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Delivering a dignified housing response to Ukraine

European social, cooperative, public housing’s contribution to welcoming refugees from Ukraine

Brussels, 29 March 2022 | Published in Energy, Economy, Social

Forced to flee Ukraine, millions of people have fled their homes and cities to neighbouring European countries, with the vast majority now in Poland. Historically, this is the biggest movement of people in Europe since World War II. The sudden need to escape from a war is a departure like no other – it comes not only with the need to find a roof, but also mental support, and in the medium-term support to join the job market, education opportunities, and be part of a community.

The President of Housing Europe, Bent Madsen said: “To help meet this urgent need, where possible, public, social, and cooperative housing providers are working together with local authorities to identify available homes often in very tight housing markets where homes are already lacking. When the war started on Wednesday [February,24th], in just a matter of a few days, social housing providers in Denmark offered 1.800 homes to refugees. Together with the local authorities, B.L is housing a big number of people fleeing Ukraine right now.”

Navigating in extraordinary circumstances - a refugee and energy crisis, on top of a health pandemic crisis, on top of an already deepened affordable housing crisis - has become the new norm for public, cooperative, and social housing providers who are busy scrambling in support of local authorities to identify available homes in view of already long waiting lists for affordable homes. In parallel with the need to meet urgent housing needs and address housing exclusion, the ambitious EU goals also call for higher renovation rates, getting off the gas grid, and alleviating energy poverty. At the same time, according to Eurostat, energy prices in the EU have risen by 17% since September 2021. In Belgium, Greece, Italy and the Netherlands, increases have been over 30% and the conflict in Ukraine is adding further price pressures, after already large increases in recent months.

Having been through the migration crisis back in 2015, social and affordable housing providers know from experience that EU Member States, the local authorities, and the voluntary sector must mobilise. As the European Council correctly pointed out on March, 25th, developing “contingency plans to address medium- and long-term needs” will be essential to help for the re-build of Ukraine but also to ensure that the European Commission and the 27 EU countries are aligned on the measures that they will take and have a clear path to follow for the years to come. Be it through a Ukraine Solidarity Trust Fund or other means, the access to decent, affordable housing must be at the core.

In only a month since the invasion has started, the EU activated the “temporary protection” mechanism for displaced persons from Ukraine. This mechanism resulting from a European directive of 2001, allows the Member States to respond to the massive influx of people in need of protection. In concrete terms, the activation of this measure will make it possible to grant the persons concerned a protective status similar to that of refugee for a one-year renewable term.

Cohesion Policy was amended to maximise the speed with which Member States can help people fleeing Ukraine, offering the possibility to use 100% EU co-financing for 2014-2020 Cohesion policy funding for an extra accounting year 2021-2022; Member States’ spending on all actions helping people fleeing Ukraine will be eligible for EU support retroactively as of the start date of the Russian invasion; simplifying reporting.

The European Investment Bank (EIB) is providing EUR668 million emergency support from existing loan agreements with the government of Ukraine and disbursements are already underway. Furthermore, the Council of Europe Development Bank (CEB) is preparing measures for Ukrainian refugees in the neighboring states and beyond, according to the common statement of public financial institutions.

Looking at a national level, the Flemish government intends to potentially fund the delivery of vacant social housing for a period of about one year. According to their recent statements, DC (France) and CDP (Italy) have already made housing units available as well as preparing and providing further accommodations for affected Ukrainian families fleeing from their homeland in this state of emergency. KfW (Germany) has launched a special programme to support German municipalities hosting refugees. Germany’s Federal Minister for Housing, Urban Development, and Building, Klara Geywitz also called for a significant increase of the funds for affordable housing.

Public, cooperative, and social housing actors are gearing up to deliver a dignified response to the crisis. In the spring of 2022, the collective answer of European governments to Ukrainian citizens and the partner they choose to cooperate and support will be a true reflection of the places we live in.