This year marks the 25th anniversary of the creation of the Estonian Union of Co-operative Housing Associations, better known as EKYL (which is abbreviation from the organization’s name in Estonian language Eesti Korteriühistute Liit). Being still a young organization compared to 100-year-olds housing federations in Western Europe, EKYL nevertheless have a lot of unique experience of building up a country’s largest housing movement from the beginning, and leading it during the decades of transition from turbulent post-soviet times into modern Estonian society, EKYL's Head of International Relations and Projects, Anu Sarnet writes.
A glimpse of history
In Estonia, as well as elsewhere in Europe, large-scale housing construction was a response to both a rapid industrial and population growth in Soviet republics and a severe post-World War II housing shortage. In 1991, the independence of the Republic of Estonia was restored, marking the end of 48 years of Soviet occupation in the country. After the rapid change of political system, the housing related policies remained under financed due to limited public expenditure. As high rate of homeownership was considered a cornerstone of the market economy in the 1990s, Estonia decided to carry out the most influential post-socialist public intervention, which affects all the housing in the country since then – to privatise all housing estate apartments to the tenants.
Ownership reform as implemented in the early 1990s, dwellings that had been built in the Soviet years were sold under favorable terms to sitting tenants and pre-World War II housing was restituted. As a result, new housing management system was applied within very short period and an excessive burden was placed on individual apartment owners. New order has brought into the initial chaos in housing management with formation of apartment associations – non-profit organisations of apartment owners, which organise the maintenance and renovation of apartment buildings. Soon it was clear to the new apartment owners that in a fully privatized society the rights of single owners and rights of apartment associations need to be coordinated in regional and national level. In April 17th 1996, representatives of apartment associations from different regions of Estonia got together to the city of Rakvere and established one of the largest citizen-initiated organisations in Estonia to this day – federation of apartment associations EKYL (named as Estonian Union of Co-operative Housing Associations in English). Based on the initiative from citizens’ housing movement, EKYL has remained a non-profit organisation and independent umbrella organisation which belongs only to its members (more than 1400 apartment associations all over Estonia) today.
Today, most of the Estonian residential buildings are in private ownership. According to the population and housing census of 2011, 97% of dwellings were in private ownership and state or local authorities owned just 2% of dwellings (municipal or social housing).
Due to similarities in the past, EKYL has acted as a pioneer for housing federations in other post-soviet countries and is now passing its experience and knowledge on as UN Charter Centre of Excellence on Sustainable Housing in Tallinn.
The main challenges for EKYL towards affordable and sustainable housing
The main challenges for EKYL and its members have been the new ownership culture and condition of the housing stock.
Society of homeowners
In apartment association, apartment owner is not only responsible for his/her apartment but takes active role in the management and renovation process of all the building and the living environment surrounding it. Apartment association leaders have been mostly found among local residents, who often have limited administrative skills and legal knowledge. For that, supportive legislation and services for apartment associations, trainings and awareness raising programs for leaders of apartment associations, and building trust between apartment associations and other stakeholders (municipalities, banks, companies etc) have always been in the focus of EKYL’s activities. EKYL’s special interest has also been introduction of digital solutions for management of apartment associations, so that the housing sector could fully benefit from the country’s digital transformation success story.
25 years of EKYL have shown rapid development with this challenge. Today, apartment associations are considered the main citizen-level partners for the state, municipalities and city governments in relation to housing. EKYL’s private school Training Centre for Apartment Associations offers vocational training for leaders of the apartment associations all over Estonia and the associations now function as professional housing management agencies, being also very successful in applying for funding for housing improvement. The financial behavior of apartment associations has proved them to be trustworthy partners and all major banks in Estonia have special loan scheme (energy efficiency loan) now for apartment associations on particularly favorable terms.
A challenge for housing policies in Estonia still is to find a balance between policies related to buildings and policies related to people. The work of EKYL Legal Department has played significant role in preparation of housing legislation, the last of which, Apartment Ownership and Apartment Associations Act, provides the detailed legal framework for apartment associations.
The sustainability of this type of housing management system has been assured by younger generation of leaders of apartment associations engaged themselves in management of apartment buildings.
Poor condition of the building stock
In Estonia there is a total of 27,000 apartment buildings, and approximately 90% of all apartment buildings were built before 1990. The majority of those buildings have same typical problems: high energy consumption levels, insufficient ventilation, uneven indoor temperatures, and insufficient thermal comfort levels. Therefore, an extensive level of renovation and deployment of renewable energy solutions are prioritized by EKYL for achieving energy efficiency and mitigating risk of energy vulnerability and energy poverty.
Renovation of apartment building is progressing in Estonia and in most cases 50% energy savings are achieved, accompanied by a healthy interior climate. Apartment associations’ desire to renovate, and innovative technical solutions are there but the main bottleneck has been the unstable financing of support measures. While loan guarantees and grants are available to improve energy efficiency, renovating old buildings requires significant own resources and is not attainable for many low-income households, in particular in rural areas where real estate values are low.
EKYL is working with its members and partners from public and financial sector for creation of common visions regarding how to keep this large segment of housing stock stable and energy efficient in the future, and how to remove the market failures and encourage apartment owners to make investments into energy efficiency. For that, state funded financial mechanisms in the form of loans, guarantees and support, but also the introduction of new technologies, information measures as well as research and development are needed. According to the Estonia’s long-term building renovation strategy, 1,100 apartment buildings have been renovated with the help of support since 2010, but 14,000 apartment buildings should be renovated in full (at least energy call C) by 2050. This is the ambitious task ahead of EKYL, its members and partners for the next decades to make the building stock safer, of better aesthetic quality, better for health, more accessible and more affordable.
- Community empowerment is the key for enabling residents to increase control over their living space and neighborhood.
- Homeowners are able and willing to renovate if provided financial incentives and institutional support. Private owners need legal certainty and well-organized decision-making systems to fully contribute to the housing renewal.
- Case studies have proved to have an important demonstration effect when communicating homeowners. Learning from others and sharing your experience are bases for the knowhow necessary for sustainable development of the living environment.
- Innovation and new technical & digital solutions help the housing sector to overcome the obstacles to achieving the objectives of energy efficiency, accessibility and affordability.