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A dive into Housing Europe's Renovation Summit that called for a fair, inclusive, green energy transition

Achieving decarbonisation while preserving social fairness and affordability

Brussels, 17 September 2021

To set Europe on a path to climate neutrality by 2050, in June this year, the European Commission presented a policy roadmap that would aim at reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. It is crucial to get the policy mix right to support social, cooperative and public housing providers in achieving a fair energy transition and decarbonisation. With the ambition to check exactly that, Housing Europe organised a two-day Renovation Summit in May 2021 to bring together relevant stakeholders and discuss this approach as well as the way forward around several major topics.

Download the full report with presentations, recordings and a brief summary.

Together with the social and affordable landlords, Housing Europe has been advocating for more affordable rental housing all over Europe since it’s foundation in 1988. The EU Green Deal, the Renovation Wave and the Recovery funds have presented an opportunity to take this investment to a new level.  

The Recovery Plans presented in the first session showed ambitious aims, particularly where new affordable/social housing programmes are only starting to be developed.

‘We can already see how EU policies like the Green Deal, Renovation Wave and the new Bauhaus can turn into real projects on the ground, however challenges remain. The session showed that the renovations are already taking place but there is a gap. While in some cases there is sufficient funding, in other cases there is some gaps to be fulfilled,’ Sorcha Edwards, Secretary General of Housing Europe concluded.

Taking the example from across the ocean in the US, where President Biden has announced to invest €213 billion in affordable housing construction and maintenance, better quality homes are seen as a life-long investment as opposed to a cost. Like the President of IUT, Marie Linder, also said – ‘where every child in Europe can live in a safe and green home is an investment for our future.’

The second session “People driving the energy transition” showed the importance of residents' participation to make the green change towards higher energy efficiency and affordable housing. Trust, engagement and involvement were considered crucial ingredients to make building renovation relevant for people. Also, simplification and getting the legal framework correct will be key to build trust-based relationships that make people accept and support renovation. The sector’s experience has also proved that the contribution of energy efficiency to decarbonisation can sometimes be limited as people’s behaviour and the carbon content of heating and cooling also plays a major role. An optimal situation would require a balance between energy efficiency, decarbonisation of heating and cooling and accompanying measures for residents.

It is therefore important to unlock bottom-up approaches by enabling local communities to be the drivers of renovations in their areas. The communities introduced play an important role to bring these opportunities to people’s doors, give residents pride in their neighbourhood and finally make the energy transition fair.

Discussing about the right policies to decarbonise housing in the third session, The Commission’s new Fit for 55 package, composed of 12 proposals for climate-related legislation to reduce net emissions by 55%, will be essential to develop the right regulations and make homes less energy intensive, safer and more comfortable for citizens. However, these will need to be accompanied by the right incentives may reduce the capacity to deliver new homes and exacerbate the already high tensions around housing. 

Ciarán Cuffe, Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for the Greens concluded that more emphasis needs to be put on fighting energy poverty and provision of social and affordable housing as the primary target recipient for support. ‘We need the revisions of the Energy Performance Buildings Directive (EPBD) and the Energy Efficiency Directive (EED) to be environmentally correct, but also socially just,’ he said.

Scaling-down to the national level, Robert Dijksterhuis, Envoy on Sustainable Construction for the Dutch Ministry of Interior and Kingdom Relations encouraged to look beyond European policy landscape and ‘bring the dialogue to the national government as the starting situation differs from country to country’. ‘Each Member State must develop their own smart policies that fit well into the national system of laws and regulations,’ he said.  

And last but not least, the session on circularity demonstrated how circular renovation (and new construction) can pay off over the entire lifetime, or “life-cycle”, of a building (likely at least 80-100 years), even when the capital cost might be higher at the start. Put it differently, adopting circular use of building materials today will help to futureproof social hosing providers; further justifying the higher initial capital costs involved. Having said that, the right stimulus will need to be put in place to overcome this barrier for instance, by promoting the use of appropriate procurement tools (environment clauses, framework agreements) and strengthening financial incentives.

Housing Europe’s Renovation Summit 2021 has brought to the forefront how the current policy and finance context in Europe shaped by the EU Green Deal climate goals and the post-pandemic green recovery are a one in a life-time opportunity to make the social, cooperative, and public housing sector a real central point of building back better and show that affordable housing organisations can be the businesses of the future that are investing in people. 

As concluded by Sorcha Edwards, ‘the next few years are going to be crucial. There are a lot of pieces to put together in order to make sure we can build back our societies better.’