The youth encounter uncertainty not only in their transition into adulthood but also in finding and making a place a home. As their lives are often defined by frequent migration to secure jobs and education, young people face grave obstacles in finding adequate housing, it being temporary or more permanent. A growing number of young adults are consequently either exposed to precarious living arrangements or have to postpone leaving or return to their parents’ home. The current pandemic crisis situation sheds ever more light on the growing challenge of housing the youth and its debilitating effects. Being both more prone to live in overcrowded homes and priced out of the urban housing market, makes a plea for directed action a pressing matter now more than ever. In times when home becomes the entirety of each person’s world, we need to acknowledge it as a prime factor for socialization and autonomy – it shouldn't only be the luckiest of this generation who have the chance to create theirs.
As the age group under 30 has already been highly affected by austerity measures of the recent years, the economic and social repercussions of the newest crisis expedite the effects of a lack of youth tailored housing strategies. Where Staying-at-home as a policy approach has previously been justified by the sufficiency of social welfare systems and the need for parents to jump in, amid the COVID-19 outbreak #StayAtHome brings issues of inadequate housing conditions to the forefront, problems especially younger generations living on low incomes are faced with. 23.4 % of people aged 16-29 living in the EU live in overcrowded housing, versus 15.5 % of the total population. Whilst 4 per cent of those living in the EU experience deprivation linked to housing, 6.3 % of those aged 16-19 and 6.9 % of those aged 20-24 are exposed to ‘severe housing deprivation’. An increased overburden of housing costs, contract exploitation and discrimination by landlords, leaves many young adults not only vulnerable to precarious living arrangements but at a higher risk of poverty overall. 37 % of those at risk of poverty in the EU are under the age of 30, this is despite the fact that they make up 33 % of the EU population, thus being overrepresented in this regard. In current times of the coronavirus thread these effects accelerate existential fears and social fragility.
A shift towards housing forms that attempt to guarantee a safe transition for vulnerable young adults into independence is needed. This goes hand in hand with a recognition of housing being an essential part of establishing a self-managed lifestyle and increasing well-being, which forms the basis of social inclusion. Half of all people aged 18-34 in the EU live at home with their parents. And although significant variations between countries exist (17.2 % in Denmark versus a staggering 69.7 % in Slovakia), exclusion from housing markets further encourages this EU-wide trend.
Young populations are thus affected by housing insecurity in manifold ways:
- From an emergency perspective, a growing number of young adults are at the brink of homelessness, tackling both the structural inequalities and the distress individuals are enduring in this process, makes the pillars of Housing First principles indispensable. Youth homelessness is not a one-off event, neither simply a state of being “houseless” but rather “baseless”, switching between shelters, couch surfing and rough sleeping. In the course of these often traumatic experiences physical and mental health worsens.
- Although student housing is organised in various ways in different EU countries, governmental support in construction has decreased and the interest of private investors therein grown, with most students having to depend on privately-owned rental apartments. Often students depend on casual jobs to pay these rents, jobs that have been lost due to the pandemic.
- In many cases this leaves them and other young people with low incomes stranded in a cycle of short-term lets, being moved within a month’s notice, sub-standard housing and dilapidated rentals.
- Long time education, high student costs and labour market insecurity result in the inability to save money for a deposit and hence limits them in becoming home owners. This further fuels the imbalance between those who can afford to rely on parents’ sponsoring and those who cannot.
Moreover, when we talk about ‘youth’ we don’t reference one homogeneous nor ‘static’ group but diverse and dynamic situations young adults find themselves in. Students, those in professional training, the unprotected self-employed, those with paid jobs with employment precariousness and young people who are job-seeking and/or unemployed. These differences are not merely defined by household composition (living alone, shared flats, couples, mono-parent families), professional and educational profiles but by diverging national welfare regimes and home cultures. One unifying characteristic however is that young people by definition experience a series of transition phases that call for responsive and flexible housing solutions.
Although young people in Europe are having a harder time finding jobs, with an increase of youth unemployment in the EU, they also promise high civic engagement, being more involved in voluntary organisations, more educated and connected. The latter unlocks the potential for innovative housing projects and community-lead approaches. As housing markets increasingly fail to integrate the needs of young people, public policy and social economy actors intervene to address the gap. Housing Europe members initiate and partake in numerous best-practice projects dedicated to the challenges mentioned. Our newly launched Housing Evolutions Hub curates the work of public, social and affordable housing providers in the field. Keeping in mind, that there is no one-size-fits all template, but rather a necessity to implement a range of options, we attempt to summarise the most pressing ones below. First and foremost, increased investment in affordable housing stock overall, acts as a buffer to shortage therein and eases housing angst for young people, especially in high-demand urban areas. On the private rental market, this goes hand in hand with security guarantees of rental leases and the quality of the homes, as well as some form of control of rental levels.
(rent deposit guarantee schemes, access to housing allowances)
It goes without saying that these project-based approaches need to become a new standard, rather than an exception. This requires a setting of cause-driven coordination across scales and stakeholders, which firstly enables social as well as residential mobility of young people and furthermore commits to making ‘housing the youth’ itself a strategic part of affordable housing policies. After all, how we regard, manage and share the benefits of the land market is a way in which we transfer opportunities across and within our society. We are in desperate need to rethink both the current mechanisms behind housing exclusion for the youth and more generally the realities of precarious contemporary young lives.