Many countries in Europe are at the crossroads of reforming their housing systems under pressure of an extended housing crisis; more affordable homes are needed. How can the policy makers respond to these changing needs? What is the right policy mix? The conference “The Housing Policies of the future: How to make them work” took place on September 15th showcasing the impact of successful housing policies.
In a room full of more than 180 delegates, including housing providers, representatives from a wide range of housing ministry representatives from the UNECE region, local authorities, international institutions, academia and from the civil society at the UN European Headquarters, the Palace of Nations in Geneva the conference has been sort of the finish line of the ‘Housing for All’ campaign led by Housing Europe that aimed to generate concrete policy suggestions on issues that directly or indirectly affect the housing policies of all member states.
The day started with the keynote speech by Peter Cachola Schmal, Architect, Director of the German Architecture Museum (DAM) and General Commissioner for the German Pavilion of the 15th International Architecture Exhibition La Biennale di Venezia. Peter’s intervention with the title “Making Heimat” started with the question whether a home can be created and explored the relation between the refugee crisis and the way Germany dealt with it in 2015, which has also been the focus point of the German Pavilion of the 15th International Architecture Exhibition La Biennale di Venezia. Peter concluded that “the future of our towns is people with migration background but we have to make it affordable for them”, stressing that especially for a country like Germany that is growing a new direction is needed. After all, according to Peter “we don’t have a refugee crisis, but a housing crisis”.
The first panel session of the day evolved around the dynamics between housing and society. Good quality, affordable housing is one of main drivers of change towards a better society. Public, cooperative and social housing providers have a multifaceted and measurable impact in the wider community. Numerous best practices of dealing with challenges such as migration, homelessness and social exclusion in general can be identified across Europe. How can successful models be multiplied and adopted from the local to the national as well to the international level in times of tight public budgets?
Read our Summary of Panel Session I
Natalia Rogaczewska, Chief Advisor & Head of European Affairs of the Housing Europe Danish member organisation, BL made the case how the Danes demonstrate the investment value of social housing. Natalia highlighted that the SKANDIA model brings young person from periphery of society back on track, while she called all conference participants and housing providers in general to “stop playing the victim card, it won’t work”. “We have to remove the victim hat, change our narrative and act. This is the way to change our sector”, she concluded stressing once again that “housing is an investment for environment, economy, society”.
Stuart Ropke, Group Chief Executive of the Housing Europe Welsh member, Community Housing Cymru showcased the economic impact of housing associations in Wales, saying that “Welsh housing associations contributed directly or indirectly more than 2 billion pounds to the national economy in 2015”, while it is estimated that 79p if every £1 spent on housing in Wales stays in Wales. Stuart closed his intervention claiming that “the value of the work of housing associations is diverse, therefore its measurement cannot be purely economic”, echoing one of the key messages of the ‘Homes for Wales’ campaign.
Anders Lago, Chair of Housing Europe Swedish Cooperative member, HSB presented how “investment in housing and jobs strengthens the economy” insisting that “without its diverse population Sweden would have been a much poorer country”. Anders reminded all participants that many European countries will rely on migrants to sustain their demographic future, while Sweden in particular needs more people in the country and so it needs the housing to support this.
Francis Deplace of the French Social Housing Association, Delphis provided concrete examples regarding the wide social impact of social housing. Francis underlined that there is a thin line between cost, price and value of housing which is key to measure the actual impact of social housing.
Yves-Laurent Sapoval, Senior Advisor for the Directorate for Housing and Urban Landscapes in France closed the first round of interventions in the initial panel. Yves-Laurent made the case that buildings are a huge challenge for the future, which was the major lesson learnt from the recent COP21. Yves-Laurent urged everyone who is involved in the wider buildings sector to act now as “technological solutions are just not enough at global level”, introducing the Global Alliance for Buildings & Construction of which Housing Europe is a member.
After a short break the format changed. Speakers had to beat the clock, complying with the Pecha Kucha rules that only allow the use of 20 images that are displayed for 20 seconds each. The first Pecha Kucha session offered a taste of emerging responses, such as community-led housing and ‘housing first’ to the changing needs.
Read our Summary of the first Pecha Kucha Session
Bea Varnai, Project Manager of UrbaMonde suggested the coproduction of the future cities, highlighting the importance of community led housing and cooperatives.
Joanna Charlton, Communications Manager at Shepherds Bush Housing Group in the UK provided a concrete example of how housing associations change the local communities outlining a raft of great initiatives undertaken by SBHG such as the ‘Love Local’ set of actions.
