Board gave a brief overview of the Dutch sector’s strategy to be carbon neutral by 2050 and discussed the needs in terms of policy at international level to achieve a fair, green energy transition. “Is it more important to have a circulair or smart building or to reduce CO2 emissions? We have to chose and we, as Aedes, chose to focus on CO2 emissions.”, said Mr. Norder.
Reinhard Six, Senior Engineer at the Energy Efficiency Division of the European Investment Bank gave a number of examples of projects the Bank has supported in the wider affordable housing sector, including Retrofitted housing with additional new construction including space for community/social activities in Hamburg and the thermal rehabilitation of 270 buildings in Romania in Bucharest S6 district. He also explained the added value of the ELENA (European Local Energy Assistance) in Project development support for energy efficiency in buildings. You may read here the successful case of our Flemish member, VVH with their Aster project.
The afternoon session focused on ‘Housing as a Service in Welfare 2.0’ with representatives from Spain, the Czech Republic and Albania sharing their quite different national experiences.
Doris Andoni, Director of Housing Policy at the Ministry of Finance and Economy of Albania took participants to a journey through the different stages of the country’s housing policy, providing insights related to the characteristics of the housing stock, the demographic dynamics and the situation in the free market. Albania is now trying to fill the affordability gap through housing programs that address different housing situations and income levels ranging from temporary shelters for homeless and emergent cases, to specialized houses for elderly, differently able people, victims of domestic violence, children that need a special protection, etc. and from improvement of existing houses for poor and vulnerable groups to Social or Public Housing.
Daniela Grabmüllerová, Director of International Relations Department at the Ministry of Regional Development in the Czech Republic showcased the key success factors in the country’s housing policy, including cooperation of governments at all levels, having rental housing as a key tool at supply side of the housing market, keeping a special focus on socially disadvantaged groups while looking for new models – e.g. Community housing, social mix in residential buildings.
Javier Martin, Secretary General Director for Architecture, Housing and Urban Policy at the Spanish Ministry of Public Works, Transport and Housing gave an overview of their Action Plan to increase the supply of affordable housing for rent, to give response to the growing demand in some territorial areas using tools such as Public-Private Partnerships, State Aids more focused in target households, reforming the regulation on contracts and reinforcing the Housing and Land Observatory. Mr. Martin concluded saying that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has been the driving force behind the Spanish Urban Agenda.
In the discussion that followed, Willem Adema of the Labour and Social Affairs Unit of the OECD said that support to home owners still prevails over support to (social) tenants across OECD countries, highlighting the need for more balanced policy approach.
Jaana Närö, Chairperson of KOVA, the Finnish Social Housing Federation- a member of Housing Europe- made it clear that in her view one needs to address the housing question before dealing with any other social issue. This is also the secret behind the Finnish success story, the stability of housing solutions. Jaana invited everyone to Helsinki in 2021 to draw inspiration during the 3rd International Social Housing Festival. You may already get a taste watching this video.
Housing Europe Board Member and Chair of our Flemish member, VVH, Bjorn Mallants underlined that the social housing sector must be careful not to get drawn into an overly financial view of its value. Need to put people at the centre and work in partnership for them, giving example of work with the homeless sector.
In the closing session, Kerstin Jorna, Deputy Director General, of the European Commission Directorate General for Financial Affairs (ECFIN) started by saying that housing is key for the overall wellbeing and this is why the Commission has put it high on the European Pillar of Social Rights. Acknowledging that Member States and local authorities cannot solve the housing crisis alone, Mrs. Jorna shared that the Commission will be taking more initiatives in the near future, announcing the establishment of an interservice group dealing with housing that will connect all policies on housing within the European Commission.
Last but not least, Michaela Kauer from the City of Vienna delivered a quick overview of the EU Urban Agenda Housing Partnership Action Plan sharing also her experience as Co-Coordinator.
In her sum-up Sorcha Edwards, Housing Europe’s Secretary General welcomed the positive signals announced by Deputy Director General, of the European Commission Directorate General for Financial Affairs and referring also back to the recent Summit of EU Member States held in Sibiu, Romania where the Commission’s contribution to the summit states ‘We need to support access to quality, energy-efficient affordable housing for all in Europe, supporting Member States to ensure functioning housing markets and adequate provision of social housing.’ (Source: European Commission (2019), Europe in May 2019: Preparing for a more united, stronger and more democratic Union in an increasingly uncertain world.
In reaction to this shift at EU level and to take stock of the growing amount of evidence and reports from the Eurostat, OECD & The World Bank, Housing Europe has joined with the UNECE Housing and Land Management Committee to launch an Affordability Outlook to run for one year. As well as taking stock of growing global consensus on the need for a change in direction on housing, the Outlook will work to channel the expertise and experience on housing systems, to guide on the best ways the European Commission can indeed ensure functioning housing markets and adequate provision of social housing. The Outlook will be co-chaired by David Orr and Elena Szolgayova.