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The State of Housing in the EU 2015

A Housing Europe Review

Brussels, 5 May 2015 | Published in Research
Design: Razvan Suciu
Design: Razvan Suciu

Housing trends, statistics, policies, research & case studies

Housing Europe, the European Federation of Public, Cooperative and Social Housing presents a report that reflects the state of the housing sector in the continent.

Long Story Short

The overall state of housing in the EU remains unstable: Six years after the low point of 2009 many steps remain to be taken to respond to two very alarming issues that emerge according to the facts and figures of our report:

  1. There are more people without a home today in Europe than six years ago
  2. There are not enough affordable homes available in most European countries to meet the increasing demand 

Key Findings

The housing markets are very heterogeneous, making it very difficult to propose a one size fits all approach to housing markets and housing policy from the EU level. The best way, indeed, to observe the markets is at national and even regional level, since the needs of the metropolitan areas, which become increasingly dense, differ a lot from the ones of the rural areas.

There is a sort of “housing trap” in many EU counties, for people who try to enter the housing market:

  • The rental sector is expensive
  • Home ownership is not an option due to the even higher cost
  • Social homes are just not enough with waiting lists growing in a number of countries, including Italy, the UK, France and Ireland.

This leads in many countries to the generational phenomenon that the majority of people aged 18-34 still live with their parents- 66% of them in Italy, 58% in Portugal, 55% in Spain, 74% in Slovakia etc.

A large number of households are overburdened by housing costs and this becomes more and more evident in the crisis-ridden countries like Greece, where more and more families appear to have difficulties to cover their housing expenses as the crisis keeps evolving.

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The quality of the dwellings is still a big challenge for many Central and Eastern European countries despite the positive trends over the recent years. For instance, in Romania 1 out of 3 homes does not have access to running water and just 65% of households benefit from a sewage system… Therefore, governments in the region are trying to tackle this issue by establishing programmes to renovate the existing stock, and some of them are at the same time investing in new construction of social homes.

Europe builds less since the beginning of the crisis, regardless of the sector (private, public, cooperative), with the sole exception of Germany. Rising construction costs make it even more difficult for most countries to keep up with the demand. For example, in Sweden 436,000 homes are needed until 2020 while the government’s national objective is 250,000. 245,000 new homes are needed in the UK every year and not even half of them are being built.

Homelessness is on the rise across the continent. The situation of the most vulnerable keeps getting worse and phenomena of social exclusion become more intense. The social housing sector needs to be supported to address this issue, at times when the state retreats from the social housing sector and hands over a big share of responsibility to private initiatives.

Outstanding mortgages are still at worrisome levels. The total outstanding residential debt to disposable household income ratio has also increased dramatically from 66.4 in 2004 to 81.8% in 2012.

Migration flows towards Europe as well as the increased internal migration within the EU put further pressure on the national housing markets, especially in the destination countries. The demand in most cases is immediate and creates a sort of emergency situation.

Policy makers have become more “creative”… The financial crisis forced countries to implement measures that have not been adopted before, including taxation of empty homes (e.g. Ireland, Malta), mortgage-to-rent schemes (e.g. Ireland) and to promote the use of private housing stock. On the other hand, the report confirms that there is a profound lack of a long-term stable framework for the affordable housing sector.

The Housing Europe View

Responsible housing is the key for a better future

The President of Housing Europe, Marc Calon underlines in his publication foreword:

“Housing is the foundation for people’s lives and their priority among their needs. We should make sure that it becomes a priority for policy makers, too. I see three major challenges for us:

  1. Promote cities which are accessible and affordable for all;
  2. More sustainable, efficient and decentralised energy;
  3. And neighbourhoods where people feel secure and where they can reach their full potential.”

Informing Policy, Inspiring Innovation

Housing Europe Secretary General, Sorcha Edwards sets the tone for the publication in her foreword:

"... this diversity of models and tenures and activities has its roots in different histories and traditions but is driven by a common objective: to meet the demand for affordable, quality homes and neighbourhoods.  Having a home, this basic pre-requisite for taking part in society, is something which now is out of reach for a growing number of Europeans highlighting the need to again mobilise all resources to expand existing solutions and come up with new ones."