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Housing Finance: Property Bubbles or Social & Ecological Resilience?

The conference presentations

Brussels, 12 November 2014 | Published in Economy

Housing Europe has organised in cooperation with Finance Watch an international conference on the issue of Housing Finance. You may now review briefly the presentations held during the event, a detailed report will follow shortly.

Housing has been in the core of the financial crisis since its very beginning. The real estate bubble burst affecting the lives of millions of people across the globe. After six years of mainly failed political initiatives and measures to stabilize the situation, Housing Europe teamed up with "Finance Watch" and invited all major stakeholders and decision makers on November 5th to Brussels for an international conference. The event aimed to explore the paths that may lead the housing finance from the bubble effect to resilience. How can the Euro-Zone Debt Crisis be turned into an Ecological and Social Recovery?

For more than 8 hours politicians, academics, representatives from all major EU Institutions as well as from various housing associations from across the EU and all other relevant interest groups exchanged views on the issue of housing finance.  

Philippe Lamberts, the Co-Chair of the Group of Greens/ European Free Alliance in the European Parliament, stated in his opening speech that housing finance is “indeed a choice- as stated in the conference title- depending on the "avenue" a rich continent like Europe decides to take”, adding that "everything that helps to move from impatient speculation to patient sustainable investment should be supported".

The President of Housing Europe, Marc Calon stressed in his introduction the need for better and sustainable housing finance systems. He explained that "I believe in evolution rather than in revolution" regarding the nature of the changes that need to be made, while he highlighted that "deregulation leads to social polarization and middle class shrinks, embedding economy. This is not sustainable".

The Secretary General of Finance Watch, Benoît Lallemand claimed that "end users should be put in the center of this positive sequence of financial regulation" referring to the Banking Union and to Long-term financing. 

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In the first session moderated by Professor Manuel Aalbers of the KU Leuven, speakers presented different approaches followed in two different countries to make finance available for housing needs, while representatives of the European Investment Bank and the European Commission offered the institutional view.

Susan Torrance, Policy Manager of the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) explained how the Scottish Social Housing Lending Vehicle and Revolving Development Fund work, stating that "brave new world of cheap finance not materialized for Scottish associations".

Laure Maillard from Caisse des Depots introduced the innovative scheme that has offered valuable solutions to the social housing sector in France that only this year will deliver 30% of all new dwellings in the country.

Brian Field of the European Investment Bank (EIB) clarified that the EIB "is a policy bank with a balanced portfolio that combines lending, blending and advising". After arguing that the housing sector is a rather complex one for investors, he suggested a set of measures required to simplify things.

Almoro Rubin de Cervin from DG Markt presented the steps the European Commission has already taken as well as these it is willing to encourage more sustainable housing markets.

Aline Fares, Advisor to the Secretary General of Finance Watch in her scheduled reaction to the panel discussion said that "social housing is a typical example of long term investment".

The second session set the question "why market solutions for housing are not sufficient". The Chair of the Financial Affairs Working Committee of Housing Europe, Gene Clayton moderated a panel discussion during which the two extremes of the housing finance schemes were presented followed by an innovative model that has started spreading recently in Europe.

On the one hand Karin Ramser of Wiener Wohnen revealed the secret behind the most successful social housing model EU-wide, the one of Vienna, underlining regarding social inclusion that "noone can guess someones social background based on postal codes in Vienna"

On the other hand Javier Buron Cuadrado of URBANIA ZH GESTION described in very dark colours how the failure of the Spanish Economy had an immense impact on the housing sector, stressing repeatedly that any help is needed and welcome to his country. "Spain is a systemic danger for the EU, it's not Cyprus. We need help and support", he said, while stressing that ghost cities, evictions, empty homes, lack of financing are the new financial, urban and social reality in Spain.

"The social and urban diversity as well as the accessibility of housing offers are the major challenges for European cities", according to the Project Officer of the Global Fund for Cities' Development (FMDV). Charlotte Boulanger presented the CLT model as an innovative response to the above mentioned challenges, saying that it "a long term investment for permanently affordable housing". Ms.Boulanger concluded that "there is no one fit for all solution but complementary tools & strategies are needed for social housing finance".

Laurent Ghekiere, Chair of the European Social Housing Observatory of Housing Europe moderated the final session that unfolded in two parts, seeking for answers to the question whether another approach to housing from the side of the European Union is needed.

In the first part Christopher André from the OECD presented the current housing price orientation in OECD countries and underlined the numerous risks that are linked with high and/or growing household debt. "Housing policies are only part of the solution, there is a need for financial regulation & supervision", claimed Mr. André, who added that "housing markets require a holistic approach".

Peter Pontuch from DG Economic & Financial Affairs shared the tools used by the European Commission for the surveillance of the housing markets. In his opening statement Mr. Pontuch claimed that the "crisis has been a wake-up call for everyone" and he concluded that the "main challenge for the Commission is to find the appropriate incentive structure for the housing market" after sressing that "housing is a central topic in the macroeconomic imbalance procedure (MIP)".

In the second part Housing Europe members were joined by representatives of tenants and of the homelessness sector for a panel discussion. 

Arno Schmickler of the National Housing Federation (UK), Sebastien Garnier from Aedes (the Netherlands) and Kurt Eliasson from SABO (Sweden) briefly presented how the Country Specific Recommendations within the European Semested are received in their countries and how they affect their work. 

The Policy Officer of the European Federation of National Organisation working with the Homeless, FEANTSA, Samara Jones stressed in her intervention the "need to figure out how to turn empty homes into social housing" as a way to tackle homelessness.

Barbara Steenbergen, Head of EU office of the International Union of Tenants (IUT) made the case that for an EU with more affordable housing for rent & managed by non-profits, while she underlined that "tenants are more than just simple service users, since there is a binding contract with their landlords".

Pervenche Berès and Paul Tang concluded the conference. Both Socialists & Democrats (S & D) MEPs attended the event to underline the multiple importance of the housing sector, both financially and socially. Mrs. Berès stated that the European Institutions still have to work on the best financial instruments possible to guarantee the overall sustainability of the European Financial Framework. Mr. Tang ackonowledged the value of the variety of the housing systems in Europe and shared his views for a rather supportive than intervening role for the EU.