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Brexit: Housing Matters

Social Housing and the European Project

Glasgow, 1 July 2016 | The future of the EU & Housing

By Sorcha Edwards*

“If people do not have a degree of certainty about their future, of having a roof over their head, an income, assurance of safety in their neighbourhood there is no confidence and no sustainable growth. Current trends of reduced employment stability, evictions and ghettoization in our cities are detrimental for our societal development. We must make the link between people’s every day concerns and policy makers at national and EU levels.”

This could- or even should- have been a statement by a head of a state, or a representative of the EU Institutions, however these are the words of Housing Europe President, Marc Calon who shared the guiding sentiment of his Presidency after his election back in September 2014.

This disconnect with peoples’ lives and real concerns many believe was one of the reasons for the 52% to tick the ‘leave box’ at the ballot boxes last week. This implies that the work of social housing associations, supporting communities and tackling inequalities will now become even more vital to save the European project. The European project that is, not in its manifestation as institutions and accompanying lobby groups based in Brussels and Strasburg but in its original sense, a European project aimed at building and maintaining peace and stability in our villages, towns and cities across our continent, peace and well-being for citizens.

If we can agree that social exclusion played a real role in creating the situation of instability and unrest we find ourselves in, then there is even more reason for social housing providers and all those committed to more equal societies to consolidate our efforts across Europe, concentrate on our common challenges, strengthen each other through exchanging ideas and advice and bringing our message loud and clear to the tables of policy makers at all levels. 

A new conversation, local but also global

The Brexit vote shows clearly the need for a new conversation across Europe and beyond, locally nationally and globally. Not a conversation which takes the easy way out for cheap electoral victories and pits communities against one another but one which takes stock of the facts. One which acknowledges the external forces impacting efforts to ensure social cohesion and comes up with a plan to handle them.

Legislation on free movement of capital, workers, products or those regulating public debt, public procurement , state aid, VAT, building standards, whatever level of government they come from, can be considered within those forces however as we have seen with the financial crisis in 2008, climate change and the on-going issue of immigration, we need to look at the bigger picture.

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On immigration for instance, a pivotal issue in the run up to the UK in-out referendum, Marc Calon called on policy makers in an interview with the Euractiv on-line journal, to recognise that what was commonly being described as an immigration crisis is the new norm.  ‘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. Large scale migration towards and within Europe is the new norm for four reasons. First, climate change and drought reshape the environment in which people live in and trigger their search for alternatives. The economic osmosis of the recent years is changing the living conditions in many countries pushing more and more people to move in search of better quality of life. The internal market only accelerates these mobility trends within the EU. Imponderables such as emerging warzones generate refugee waves like the most recent one from Syria. Finally, demographics set another major challenge for European communities regarding working opportunities and insurance systems, increasing thus (labour) mobility. “

The issues at stake clearly show that this conversation needs to be local but it also needs to go global. For this reason Housing Europe, beyond its function of monitoring and influencing EU law-making and working closely with the European Commission and Parliament on issues of importance to our Members, also facilitates exchange between members on what works at local level for example by working on land allocation policies or ‘housing first’ capacity building, while also engaging with the global policy community.

The organisation has become a point of reference for the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development which advises its Member States on Housing policy. We join forces for our 2016 GA with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Housing and Land Management Committee which brings together Ministries working on housing from 56 Countries. We keep a focus on international rules of relevance, for example Basel III rules on banking supervision to evaluate impact on housing providers lending conditions. We are present in the shaping of the new Global Urban Agenda under Habitat III and we are members of the building alliance signed after the COP 21 agreement in Paris.

The work of social housing providers is key to meeting our local challenges but also our European and global ones. We must remain open, inclusive and interconnected. 

* Sorcha is Secretary General of Housing Europe. The article first appeared in the "Scottish Housing Matters" magazine of the Chartered Institute of Housing.

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