Following half a year full of negotiations, backtracks and changes in faces or even names of portfolios, the new European Commission finally took office in the first week of December, trying to already set the tone for the next five years. It’s clear that people are expecting change from this new Commission. There is a window of opportunity and housing is at its heart as we were able to realize over these last couple of weeks.
By Sorcha Edwards, Housing Europe Secretary General
The pressure for a shift in the approach of the EU level is growing. Vice-President Timmermans stopping to have his picture taken with the climate strikers in the European Parliament shows that there is a recognition that the message coming from the ground needs to be taken on board. Europe’s youth are feeling the brunt of the failure of public policies, not only the failure to get a handle on Greenhouse Gas emissions’ reduction, but also the failure to get a handle on the market forces, now depriving more and more people of a decent job or a decent place to live.
What is Housing Europe’s perspective on the first statements and meetings of the New Commission? The first week of the Commission does give some positive indications. In the many events we organised or contributed to this week there was a common point the prevailing common recognition is that the lack of affordable housing is a problem. This was highlighted at the European Economic and Social Committee on December 4th at the event that looked at social housing as ‘a service of general interest to guarantee decent, energy-efficient and affordable accommodation for all?’.
Along the same lines was the message coming out of the Workshop organised by the European Commission’s DG ECFIN ‘addressing housing market imbalances’ on December 6th but also at our own event on the Green New Deal on December 5th. The impression was identical at the Commission’s 'Go local: Supporting regions, cities and rural areas in migrants’ inclusion' conference on December 3rd.
Crucially, also at a debate on 5th December at the European Committee of the Regions, Commissioner Nicolas Schmit, tasked with implementing an action plan on the social pillar, recognised that housing deprivation is at the heart of poverty and social exclusion, closely linked to unemployment and committed to more public support from European level for new construction and renovation and tackling homelessness.
There is an increased awareness even within the minds of the macro-economists that a change in direction on Housing is needed. Funding will be redirected to housing via Invest EU, via ESF+, via ERDF, via EIB. This is a cert. What is missing, however, is the clear recognition that there is no shortage in investment in housing per se, there is a shortage in investment in housing providers that re-invest, housing providers that put people, not profit, at the centre of their work and generate wealth in local communities. Housing providers gathered under the umbrella of Housing Europe.
When Directors of the different national Federations met a month ago, they agreed that we need to do more to explain and communicate our contribution to society. The events of the last two weeks reinforce this need. Also, this week we received the first draft proposals from the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA), the host of our 2020 annual conference- save the date: June 4th in Glasgow- and coincidentally they also want to focus on how their European counterparts are measuring and communicating their contribution to society.
It is clear that while we are convinced that this is the way to go, there is still some work to be done to convince policy makers. For me, the clarity came when new MEP, Kim Van Sparrentak (the Greens, the Netherlands) said that to align those flighting for climate justice and the right to housing we need to make sure that investment in housing is not market-driven but sustainable. This is precisely what is needed and we are ones to make it happen.