The view from Brussels by our Secretary General, Sorcha Edwards
“For all of us, the first step on the road to success is recognising our strengths, and once we identify those strengths we need to invest in them.” Housing Europe’s message looking toward the occasion of 30 years since its foundation – For the future we want to invest in Europe’s strengths, invest in those 46,000 local public, social and cooperative housing providers scattered around our cities, towns and villages, big and small, old and new. They add to the diversity and resilience of communities that makes Europe strong.
Every day we see the proof that public, social, cooperative housing providers can be locomotives for better lives and neighbourhoods, better cities and societies. We however also see how financial and policy condition can radically impact work, in NL alone the level of new production by housing associations dropped from 40,000 to 20,000. In Italy between 2005 and 2014 dropped by 50% to 4,500 units. Housing Europe’s priority is to ensure that Europe recognises this sector in its diversity as one of its key strengths and ensures that its laws and instruments promote the stable, financial framework it needs to flourish.
The future is Playing to our Strengths
No other geographic region on the planet has this resource. The 46,000 local responsible housing providers brought together under Housing Europe is a key strength for our region. Meeting the 2030 Global Sustainable Development Goals, in particular Goal 11 on Sustainable Cities and Communities which commits signatories to ‘make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable’ requires making the right housing policies. In the Global New Urban Agenda UN Habitat has called for Housing at the Centre however this is an even bigger challenge without dedicated expert housing providers. Putting our sector in this global perspective, as Housing Europe does, shows our governments at local, national, European level that these organisations, some in existence for over 100 years are a priceless strength to be fostered and supported and replicated in other regions to meet our global goals.
The future is Equal
Public investment in social housing represents just 0.66% of European GDP, historically low and on a downward trend. The lack of adequate affordable housing is accentuating inequalities in our societies. Housing is now the single highest expenditure for Europeans at about a quarter of total EU’s household budget. When you can’t afford a good home, you live in un-healthy, overcrowded conditions or become homeless. Housing inequality is both affected by income inequality and contributes to it. Spatial segregation can result in limits in access to transport, education, health and sense of community. Inequality affects everyone and Housing Europe, through its campaigning and lobbying , sends the clear message of how our sector is counteracting growing inequalities.
The future is Urban
Currently the lack of affordable, sustainable and energy efficient housing is one of the biggest risks faced by our cities. Urbanisation is a fact of life in Europe as we head towards 80% of us living in cities by 2050. Getting it right is not. Futureproofing cities means making sure they can welcome students, low and middle-income groups, new-comers. Without adequate housing provision at the right price, this is no longer possible. OECD warns of growing numbers being excluded from our cities. Affordable housing and jobs are not in the same place. Cities need a housing supply that the market does not answer. The supply must address homelessness, low and middle-income groups. It must address the needs of refugees students, of tourists, of young families, of the elderly. Housing providers are increasingly enlarging their scope to cover these diverse asks.
The future is connected
The populist vote has reached highest levels since 1940. Loss of connections and trust is one of the causes. The antimigration vote was one of the key reasons behind the Brexit vote. In a world of growing instability, local connections and quality local services are the way forward to foster trust and address divisions. Cooperative, public, social housing providers connect people with each other, with services, with what they need to improve their lives.
The future is circular
The current movement towards making the circular economy has placed housing providers at the forefront in many regions. Local jobs, more efficient use of local materials for construction, locally produced renewable energy means better management of water and waste, as well as more resilient neighbourhoods.
The future we want requires responsible finance
Macroeconomic conditions make European real estate a target for investment. Among the top 5 most interesting sectors for private investment are: private rental residential, student housing and retirement or assisted living. Much of this investment however is speculative and will contribute to inequalities linked with unaffordability. Housing Europe at EU level is at the forefront of the work to re-balance this situation.
Continuous collaboration with European Banks has resulted in 14 billion Euro worth of loans to the social housing sector. Work with DG Regio has resulted in 6 billion of allocation of EU funds to our sector 2014-2020. The annual costs of 194 billion of inadequate housing for our economies has been
recognised by the European Foundation for Living and Working Conditions through a study contributed to by Housing Europe’s Observatory. The Observatory also contributed to a report endorsed by the European Commission calling for an annual increased investment of € 57 billion in affordable energy
The next step on the way to the future we want is to remove obstacles to this investment and position the sector at national and regional and local level to channel those funds into the responsible housing needs.
Housing Europe HQ has developed from a one-woman organisation 30 years ago to a 6-person team today. We are the voice of the responsible housing sector in Brussels. Housing Europe is called upon to join European expert committees on issues ranging from integration of migrants to energy efficiency
to structural funds.
The Housing Europe’s State of Housing publication is a point of reference in Brussels and beyond and has opened doors such as that to contribute to the high-level report on boosting investment in social infrastructure.
Our report on uptake of cohesion funds in housing is the only report of its kind and its usefulness has been publicly recognised by entities such as the EIB. Our work supporting countries with housing systems in transition is backed by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.
Our work on Basel macro prudential rules on banks, VAT directive and Energy Efficiency Directive ensures that members’ concerns are reflected in legislative outcomes. Our daily work is a delicate balance between policy shaping and advocacy, research and intelligence gathering and ‘working out-loud’ by communicating on our actions and achievements.
However, we as a team also recognise our strength, which is the continuous contribution of our members through daily interaction, our working committees, board, General Assembly, conferences, visits, social media. This continuous exchange and reinforcement across and between members and the team at the Brussels office is our lifeblood and is what will bring Housing Europe as an organisation from strength to strength.
Together let’s pave the way for a Europe that invests in its strengths!