Cities need a seat at the table when decisions on EU-level that affect them directly and gravely are made. The call is therefore to continuously foster the urban dimension of EU policies, including future directions of the Urban Agenda for the EU with housing representing a truly cross-sectoral topic. The “CITIES Forum 2020 – “together we shape a sustainable urban future” brought together various city representatives and stakeholders from European, national and local levels to do so. Housing Europe contributed to the two-day major event, organised by the European Commission Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy, and the City of Porto.
The Forum reflected on cities’ role in shaping strong and active governance mechanisms to respond to rapidly changing conditions. As Mayor of Florence, Dario Nardella put it “If we want a stronger Europe, we need stronger cities”. The message is clear: cities need to actively take and be given the tools to guarantee such transitions.
Housing precarity echoed as a reoccurring theme throughout the sessions, highlighted by city officials confronted with different local housing realities. No surprise that the Mayors' debate was highly vocal on housing. Porto’s Mayor, Rui Moreira stressed that high ownership rates pose a problem, the need for co-housing especially for the elderly, an increase must of affordable housing supply and that city planning should not fear aiming at denser cities. When talking about social cohesion, attention needs to be paid to the language used, choosing acceptance over tolerance. What the minimum income for social housing is cannot be unified, cities have different speeds and “social” does not equal “poor” but civilization, said Mayor of Rotterdam, Ahmed Aboutaleb. In times of scarcity the market is not the answer but a strong governmental stance such as “If you buy a house, you need to live in it!”. The Vice Mayor of Madrid Begoña Villacís Sánchez ranked housing first on the agenda in the next years and Acting Director General of the European Commission Joint Research Center, Charlina Vitcheva concluded with a call to maintain an integrated and place-based approach.
The EIB used the event to launch their Circular City Funding Guide and a Handbook for sustainable and circular re-use of spaces and buildings by the Urban Agenda Partnership on Circular Economy will be available online shortly.
When being directly questioned on what cities themselves need from EU level for a sustainable urban future, funding and support for community-led local development, both resource- and knowledge-wise were mentioned repeatedly. Housing Europe contributed to the workshop “Cities engaging on the Right to Housing” introducing municipal strategies to tackle the housing crisis. As a kick off launch for the capitalisation programme of the UIA/URBACT Knowledge Hub, the joined session defined the initiative’s objectives for the year to come. Laura Colini, Senior policy advisor UIA/URBACT, illustrated key take-aways of the Housing Europe “The State of Housing in the EU 2019” pressing the role of the public sector to counteract the trend of housing as a cash machine. Michaela Kauer from Vienna House Brussels takes a stance to thematise housing exclusion on a broader level, to widen and locally adapt target group definitions and to pay attention to the gender dimension of housing affordability.
Next to the themes “No One Left Behind” and “Fair Finance”, Housing Europe Communications Director, Michalis Goudis fuelled the discussion on “Community-Led Housing Practices”, both by sharing good practice examples and urging public authorities to skip excuses and find the competence to guarantee acquirable land. Together with URBACT expert Levente Polak and Community Land Trust Brussels Calico project manager, Arthur Cady challenges for cooperative housing, CLT initiatives and co-housing projects from various contexts were gathered. A multi-layered community approach rather than a mere “city land-trust” one and traditional financial structures not recognizing the actors involved as receivers of funds can be mentioned. A clear push for urban planning tools, public action against rent increases, avoiding “renoviction”, and a consideration of re-municipalisation benefits is called for. Housing Europe will follow up on the session by participating in web conferences- next one on April 24th dedicated to Community-led approaches- and a toolkit on what cities can do on the ground to make the vital right to housing real.