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New European Bauhaus’ know-how of building communities

A collective response from social, affordable housing providers, European cities and artists

Brussels, 30 June 2021 | Published in Economy, Social, Future of the EU & Housing

In a historical moment when the COVID-19 pandemic has further emphasised growing inequalities and the urgency to redesign our homes, Housing Europe brought together social and affordable housing providers, city mayors and even artists to reimagine homes and neighbourhoods during its annual conference ‘New European Bauhaus #BuildingCommunities’ on 16th June.

Watch the full conference here:
16th June
17h June

Beautiful, sustainable, together. To be proud of where we live, to construct and use in homes in a way which respects the boundaries of the planet, to see a mix of generations and cultures co-exist in harmony has been the long-term core mission of public, cooperative and social housing providers in Europe for over a century. This is also why it was easy for the sector to quickly recognise its day-to-day work in the slogan of European Commission’s New European Bauhaus initiative.

This new movement has come at a time when having an affordable, decent, healthy, functional home got a whole new meaning. Its design phase is also ongoing at a moment when housing needs are undergoing a real transformation or as the moderator of the first session, Orla Murphy representing the high-level roundtable of the New European Bauhaus said to see ‘how the European Green Deal comes into our daily lives.’

Circularity and deep renovation should not be a dilemma

French social housing providers see the New European Bauhaus as a chance to ‘add value to deep renovation and adapt financial tools’ according to Carine Puyol in charge of European Affairs at l’Union Sociale pour l’Habitat (USH). ‘Deep renovation often is a dilemma for social housing providers because it is really very expensive and right now it is less expensive to demolish and build a home, even if it is not contrary to zero-carbon and circular principles,’ she highlighted.

Different geographies and housing systems impact the priority list of housing providers. ‘A large part of the population in Eastern Europe lives in multi-storey buildings that need urgent modernisation, improved management and increased energy efficiency,’ the executive member of the Housing Initiative for Eastern Europe (IWO), Knut Hoeller noted. In addition to the much-needed refurbishment rate of homes, he also pointed out the existing so-called ‘missing middle’ or a large part of the population, around 44% in the case of households in Latvia that are not eligible for public support for housing and cannot afford a mortgage. To be able to house people appropriately, Knut Hoeller insisted that affordable rents and diversification of the housing markets through cooperatives, rental housing and social housing construction would be incremental to meet the housing needs of the region.

Inner beauty matters

Going back to France, USH also broadened the understanding of beauty, listing several very human qualities of home comfort that made the audience look at what makes homes beautiful with fresh eyes. ‘Beauty is an aggregation of different aspects. beauty can be found in the quality of material, the level of comfort for people, acoustic, air quality, light, access to nature and green areas, how do we bring nature back to the city. There is also beauty in being able to share a place with other people, and access quality services. We speak a lot about industrialisation process, it is important to consider also beauty and inclusiveness in the scale up of these techniques,’ Carine Puyol said.

Echoing France’s take on aesthetics, the President of the German Federal Association of Housing and Real Estate Companies (GdW), Christian Lieberknecht also added that beauty and inclusiveness also means ‘to prevent people from living very far outside in a metropolitan area and to drive everyday to the city’. ‘You cannot include people if you have very, very high rents because in Germany and in most European countries, prices rise, especially of land,’ he said. The major expectation from the New European Bauhaus for German affordable housing providers would be to influence the European Commission and EU Member States to ensure that the paying for energy transition of the continents is not purely left to tenants and housing providers. ‘The challenge for all of us is to deliver decent housing in a good, comfortable environment which is secure, buildings meet energy standards in order to prevent energy poverty and accommodate us also as we age’ GdW’s Christian Lieberknecht stated.

Evolving housing needs and the lasting impact of COVID

Speaking for the providers of social housing to low- and middle-income households in Italy, Alessandro Almadori stressed that the opportunity offered by the Recovery Plans and the New European Bauhaus can lay the basis for the overall review of the Italian public housing system and as tools that can be supportive in delivering change. While it is too soon to offer a complete insight into the aftermath of the pandemic, the Italian national statistics body has reported that more than 2 million households are now in poverty compared to about one million before the hit of COVID-19.

Adding to the argument for an overhaul of Italy’s housing system Rossana Zaccaria explained ‘More than 25% of the elderly in Italy would be interested in moving from metropolitan areas to smaller urban areas,’ Zaccaria, the President of Legacoop Abitanti, added that on the other hand, flexibility in working conditions for young people should be reflected in a new approach to housing which allows them to move house. In the spirit of the New European Bauhaus, Italian housing cooperatives are running a survey of about 5,000 people investigating residents’ needs, hopes imagination and concept of future homes.

Beautiful, sustainable, together in European cities

Cities, such as Barcelona, Helsinki and the French capital of culture in the region of Lyon, Villeurbanne, have been seeking refuge from the pandemic in all different ways. Boosting social and affordable housing supply, making areas more liveable, bringing people closer to job opportunities and promoting culture to overcome divisions and invisible barriers. At the same time, their determination to come up with a collective plan, work together with the authorities and exchange practices unifies them in their goal to deliver all-in neighbourhoods for future generations.