Chloé Serme-Morin, Project Officer of FEANTSA gave an overview of the initiatives taken across Europe to tackle the challenge of empty homes. Chloé stressed that there are many ways to house people in need, so there is no room for excuses for having empty homes and people without a home at the same time…
Juha Kaakinen, Chief Executive Officer of the Y Foundation in Finland brought the ‘Housing First’ approach to table that is based on acknowledging that “helping the homeless starts with provision housing”. Juha concluded that “‘Housing First’ is not a matter of money but of political will; it is about compassion and treating people as human beings, above all a matter of human dignity”, while according to figures providing this kind of solutions to homeless saves 55.000 Euros per year.
Closing the first Pecha Kucha session Marc Uhry, Coordinator European Affairs at Abbé Pierre Foundation and Gabriel Sibille, Architect and Urbanist at Est Métropole Habitat set up a tent in the middle of the conference room, “calling it a home”. “As long as there are people calling this a home there's a lot of work to do” highlighted Marc and Gabriel who outlined their regeneration plans- known as ‘L’ autre soie’- which include providing a wide range of housing and social economic projects.
The lunch break, that was mainly used by participants as an excellent networking opportunity and as a chance to enjoy the view to the lake and to Mont Blanc, was followed by the second Pecha Kucha session that was dedicated to the role of cities. Cities have to have enough homes, have to be inclusive, have to overcome burdens linked with the lack of resources etc. This is why depending on the context, local authorities work together with all kinds of stakeholders and come up with a variety of creative responses to the challenges of our times.
Read our Summary of the Session “Cities for All in times of Crisis”
Maria Stratigaki, Vice Mayor for Solidarity and Social Inclusion of Athens clarified right from the beginning that due to the crisis “Social solidarity becomes social policy”. Maria showed how the Greek capital is coping with economic and refugee challenges, presenting among other measures the establishment of one-stop-shops to provide various forms of help to those in need.
Javier Buron Cuadrado, Head of Housing Policy in Barcelona presented the key challenges but also the innovative responses to them for the city. Javier added a dance twist to the mix, saying that the Catalan capital is “trying to boogie” in its housing policy, aiming to strike a balance between construction, mobilization, rehabilitation and innovation.
Veikko Montonen of the Tartu City Council in Estonia outlined how e-governance and the move towards a carbon-free economy can change not only the profile of a city but people’s live, too. Veikko presented the image of Tartu as an inspiring example of the advantages ‘E-stonia’ brings to its citizens.
Michaela Kauer, Director of the Liaison Office of the City of Vienna in Brussels summarized the response of the Austrian capital to the refugee crisis in one phrase: “Welcome, you’re safe”. According to Michaela “last [first of September – Ed.] week Vienna closed down all temporary shelters, offering permanent housing solutions to 20.000 refugees”.
Pasquale Talerico of the Kalkbreite Cooperative in Zurich showed the way for affordable quality housing even in expensive cities. After presenting a number of community solutions developed within the cooperative, Pasquale stressed that “the residents of Kalkbreite are of ‘good social mix’ which is the key to a successful living together”.
Before the start of the second panel session conference participants and speakers watched a series of short videos put together in a fast pace mix of challenges, innovative solutions and campaigns from across the globe. You may watch all videos at the bottom of the page.
The world is changing faster than the ways we provide housing. Climate change, drought, the economic osmosis, demographics and imponderables such as emerging war zones shape a new reality both for the housing sector and for the local and national authorities. Innovation in construction is now needed more than ever to address the demanding request for better homes both at faster pace and at a lower cost. What is the right mix between ground-breaking solutions, access to finance and policies to guarantee a resilient future for housing? The second panel session put together the challenges of Building, Construction and Finance.
Read our Summary of Panel Session II
Dr. Christian Lieberknecht, Vice-President of GdW-Federal Union of German Housing and Real Estate Associations, a Housing Europe member, addressed the key issues related to construction activity in Germany. Christian highlighted that “innovation in construction is needed to offset rising construction costs, since the latter have risen by 60% over the last 16 years”. Affordable passive house concept could be an answer to growing housing demand according to Christian who delivered a set of key recommendations that could “make investors' life easier”.
Johanna Ode, Head of International Affairs of SABO, the Swedish Association of Public Housing Companies, also a member of Housing Europe, supported the Kombohus model that makes reduction of construction costs possible. SABO’s framework agreement procurements of Kombohus guarantee a fixed price 25% below the market level as well as high quality products and a finish 18 months faster and much easier that the regular standards.
