Тhe Council of Europe Development Bank (CEB) has been reacting to the ongoing housing crisis by supporting public, cooperative, social, and affordable housing and their tenants or residents for years. Housing Europe has witnessed many recent promising projects in Eastern Europe and beyond. In this interview with CEB's Communications Officer, Jelica Vesic, and Technical Advisor for Housing and Urban Development, Samir Kulenovic, we are tracking progress and looking at the benefits that these loans have brought to people.
Back in 2020, when Europe was facing the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the CEB capitalised on a previous agreement and decided to support the retrofitting of thousands of multi-apartment buildings in Lithuania to energy class B or C.
The estimation that the bank made at the time was aiming ‘to bring a 70% reduction in the current energy consumption and thus a significant decrease in the environmental impact of the buildings.
The retrofitting will also result in lower heating costs and consequently in better living conditions for the residents, particularly low-income persons.
What has been achieved so far with the help of this €100 million loan to the Lithuanian Government?
So far, this €100 million loan was complemented by an additional €67.5 million in funding that the CEB channelled to the Public Investment Development Agency (VIPA), which manages Lithuania’s Apartment Building Renovation Fund (ABRF). With our partners in the country, the CEB finances the renovation of 154 multi-apartment buildings in Jonava (central Lithuania) and Varena in the south of the country.
Indeed, this project is an excellent example of the strong link between social investment and climate action. It is set to benefit more than 9,000 households and it ensures long-term benefits by reducing energy poverty and people’s energy costs, creating a sustainable and high-quality living environment for the residents. At the same time, it enables Lithuania to achieve the objectives of the transition to the green economy and mitigate climate change. We were able to directly witness many of these benefits during our technical missions.
Could you summarise CEB’s experience with the public, cooperative, and social housing sector in a few sentences?
The CEB has supported social housing since its inception and in the last 65 years, it has allocated approximately 30% of its annual financing for this purpose. It is actively engaging with partners across Europe to facilitate wide access to social infrastructure.
The sectors you cite provide the much-needed support, solutions, and value-added that ensure a more resilient housing supply. The experience of the CEB with the institutions providing social and affordable housing has been positive and productive. It enabled us to advance our social mandate and finance affordable housing in many of our European member states, including our target group countries where we particularly focus our social investment.
As national housing systems tend to be culturally specific, context-dependent, and take different forms across Europe, our projects in the housing sector are always done with careful consideration of the local situation. Working in close collaboration with our borrowers we are able to achieve a greater impact and support social inclusion by reaching the most vulnerable people.
The crisis has exacerbated the housing situations of many Europeans. What are the next steps that the CEB plans on taking to help them meet their housing needs?
After decades of underinvestment in the housing sector, the pandemic aggravated housing affordability, particularly for the most vulnerable Europeans who were already struggling with lack of access to housing or lived in substandard dwellings.
Notably, the CEB with the European Investment Bank (EIB), Union sociale pour l’habitat (USH) in France, Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations, acting via its Banque des Territoires unit, have formed an alliance which is designed to foster access to European financing for long-term investments in social housing. Since its launch in 2020, ‘the European alliance for sustainable and inclusive housing in France’ has benefited from €1.8 billion in financing from the EIB and the CEB.
Furthermore, since 2017 the CEB has been actively engaging in expert discussions within the Housing Solutions Platform [led by FEANTSA, Housing Europe, and Fondation Abbé Pierre]. The Platform facilitates mutual exchange and transnational learning on affordable housing and builds financial mechanisms for innovative housing solutions across Europe.
Housing Finance Agency in Ireland
Access to adequate affordable and stable housing is a human right. The CEB has excellent long-standing cooperation with the Housing Finance Agency in Ireland that helps provide thousands of people with decent, energy-efficient homes. Between 2016 and 2019 the number of adults in Ireland who were registered homeless grew from 3,885 to 6,363. A €150 million CEB loan to Ireland’s Housing Finance Agency is helping to deliver new social housing to vulnerable people. The loan enabled the Agency’s customers to retrofit or build nearly 2,250 energy-efficient social housing units across Ireland. These units provided 224,000 sqm of living space and are the new homes for 7,525 people. The project is directly aligned with the government of Ireland’s objectives to combat homelessness and enhancing quality of life.
Housing Fund of the Republic of Slovenia
In Slovenia, we are working very closely with the Housing Fund of the Republic of Slovenia (HFS). In 2018, a € 50 million loan by the CEB to HFS financed the construction of 800 new social housing units in Ljubljana and Maribor. The CEB funds have provided affordable rental housing to low- and middle-income persons and increased Slovenia’s public rental housing stock. Moreover, more recently at the end of 2021 another €70 million loan to the HFS was approved that will facilitate access to affordable housing through the construction of 900 new housing units across seven regions in Slovenia. The project will contribute to reducing regional disparities in the housing market and the beneficiaries will be low- and middle-income families and individuals who cannot meet their housing needs