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Interview with David Orr

Housing Europe turns 30

Brussels, 6 June 2018 | Published in Social

David Orr has been involved in Housing Europe since 1990, serving as President from 2008 to 2010. David will retire from his position as Chief Executive at the National Housing Federation (NHF) at the end of September 2018.


What does Housing Europe mean to you?

I’ve been involved in Housing Europe for 28 years and all the way through that what I’ve found is – friendship, companionship, and ideas, and a willingness to share ideas. I think during that time, Housing Europe as an institution has become a very important voice for housing in the European Union and elsewhere, and I think it has done a pretty impressive job.

What is your most vivid memory from your time at Housing Europe, if you can pick one?

My most vivid memory is in the period when I had the honour of being President - we celebrated our 25th anniversary and I was able to preside over the celebrations that we had in Paris, which included a really spectacular dinner on the Seine, with the Eiffel tower lit up and people really enjoying each other’s company, being able to celebrate what we’d achieved but still understanding that there was work to do. So that’s a pretty vivid memory.

What has been the most significant achievement of the organisation during your time?

So, two – one is a personal thing - I think if I’ve done nothing else, I take credit for Housing Europe being called Housing Europe rather than CECODHAS which never meant anything to anyone. So I’m very pleased about that!

But right at the heart of the mission of Housing Europe has been this engagement with the EU which had always turned its back on housing. I remember when I was Vice President - representing Housing Europe at a conference in Bratislava where I made the case, and this was something that we’d been working on for a long time, that if the EU was serious about tackling climate change and energy inefficiency, they would have to start with housing. And there were senior people from the Commission who were at that and they said, “You know… that’s right, we agree”. And it was in that period of time that I think the lobbying that Housing Europe did persuaded the EU that it had to have a view, at the very least, about the energy efficiency of our existing homes and I think that was a breakthrough moment and that has made quite a profound difference to the lives of many, many Europeans and I think that is an important achievement.

What is, in your view, the added value that Housing Europe brings to its members, to policy makers and to the academic world?

I think we are increasingly good at sharing and I’ve always thought that… Well, this may not be a surprising thing to say right now, but Britain has a tendency to be a bit isolationist. I do think that the vote to leave the EU is a reflection of that and the fact that we have a tendency to think that, if we haven’t thought about it it’s not worth thinking. I think our engagement with Housing Europe has demonstrated that we do have solutions and ideas that other people can pick up on, but other people have solutions and ideas that we can pick up on and mould and make work in our places, with our challenges, and I think that’s been really important.

How do you estimate that the role of the organisation will change in the course of the next 30 years?

I think that the challenges of providing adequate housing for everyone are going to get greater, not less. Having a strong, consistent voice for housing in the individual countries of Europe, but also collectively across the continent of Europe, not just in the EU, but actually across all of the peoples of Europe is going to become increasingly important. I think that Housing Europe has an important job to play in helping us to develop a narrative that puts us on the front foot so that we’re not always on the back foot saying “No” to something that any government is doing but saying, “We have ideas, we have solutions, we have ways that can make this work. Look to what we are doing and copy it and do it more” and being in control of that narrative. In the National Housing Federation at present, we are running a programme called “Creating our Future” – the ambition is that housing associations understand that they don’t just have to inherit a future that other people define but they can think to themselves, “What does good look like for us, in ten years, in twenty years, in thirty years, and how are we going to get there?” I think Housing Europe has the opportunity to develop that kind of narrative to create our European housing future.