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European Commission launches Country Reports 2019

Housing features prominently in the analysis of many member states

Brussels, 8 March 2019 | Published in Economy, Social

The European Commission released on 27 February the Country Reports. The reports provide the analytical basis for the country-specific recommendations in the European Semester.

This year the reports include for the first time a specific Annex on ‘Investment guidance for cohesion policy 2021/2027’. This analysis on investment needs is expected to be included again the country reports in five years time. 

Housing features prominently in the analysis of many member states. But more interestingly, and to some extent more than in previous years, the European Commission highlights in several cases how the lack of social housing calls for stronger investment in the sector as well as in energy efficiency of (residential) buildings, especially with regards to the next ESIF programming period.

Despite the presence of issues which in our view remain controversial in some of the country reports, overall Housing Europe highly welcomes the approach taken by the EC. Below you can find few excerpts from some of this year’s country reports. However, please keep in mind that this is just a ‘teaser’ and all reports are available here.

Check out the analysis on your country and send us your feedback!

Some examples:

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Belgium: ‘[…] there are important investment needs in social housing. In Belgium, the percentage of social housing compared to total housing market is rather weak (6.5 % of all dwellings), in particular in comparison to the Netherlands (34 %) and France (18.7 %). All regions are affected, in particular Brussels where the demand would be double to the offer’. The report highlights that investment should, among others, ‘[…] enhance housing and social services for the inclusion of migrants and refugees to address urban poverty and security and to foster educational and housing inclusiveness’

Germany: ‘House prices are set to rise further, owing to the inadequacy of the housing supply in large cities. This has implications for rent levels.’[…] ‘Housing costs in large cities put older and poorer people at greater risk of poverty. […] Microcensus data show a provision gap of 880 000 affordable dwellings in 10 large cities ranging from Berlin to Bremen.The stock of social housing could provide for only half of this provision gap (Holm et al., 2018). The Federal Government’s financial initiative to make 100 000 additional units of social housing available thus appears very timely. However, even this initiative will not cover supply gaps’

Ireland: Prioritising both public and private investment in infrastructure, decarbonisation, housing, innovation, skills and social inclusion is essential for sustainable and long-term inclusive growth’ […] ‘Other key issues are improving access to employment for all jobseekers, including by providing affordable childcare, as well as investing in social housing to address rising homelessness’ […] ‘Finally, housing remains a very pressing issue, given increasing homelessness due to shortages of social housing’. […] Investments in social housing infrastructure and social services are crucial to address the severe social housing shortages and rising homelessness and reducing the number of children at risk of poverty and social exclusion’

France: ‘Investments to improve connectivity, affordable housing, healthcare and transport, especially in more disadvantaged areas, would help to address inequalities within the country.’ […] ‘Social housing supply is limited in certain areas. Despite recent positive developments (124 200 4.3. Labour market, education and social policies 48 social rental units financed in 2016 and more than 100 000 renovated), shortages of affordable and social housing remain in certain regions. It is estimated that, in 2017, 2.1 million households were in the waiting list for social housing (USH). Overcrowding for more modest households is also increasing due to the lack of accommodation. Stronger investment in social housing, especially in areas with high demand, could reduce social distress and foster labour mobility.’ […] ‘On the other hand, the easier conditions for selling out social houses to private actors could lead to the privatisation of up to 40 000 social housing units per year (compared to the current 8 000 units per year) with potential risks of shortage of social housing’.

Italy: ‘Access to affordable and adequate housing remains challenging. While only 4 % of the population have access to housing with a subsidised rent, 28.2 % of tenants who pay rents at market prices were overburdened by housing costs in 2017 (EU average: 25.2 %). The severe housing deprivation rate, albeit on a declining trend, stood at 11.1 % in 2016, compared with a EU average of 5.6 %’. […] The social housing system is affected by limited funding, difficult coordination between different government levels and lack of strategic overview. Italy has one of the lowest stocks of social and public housing in Europe, in a context of growing housing needs. Only 4% of the population has access to subsidised rent and all available indicators reveal high and increasing housing related hardship.’ As for investment, the report mentionspromote energy efficiency through renovation of social housing and public buildings, giving priority to deep renovations, innovative technologies and most advanced standards and practices; promote innovative and less mature renewable technologies, particularly for heating and cooling, in public buildings, social housing and industrial processes in small and medium sized enterprises

Luxembourg: ‘Social housing remains largely underdeveloped compared to neighbouring countries, pointing to some investment needs so as to increase the supply of affordable housing units. In 2017, there were 2,000 publicly-owned social housing units, accounting for 0.9% of the total housing stock (compared to close to 20% in France). The new Government’s coalition agreement highlights plans to develop the supply of affordable housing through the Housing Fund (Fonds du Logement) and the Société nationale des habitations à bon marché (SNHBM). The medium-term objective is to multiply by three the supply of affordable housing units for rent. Delegated social housing is also promoted, whereby privately-owned dwellings are rented, through a public entity, at lower rents to people who are not eligible to social housing or who are on the waiting list.’

Netherlands: Subsidies to owner occupied housing and social housing lead to an underdeveloped private rental market. The social housing and rent-controlled sector is large compared to other Member States. The private rental market is the only non-subsidised housing sector and remains underdeveloped. The lack of a wellfunctioning middle segment on the rental market encourages households to buy rather than rent, leading to high debt-to-income ratios and financial vulnerability’.

Austria: ‘House prices and rents have risen considerably, but the impact on consumption and financial market risks is contained. Housing prices and rents have been increasing steadily since 2005, mostly driven by developments in Vienna. This can be linked to excess housing demand’. […] ‘Land prices are putting pressure on the availability of social housing, especially in the low and medium-price sector (GBV, 2018a). In November 2018, the city of Vienna adopted an amendment to the Vienna Building Code (new construction areas will have a legal two-thirds quota for the building of subsidised dwellings), with the aim of increasing the availability of affordable housing (RIS, 2018).

Sweden: ‘A structural undersupply remains in the housing market, despite a significant increase in new construction over the past 5 years.’ […] ‘Sweden is moving forward with policy steps to promote more construction, including the gradual implementation of the ‘22-point plan’ for the housing sector, as well as measures to boost foreign competition in the construction sector’.[…] ‘Sweden’s tightly regulated rental market can create lock-in and ‘insider-outsider’ effects.’

United Kingdom: ‘The availability and affordability of housing remains a major challenge. House prices and rents remain high, especially in areas of high demand, and there are signs of overvaluation. Significantly fewer young adults now own their own homes and this contributes to inequality between generations. The amount and location of land available for new housing is limited by tight regulation of the land market, particularly around big towns and cities. This has prevented housing supply from responding adequately to shifts in demand, and inflated the price of building land and existing houses. The government recognises the problem and is implementing a range of measures to boost housing supply, but house building remains below what is required to meet estimated demand.’ […] ‘Homelessness is increasing and shows no signs of abating.’ […] ‘The government has relaxed rules on local authority borrowing to build public housing. […] However, not all local authorities have the necessary experience and skills to be able to make use of this new freedom in the short term