After a year into the global health pandemic, Housing Europe’s ‘State of Housing 2021’ report provides a first analysis of the impact the COVID-19 crisis has had on public, cooperative, social housing and our communities. The flagship publication produced by the Federation’s Housing Observatory illustrates the alarming housing reality in 21 countries and offers concrete policy recommendations on how to overcome substantial challenges to decent, sustainable, inclusive, affordable housing.
The vital need for shelter from the COVID-19 storm has made the essential role of decent and affordable housing even more explicit, reinforcing the strong link between adequate homes and health. Evidence shows that as little as a 5% increase of households living in poor housing conditions can result in 50% higher risk of incidence and 42% chance of losing the battle with the coronavirus.
“The need to improve homes to fulfil new functions without pricing people out is now clearer than ever. Including work and study spaces so that our homes enable all to lead a productive life will be crucial to reducing the inequalities which not having adequate housing reinforce when we are obliged to ‘stay at home’,” Housing Europe’s President, Bend Madsen says. Various analyses show that inadequate housing has an impact on well-being, mental health, school performance and the possibility to work remotely. Previous editions of ‘State of Housing’ have been drawing attention to Eurostat figures that report for nearly 10% of the EU population experiencing housing cost overburden and over 17% of Europeans living in overcrowded homes, making social distancing a particularly challenging task.
In contrast to the struggles of households relying on low to middle incomes, “house prices growth continues to outstrip increase in the incomes”, Alice Pittini, Research Director of Housing Europe, stressed. While housing markets have recovered from the Global Financial Crisis in 2009, average house prices in the EU's private sector have increased by over 30% in the past decade and rents have gone up by almost 15%. Unbearable housing costs coupled with growing unemployment rates due to COVID-19 will result in higher demand for social and affordable housing according to the OECD. Higher demand comes on top of already large unmet needs. Council housing waiting lists in England already count 1.1 million households and risk to nearly double to 2 million households in a year from now. One out of four tenants in Czechia in 2020 fear that they will have to leave their current home in the next 12 months. In Italy, the share of tenant households with arrears on rent payment in the private rental sector has jumped from less than 10 to 24% since the start of the pandemic.
“Although available data at European level do not yet fully allow to grasp the new post-COVID-19 reality, social and affordable housing providers are already seeing the impact on communities and neighbourhoods,” the Chair of the Housing Europe Observatory, Laurent Ghekière points out. For already over a year, public, cooperative and social housing providers have been taking the extra mile to support residents and tenants. Preventing homelessness and promoting inclusion by adapting rent payments, helping people access social assistance, reaching out regularly to the most vulnerable, ensuring digitalisation and working from home possible, rethinking the design of homes and neighbourhoods - the social and affordable housing sector has been and will continue to protect people, communities and the economy.
In 2020, most governments across Europe have taken fast, effective emergency policy measures in supporting incomes or temporarily banning evictions. A quick reality check, however, clearly shows that there is not yet a sustained trend in long-term investment in social or affordable homes. “Public, cooperative and social housing providers are at the coalface of this shared challenge and are calling for us to align our finances and policies to the immediate kick-starting of the economy but also to the long-term social and environmental transition,” Bent Madsen stresses.
The ‘State of Housing in Europe’ report acknowledges a mix of political decisions that could create a unique opportunity for Member States and the EU to invest in social, cooperative housing: The EU Stability and Growth Pact has been put on hold, allowing EU Member States to use debt to invest in both emergency measures and recovery plans. The EU has also made monetary policies more accommodating to face the pandemic. Eventually the European Pillar of Social Rights, which acknowledges the essential role of social housing in a modern European welfare state, is meant to be the compass of the European Commission to ensure that EU policies will support social progress, also in the field of housing. The Secretary General of Housing Europe, Sorcha Edwards stresses that “if this change is to succeed, this new framework should help invest in social and affordable housing. Very importantly, the new EU Green Deal must ensure a social green transition and we call for the set-up of a new high-level stakeholder group on post-COVID affordable housing for better finance, better knowledge and better regulation.”
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For press inquiries, contact Diana Yordanova, Communications Director of Housing Europe