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How can Europeans live better

What works and what is needed to make Europeans’ quality of life higher

Brussels, 11 December 2015 | The future of the EU & Housing

The Housing Europe point of view regarding the latest EUROSTAT report on how Europeans live, presented by POLITICO EUROPE.


Reality check

Six years after the low point caused by the crisis in 2009 many steps remain to be taken to respond to two very alarming issues that both Eurostat and Housing Europe have reported over the recent months:

There are more people without a home today in Europe than six years ago, while there are not enough affordable homes available in most European countries to meet the increasing demand.

The housing markets are very heterogeneous, making it very difficult to propose a one size fits all approach to housing markets and housing policy from the EU level. The best way, indeed, to observe the markets is at national and even regional level, since the needs of the metropolitan areas, which become increasingly dense, differ a lot from the ones of the rural areas.

There is a sort of “housing trap” in many EU counties, for people who try to enter the housing market:

  1. The rental sector is often too small and/or expensive
  2. Home ownership is not an option due to high prices and tightened mortgage lending rules
  3. Available social housing just not enough with waiting lists growing in a number of countries (including Italy, the UK, France and Ireland).

According to data gathered by 43 members organisations of Housing Europe in 23 European countries and presented in the “State of Housing in the EU 2015” report, Europe builds less since the beginning of the crisis, regardless of the sector (private, public, cooperative), with the sole exception of Germany. Rising construction costs make it even more difficult for most countries to keep up with the demand. For example, in Sweden 436,000 homes are needed until 2020 while the government’s national objective is 250,000. 245,000 new homes are needed in the UK every year and not even half of them are being built.

On top of that, overcrowding and energy poverty remains key concerns for millions of Europeans in particular in Eastern Europe.

What is needed

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Numerous factors contribute to the maintenance of a high level of demand for housing in the EU. The refugee crisis is putting into test the very qualities of our continent and let’s face it, our response has not been adequate so far. The main reason for that is the illusion that this is a crisis that it’s going to end at some point. But the truth is that the issue is here to stay and it will have an impact in terms of demographic trends as well as housing needs

Residential mobility is growing and comes hand in hand with professional mobility. Demand is concentrated in the urban areas where jobs and services are to be found but also where the shortcomings of the market are structural in terms of accessibility. The social and urban diversity and the accessibility of the offer of housing are the major challenges that European towns will have to face up to with their growing concentration.

Social housing must be in a position to respond to these new challenges. The European Union must guarantee and not hamper its accessibility, its capacity to respond to changing needs, and its universality. It must accompany this with the support of structural funds and its cohesion policy and not hamper or slow down housing delivery through disproportionate bureaucracy.

The EU should thus encourage Member States to keep on investing sufficiently in affordable house building and renovation of existing homes. Those investments should be made in the right location in order to meet the local housing needs and avoid building too many homes where and for people who do not need them, as it was the case in some member states until 2008.

What works

At national level, there are already initiatives that have proved to work out well. The financial crisis forced countries to implement new measures including taxation of empty homes (e.g. Ireland, Malta), mortgage-to-rent schemes (e.g. Ireland) and to promote the use of private housing stock for social purpose. Economic models based on long-term financing mechanisms that are well regulated, such as dedicated savings accounts or real estate bonds (Denmark, Austria, France) and on diversified public aid have coped with the crisis better. In these countries, social housing plays a countercyclical role in terms of investment and jobs while ensuring continuity in the community service and the availability of an affordable supply of housing.

Innovation is also driving improvement of quality of affordable homes, thanks to new processes and new technologies, which will make more and more feasible to combine environmental performance, high comfort and affordability for low income families.


At a time when many countries are at a crossroads regarding their housing policy and it has to be ensured that they choose the right path for this transition Housing Europe is about (mid-January) to launch its Housing 4 All campaign that will also train decision makers, in a close collaboration with UNECE, to ensure that housing-related policies will indeed start delivering concrete results at a much faster pace. 

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