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Refugee Crisis: The never-ending diffidence of the EU

How Housing Europe members contribute to resolving the deadlock

Brussels, 18 September 2015 | The future of the EU & Housing

What is the role of affordable housing providers in resolving the never-ending deadlock around the refugee crisis while waiting for EU leaders to finally make brave decisions.

On September 9th, the President of the European Commission dedicated a big part of the State of the Union speech he delivered during the plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg to the escalating refugee crisis faced by Europe. Jean-Claude Juncker urged MEPs and mainly EU Member State leaders to take decisive action and to support the action plan proposed by the European Commission already in May and updated in September.

The plan that will be on the agenda of the extraordinary summit on Wednesday, September 24th in Brussels is structured around emergency proposal to relocate 120,000 refugees from Italy, Greece and Hungary. The European Commission has also produced a useful overview of the application of public procurement legislation in the case of emergencies.

Within the Housing Europe membership

As the situation on the ground in many countries cannot wait for the EU leaders to make a decision, the role of local authorities and of the civil society becomes more and more crucial. Offering a series of services beyond of housing provision, such as:

  • Domiciliary care and support services for residents with specific needs
  • Additional services for tenants (kindergartens, community centres, employment and training services, financial advice)
  • Management of other types of ‘sheltered’ accommodation
  • Urban development and urban regeneration

social inclusion has always been among the pillars of their work. Many steps have been already made and therefore our members are well prepared to have a significant impact at this time of emergency.

We have gathered below some first reactions in various members states over the last month.

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Union Sociale pour l’ Habitat (USH) called on Wednesday, September 9th all of its750 member organisations to generate as soon as possible concrete solutions for the refugees who are coming to the country. In a press statement issued by the Housing Europe French member organisation it is highlighted that “the social housing movement is always mobilized to help public authorities welcome the numerous refugees under the best possible conditions in France”.  

French President Francois Hollande had already announced that France is ready to welcome around 24.000 refugees in two years. “The massive migration wave of people who leave behind a war zone cannot leave us indifferent. Social Housing Associations are led by the values of solidarity”, added USH in its press release, while it welcomed the large offer of volunteers to support its work.


The number of refugees in the Netherlands is temporarily higher again, so there is a need to find housing for more people. "It is a social challenge, so, the state, local authorities, housing associations and other parties should work together to find solutions." says Harry Bosch, board member of Aedes and from the common Platform “Home Again”

Municipalities are required to house refugees who receive a residence permit in the Netherlands. "Usually these people access social dwellings managed by social housing corporations," says Harry Bosch. "They are one of our target groups, so we make agreements with municipalities."

As more refugees are coming to the Netherlands compared to previous years, local councils and social housing corporations need to take special measures to accommodate them. “Regarding the usually way social dwellings are assigned, allocation is a tricky issue. And of course it varies considerably from one region to the other”, adds Mr.Bosch who underlines that under these extraordinary circumstances “we must look for solutions outside the regular housing stock. For this group temporary facilities can also be a good solution.

For example, in empty nursing homes or by building temporary dwellings. That is already happening in Nijmegen, where the municipality and the social housing corporations offered housing to 100 Eritreans in former student apartments. Another possibility is to let people share a house”.


German housing providers face their responsibility and our German member organisation, GdW has issued its detailed position paper on the accommodation of refugees and asylum seekers. GdW has three key demands that would make addressing the growing needs and demand easier:

We need

  • temporarily lowered standards and accelerated procedures
  • to ensure social support
  • considerably more cost-effective construction

The influx of people coming to Germany, fleeing war and distress, remains constantly high. On the basis of their social responsibility for society as a whole, the German housing sector has already engaged with great emphasis on their humane and integration-supporting accommodation.

The German housing sector offers homes to everyone in Germany - without discriminating on basis of a person’s background, origin, education, or religion. The recent GdW-study "tenants with a migration background" (Mieter mit Migrationshintergrund) describes the past experiences of our member companies in bygone decades and derives recommendations for action. A key message is that we need to see immigration as an opportunity and must not allow undoubtedly existing challenges to dominate public debate.

Given the current situation, however, we must pay close attention to not repeat past mistakes in the continuative accommodation after leaving initial reception centres. That is, no concentration of refugees in individual buildings, no permanent establishment of lodgings on the outskirts of cities, no new large settlements on the margins of society without the necessary infrastructure. This is what happened in the 70s and 90s.”

You may read the full GdW resolution in German and a summary of it in English below.


The National Housing Federation said it expects social landlords will offer support to refugees following a Scottish pledge last week to house migrants. Rob Warm, head of member relations at the National Housing Federation (NHF) said to Inside Housing: “We would expect that a number of housing associations across the country will be looking at ways they can work alongside national and local government partners to help.”

He pointed out that many housing associations were originally founded to house refugees. “In more recent years we have seen a number of associations supporting previous government programmes to resettle refugees fleeing conflict,” he added.

At the same time Jim Strang, a Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) board member, said: “The social housing sector cannot simply turn its head away from this growing humanitarian crisis.”

In Scotland a refugee task force held its first meeting on September 8th. The majority of Scotland’s 32 councils have already indicated a willingness to accommodate refugees affected by the current humanitarian crisis, said Europe Minister Humza Yousaf speaking at the close of the first meeting of a new task force set up by the First Minister to coordinate Scotland’s response to the crisis in southern Europe.

The operational task force brings together Scottish Ministers, the Scottish Refugee Council, the UK Government, local government and key stakeholders to coordinate Scotland’s humanitarian and practical response. Its first meeting considered issues including housing, health services, language support, and social services for refugees.

“It is very encouraging to hear that the majority of councils have indicated a willingness to accommodate refugees – we will now build on this positive response and ensure the appropriate support and integration services are put in place”, concluded Mr. Yousaf.

What do cities say?

Eurocities, the network of major European cities that brings together local governments of over 130 of Europe's largest cities, has also issued its own reaction on September 10th, stating the readiness of local authorities to take their own share of responsibility. Johanna Rolland, EUROCITIES president and mayor of Nantes, explained how cities are showing leadership when it comes to welcoming refugees:

“As EUROCITIES, the network of major European cities, we released a political statement on asylum already in May 2015 in which we pushed for a structural and sustainable European solution to the refugee crisis: The trend of people seeking asylum protection in Europe cannot solely be considered an emergency situation but needs to be addressed as a structural issue requiring structural and effective measures that take human rights into consideration.”

The EU and its member states need to offer a united and adequate response to the refugee crisis, and hundreds of thousands of refugees will need to be integrated into our societies. It is our role to ensure that asylum seekers settle in well for the duration of their stay, however short or long. Failing to integrate refugees into our societies impedes fundamental rights as well as the full realisation of the benefits immigration can bring; it inhibits asylum seekers and refugees from making a contribution to host societies and can prove costly in the long term for local as well as for national authorities.

We will continue to play a leading role in integrating these newcomers. Cities must therefore be recognised as crucial partners in this crisis and need direct European support for urgent reception and integration measures.

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