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Why is this year International Social Housing Festival important?

The view of the very first ISHF organiser, Pepijn Bakker

the Netherlands, 29 May 2023 | The future of the EU & Housing

This year’s International Social Housing Festival (ISHF) in Barcelona is not just a gathering of experts and professionals in a certain industry, like there are many conferences for all types of professionals. No, instead, the ISHF is a statement. We gather because we have a common goal.

Looking back at the ISHF’s history, from the very beginning in 2017 in Amsterdam, travelling to Lyon in 2019 and Helsinki in 2022 and finally this year's edition in Barcelona, we can clearly identify a development of the message that we send out and the topics that we discuss.

Amsterdam: social housing as a solution

The tone of the first edition in 2017 in Amsterdam was rather modest, as in the Dutch contest social housing sector experienced very bad publicity in the years prior to the festival. The organizing parties clearly wanted to regain trust, explaining that social housing is a solution to societal problems, like upcoming segregation, migration and diversification of needs. Instead of a problem, as it was regarded back then. Luckily the perspective has changed over the years.  If you like to learn more about the change in perspective, attend ISHF side event ‘Dutch social housing going all in’ on Wednesday, 7 June, 11:00.

Lyon: fighting financialization

The Lyon edition of 2019 was much more political and outspoken. The French organizers had invited Leilani Farha, who was the UN special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing. Farha addressed the upcoming financialization of the housing markets, meaning that housing was increasingly regarded as an asset, as a tool for investors to speculate and to extract value, resulting in increasing rents for the tenants, while maintenance conditions were neglected. The right to adequate housing, against financialization, she stated, was a political choice that we should advocate for. Tune in for the session on housing policies in the south to know more.

Helsinki: the dream that is reality

In 2022, we were invited by the city of Helsinki, that turned out to be a living proof that provision of good and affordable housing in particular to those who need it most, is actually possible. We were treated with presentations on how the Finnish finance social housing, how good policies like ‘housing first’ really result in better conditions for vulnerable people and how social housing providers can become a frontrunner in sustainability. All taking place either in central, prominent venues like the Helsinki city hall, or during site visits to beautiful estates with saunas and happy tenants. Helsinki was like a dream that is actually real. If you like to learn more about the Finnish model, attend ISHF side event ‘Challenges and solutions for mature ‘housing systems’’ on Friday, 9 June at 09:00.

Barcelona: the city without social housing.

At first sight the contrast between Helsinki and Barcelona as hosting cities couldn’t be bigger as - unlike in Helsinki - there is almost no social housing in Barcelona while homelessness is big and many people live in all sorts of precarious conditions. Organizing a social housing festival is a city with such a small share of social housing is a courageous thing to do.

But looking closer, there is more similarity than you might expect. In the past decade, the municipality of Barcelona, has worked out policies to create more affordable housing in the city, by regulating the existing rental market, by fostering collaborative initiatives, by building public housing. Right now, the first results of these efforts become visible. New tenants receive the key to their rent-controlled homes, collectives manage to build their collaborative projects. The motivation, the tenancy and the effectivity of the practitioners is similar. It’s just the starting point that is totally different. As the organizers state on their website, some cities have mature housing  systems, some have nascent ones. We all face the same challenges. How do we respond?

From identifying social housing as a tool to deal with today’s challenges, like financialization, segregation, migration and diversity, which we did in the first two editions of the ISHF, to showing how the tool actually works and can be improved, as we did in Helsinki and will do in Barcelona, the ISHF has developed and deepened. We share our goals and we take action.That’s why this year’s ISHF is important.

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