Andrea Colantonio, Senior Urban Specialist at the European Investment Bank (EIB) presented the key financing tools for the urban sector as well as good examples of loans to the affordable housing sector. Many of them are included in the Housing Europe overview report of the European financial support mechanisms for social housing.
Elena Szolgayova, Director General of the DG Housing Policy and Urban Development and Chair of the UNECE Committee on Housing and Land Management focused on the housing developments in her country, Slovakia that also holds the EU Presidency for this semester. Elena took the audience to a journey in the history of the Slovakian social housing sector, highlighting among other issues how the State Housing Fund in the country helped create 38.000 public rental dwellings in 15 years. Elena underlined that the Slovakian experience teaches that the financing models should be stable and embedded in long-term housing policies, consumers should be aware of the whole range of their options and that the argument of the broader value of investment in social housing should be used more in political debates.
Doris Andoni, General Director of the National Housing Agency of Albania, a Housing Europe member reminded that article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes the right to housing before presenting the ways in which her organisation addresses the energy efficiency challenge in low income housing. For Doris one of the most critical issues regarding investment in retrofitting in Albania is the rather “unattractive” payback time.
The final session of the day was dedicated to urban development and social inclusion. Socio-spatial segregation is the major challenge in the modern urban environment. Inequalities generate a number of issues that are linked with exclusion from decent, affordable housing, lack of education, unemployment and even radicalization. This explosive mix has a direct effect in the communities we live in. Tackling the challenge may seem complicated but actually it only takes four steps to produce a response: mixing the housing options, offering adequate financing, empowering tenants and getting support from the EU can serve the vision of liveable communities. But is this enough?
Read our Summary of Panel Session III
Dermot Sellars, Communications and Policy Manager of Co-operative Housing Ireland, a Housing Europe member highlighted that the representative body of housing cooperatives in Ireland wants to tackle gentrification and segregation while he insisted on the need to support, in particular small scale, communities who try to make their mark but nobody knows about them, yet.
Blase Lambert, Chief Officer of the Confederation of Co-operative Housing illustrated the rich mix of co-operation for housing, noting that they work to engender feeling of ownership of people in places they live.
Luigi Cuna, Evaluator and Samir Kulenovic, Technical Programme Manager at the Council of Europe Development Bank (CEB) talked about unlocking finance for social development. The CEB team of experts presented how the bank can support housing analysing the ways in which both operations and evaluation of CEB can contribute to the housing policies of the future.
Sven Bergenstråhle, President of the International Union of Tenants (IUT) expressed the voice of tenants which has also been a core element of this #housing4all-as it was ‘Twitterized’- conference. Sven made the case for tenure neutrality and more affordable rental housing. Sven stressed that subsidized housing is necessary while he supported rent regulation as “necessary for a well-functioning rental market”. Sven’s concluding point about the need for further tenant empowerment echoed the way his presentation was introduced by the event moderator, Eddy Adams as a proof that “nothing can be done about us without us”.
Raquel Cortes Herrera, Deputy Head of Unit at the Directorate General for Employment & Social Affairs of the European Commission delivered the final presentation of the day brining the dimension of the EU Institutions to the mix. After providing with an overview of social measures at EU level presented presents the key conclusions of the joint study of the European Commission and FEANTSA on the prevention of homelessness and evictions.
David Orr, Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation (NHF) in the UK, also a member organisation of Housing Europe was the brave one who was supposed to lead the Wrap Up Session, outlining the next steps. However, David, a fan of the Scottish Hearts FC himself, showing some football skills dribbled around this challenge and decided to deliver a powerful closing message instead. “We don't need permission to do our work providing housing”, said David reminding everyone in the room of the collective power, the influence and the potential a network like Housing Europe has, bringing together more than 43.000 local housing organizations and employing more than 369.000 staff members.
David stressed that housing associations, housing cooperatives, public housing providers STAY and do not just deliver profits to shareholders: “We stay in our communities and invest in their success”, he added. Closing his intervention and the day as a whole David Orr re-used Javier Buron Cuadrado’s line, urging all representatives of housing providers in the room to “keep boogying out of the door because we can make it happen”, reminding them of the ‘’Housing for All’ campaign punchline that “Housing for All is not an ambition, it's our obligation”.
Work on the ground: the study visits
The day after the international conference a delegation of Housing Europe members paid a visit to a cooperative and to a student housing project in Geneva that provide solid proof about the balancing impact of affordable alternatives even on a saturated housing market.