Giving citizens of Barcelona the right to housing

‘After decades of housing policies that never aimed to guarantee the right to housing, this [increasing social and affordable housing supply] has been one of our top priorities of our local government since 2015. COVID has highlighted once again the weakness that is our lack of affordable housing, but on the other hand, this crisis has put housing policies at the centre of the public debate and has allowed to introduce new policies, or reinforce others that were in place,’ the housing councillor of Barcelona City Council, Lucía Martín González told panellists and the moderator of the session, Pepijn Bakker from the Dutch social housing association, Rochdale.

Suspended evictions, a moratorium of the collection of rent in the public housing stock, reduced rents when tenants were risking eviction and hostels housing over 1,000 homeless persons have been some of the short-term policies that the City of Barcelona initiated to respond to the corona crisis. Reflecting on what is needed in the long term, Lucía Martín González stressed that the increase of the number of social and affordable housing units ‘is more important than ever in the city’. Now, Barcelona is also starting to introduce industrialised technologies to speed up construction and to improve sustainability.

‘The New European Bauhaus provides us with a framework to improve what we were already doing here in Barcelona and to scale up joint efforts,’ she said and added that the initiative could scale up innovative co-housing projects that introduce the use of wood, a more circular approach to buildings and housing refurbishment on which work on improving vulnerable areas has already started. Similarly, the ‘Superblocks’ in the city have been gaining popularity by making public space areas nearly car-free, allowing people to stroll and move more easily.

The housing world will be able to see in real life the transformation Barcelona is undergoing during the fourth edition of the International Social Housing Festival which will take place in spring 2023.

In the steps of Helsinki during the International Social Housing Festival in 2022

Before Barcelona City Council’s organisation of the International Social Housing Festival, however, the city of Helsinki will take the baton. Next June, during the 2022 edition of the Festival, we will all be able to witness how Finland has been weathering the COVID-19 storm and the actions it takes to ensure that the EU Green Deal is fair to all.

‘In a sense we are lucky that we have a very strong social security system. The Nordic welfare state was tested and it was proven to be very strong, so we were able to make changes [during COVID-19] that we could adapt to very fast. We did not see evictions rising, we put a stronger focus on providing more housing advisory services ,’ the Deputy Mayor of Helsinki, Sanna Vesikansa said.

To ensure that the EU Green Deal does not create further inequalities the cities has initiated several experiments, comparing wooden and concrete housing and the amount of CO2 emissions they generate. The Deputy Mayor added Helsinki has very ambitious climate targets to become a climate-neutral city by 2035 and since heating is so important to Finnish households to keep homes warm during winter, this is something they also focus on a lot.

Culture unifies people and presents what is ‘lost in translation’

‘You need to pay attention to people’s past, present and future, as well as to how we live together,’ the mayor of Villeurbanne in France, Cédric Van Styvendael noted. As his city is the national capital of culture in 2021, he has seen the eminent link between social housing and culture as arts ‘not only produce a common storytelling but contribute to make a shift’ and present to different parts of the society that may be lost in translation.

‘The New European Bauhaus can give new means and legitimacy to developing a holistic approach to cooling, heating and shared space,’ he said and stressed that in addition to the vision of architects and designers, the new initiative should be helped mainly by housing providers.

Housing that empowers work, commerce and culture

The major takeaway from Housing Europe’s President, Bent Madsen was his vision of a New European Bauhaus that has the potential to bring the authorities and the welfare system nearer to the housing areas. If we create new housing with new work space areas, we have to use these local hubs, to bring people nearer to the labour market. It is hard to bring people to the labour market if they live in deprived areas,’ Bend Madsen said.

‘This is action time and it truly is. It cannot be clearer that now is when we need to re-frame our housing system with social justice at the centre and to fill the New European Bauhaus with content,’ Sorcha Edwards, the Secretary General of Housing Europe concluded.

The New European Bauhaus #BuildingCommunities

Speaking about content and source of inspiration for the New European Bauhaus, Housing Europe together with BBC StoryWorks took the opportunity to launch the new #BuildingCommunities series that showcase the forward-thinking social and affordable housing initiatives that are changing the game across Europe.

Kate Morgan, Marketing Officer of Cooperative Housing Ireland (CHI) presented the powerful story of Mustafa and his family who have lost everything in the Syrian civil war and how he found a home after losing everything.

Christian Fredrik Mathisen spoke about the rebuilding effort of the cooperative housing movement after World War II to provide mass housing. Now almost a quarter of Norway’s population lives in co-operative or shared ownership housing. OMT Housing Association, part of the Co-operative Housing Federation of Norway (NBBL), is committing to renovating these shared ownership homes to help reduce their impact on the environment, increase cost efficiency and improve the quality of the homes for the people who live there.

Dr Johanna Lilius, Postdoctoral Researcher at Aalto University and her colleagues have been interviewing tenants who were already living in new social rental housing in Helsinki about how did this new housing work for them and to be able to understand better the needs of families. Based on these results, the architects designed a new social rental block that takes into consideration the findings of the research. Stay tuned for the launch of this story in September.

One of the creative minds behind the series, Mark Gavhure responsible for Programme Partnerships at BBC Global News announced that the #BuildingCommunities series will consist of 25 unique stories from the public, cooperative and social housing sector from all across Europe.

Watch the first five episodes launched during Housing Europe’s Social Housing Film Festival that took place right after our annual conference on 16-17 June. We dare to call them a true example of what the New European Bauhaus should be about.

Keep an eye also on our website, newsletter and social media channels for the launch of calls for the 2022 International Social Housing Film Festival and Responsible Housing Awards which will open in September 2021.