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This Land is whose Land?

Picking the Housing Europe annual conference theme

Brussels, 9 May 2019 | Social, Urban, Economy

The annual agenda-setting event around public, cooperative and social housing in Europe is held this year on Thursday, 6 June 2019 within the 2nd International Social Housing Festival in Lyon. Every year, more than 150 representatives of housing associations across Europe, policymakers and the civil society come together in an exchange that generates evidence-based policy suggestions on the key issues of the housing agenda. The event curator and Communications Director of Housing Europe, Michalis Goudis shares some thoughts on this year's theme.

One cannot help but noticing lately that housing affordability in cities is making headlines in major media across Europe. At the same time, housing policy is on the agenda of most political campaigns, including the one for the European Elections. One of these moments in history has come again when access to affordable housing is the question and not the answer.

A very noticeable number of people around Europe experience that daily and have therefore started expressing their discomfort and anger by hitting the streets of major cities or even by launching a European Citizens’ Initiative. They want to make clear that they feel excluded from their right to adequate housing. Consequently, a very significant number of people is also excluded from their Right to the City, initially introduced by Henri Lefebvre, what David Harvey calls “one of the most precious yet neglected of our human rights”. It is common place historically that the Right to the City keeps coming back to the public debate whenever the Welfare State is undermined.

How did we end up here? This is far from a simple question to answer and definitely not the ambition of this text to do so. In principle, though, we at Housing Europe believe that any attempt to understand the reasons why Europe is confronted with a housing crisis should go back to the very basics of housing provision that can be summarized in one word. That’s the Land.

The financialization of Land and Housing have destructive effects for social cohesion, quality of life, the Economy and our future. Walk into the centre of the city where you live and have a look around you. What you see is the result of decisions made around land policy in some cases centuries, in most of them decades and just in very few, years ago. Land defines our living environment. It defines ourselves. Paraphrasing Mark Twain one could say “take good care of Land, they aren't making it anymore”.

What can be done? We put together this year’s programme with the aim of providing solid proof why provision of affordable housing should be at the core of any sustainable land policy.

  • The day will start with a Keynote session we are very proud to present. World-renowned Sociologist and Professor at New York’s Columbia University, Saskia Sassen will approach the provocative question ‘Who owns our Cities?’ and will make the link with the reality of housing providers through a stimulating debate with a truly great triplette of discussants.
  • The first Panel Session will look at the long-term effects of land use and make the case why we need to shape today the cities of 2050, offering the perspectives of the city administrations, of housing providers, of national ministries and of the people, of course.
  • In the afternoon, our objective is to showcase the different sides of the land challenge as they unfold in growing cities, in shrinking cities and in places on the fringe.

This year’s International Social Housing Festival is themed ‘Our Planet, our Cities, our Homes’. Well, there could not be a better thread connecting the three than Land.

Closing this note, I must say that I have the privilege of sharing the office with our colleagues from the Housing Europe Observatory. I would really like to thank them and Alice Pittini, in particular, for all the valuable ideas.

We are looking forward to seeing you in Lyon and to making the most of this nearly sold out event, so if you haven't registered, you'd better do so as soon as possible following the link below.

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