Public, cooperative and social housing providers are definitely at the crossroads of the social, climate and construction goals. This is why the 'Affordable Housing Initiative & the New Bauhaus: Towards a green transition in public, cooperative and social housing' event organised by Housing Europe on 25th February was simultaneously streamed as part of the EU Industry Days and the February run-up to the Social Economy Summit this May.
At the very start, Ulla Engelmann from the European Commission’s DG GROW recognised the importance of the Renovation Wave to be socially inclusive, affordable and ecologically progressive. To her, the Affordable Housing Initiative has been incredibly valuable to support the local long-term public-private partnerships for implementing the renovation of 100 lighthouses in social and affordable housing districts across the EU. Having an economy that needs serious investments to recover, the European Commission has seen the initiative as only one way of filling the major gap in investment in social and affordable housing in the EU which is estimated at 57 billion per year. “We will support renovation projects to go the extra mile, looking at local priorities in terms of circularity but also new technology in construction and renewables, smart living, social inclusion. That means mobility, as well as livability,” she said and added that the Affordable Housing Initiative has the potential to contribute to the other key project of the EU when speaking about retrofit of buildings - the New European Bauhaus. EU-level cross-sectoral partnerships are expected to kick off this autumn so that the renovation of the lighthouse districts can start as from 2022.
Having a look at the local experience and what works on the ground, the Director of Public Affairs at the Danish Federation of Housing Associations (B.L), Natalia Rogaczewska presented the Aalborg Model, which has transformed a vulnerable housing area into a mixed community. "We look at the physical side of the renovation, modernisation and densification, but we always combine it with the social development plans," she said. To answer the question of what features should the support projects have, Carine Puyol from L’Union Social pour l’Habitat (USH), France highlighted the importance of support projects to improve the living conditions of residents from inside and outside of their homes, affordability of renovation, reproducibility of projects in the EU and also the responsibility to the needs of local areas. Following up on this question, Dirk Lönnecker, representing Berlin Building & Housing Cooperative from 1892, emphasised that economic, ecological sustainability and social responsibility should be tightly tied up.
Speaking about how projects should be financed, Frank Lee from the European Investment Bank (EIB) pointed out that financing individual small projects can be a hard task for the EU institution. Instead, he said that the Bank opts for funding through national and local promotional banks, or works with borrowers who have the capacity to prove together several projects. Housing Europe’s member, Bjorn Mallants who is a Director of the Association of Flemish Social Housing Companies (VVH) shared an example from his work on the Aster project that has been funded by the EIB to combat energy poverty. In his experience, the availability of technical assistance is crucial. He also called on the EU to look at the concrete translation of an operational working scheme at national level and said that every country in Europe has different needs and ways of funding and financing schemes. “In Flanders, the rate we have to pay for government funding with social housing is not high. In other countries, Eastern or Southern Europe, this can be a problem,” Bjorn Mallants further added.
In the context of how the Affordable Housing Initiative and the New European Bauhaus should be governed, Adrien Hiel from Energy Cities called attention to the need to find a way of working together towards a common goal, as well as making clear from the start how much time different parties should dedicate. He said: “Not everybody needs to be there all the time, especially when you are dealing with citizens or tenants. It is enough that you make sure you understand their concern and you have the necessary trust to be able to go away and address them.” Michaela Kauer, Head of the Brussels Office of the City of Vienna, highlighted that putting people at the centre does not only mean listening to them but also actively involving, empowering and emancipating them. “It is not something that comes from heaven, but it’s something we should organise,” she said. Michaela Kauer also mentioned that when we talk about having good governance, it is crucial to consider that a nice neighbourhood that has been refurbished in a socially, economically and ecologically sustainable way, needs to be protected from price speculation and eviction so that people can continue living in these neighbourhoods in the longer term.
After the expert-led discussions around the features, governance and necessary financing of the lighthouse districts, Alessandro Rancati - policy officer of the New European Bauhaus at the Joint Research Centre (JRC) - invited all parties to share best practices and challenges on the web page dedicated to the initiative. The Housing Evolutions Hub can surely be a source of inspiration.
To wrap up the session, Housing Europe’s Secretary-General, Sorcha Edwards came on the virtual stage and concluded by saying that in addition to the positive initiatives from the EU side, we also see motivated key players “who really want to bring up these ambitions we have as a society. What we are trying to do is to bring both sides together, looking at the real needs of people on the ground and contribute to that effort in tackling them.”
The talented illustrator, María Foulquié was with us and managed to bring all comments into a single, beautiful image that you can download at the bottom. This is also where you will find the presentations of the panellists and the response of the audience to some key questions.
You can watch the full recording of the session HERE.
We also remind you that Housing Europe continues with the Affordable Housing Initiative series which are part of our initiative - Our Homes, Our Deal - dedicated to a social green transition. If you would like to be part of them, reach out to our colleague, Clara Mafé.