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The Housing Policies of our Future: How to make them work

All you need to know about the international conference at the UN HQ in Geneva

Geneva, 28 September 2016 | Published in Urban, Economy, Social
Some highlights from the conference
Some highlights from the conference

Many countries in Europe are at the crossroads of reforming their housing systems under pressure of an extended housing crisis; more affordable homes are needed. How can the policy makers respond to these changing needs? What is the right policy mix? The conference “The Housing Policies of the future: How to make them work” took place on September 15th showcasing the impact of successful housing policies.

In a room full of more than 180 delegates, including housing providers, representatives from a wide range of housing ministry representatives from the UNECE region, local authorities, international institutions, academia and from the civil society at the UN European Headquarters, the Palace of Nations in Geneva the conference has been sort of the finish line of the ‘Housing for All’ campaign led by Housing Europe that aimed to generate concrete policy suggestions on issues that directly or indirectly affect the housing policies of all member states.

The day started with the keynote speech by Peter Cachola Schmal, Architect, Director of the German Architecture Museum (DAM) and General Commissioner for the German Pavilion of the 15th International Architecture Exhibition La Biennale di Venezia. Peter’s intervention with the title “Making Heimat” started with the question whether a home can be created and explored the relation between the refugee crisis and the way Germany dealt with it in 2015, which has also been the focus point of the German Pavilion of the 15th International Architecture Exhibition La Biennale di Venezia. Peter concluded that “the future of our towns is people with migration background but we have to make it affordable for them”, stressing that especially for a country like Germany that is growing a new direction is needed. After all, according to Peter “we don’t have a refugee crisis, but a housing crisis”.

Peter’s presentation

The first panel session of the day evolved around the dynamics between housing and society. Good quality, affordable housing is one of main drivers of change towards a better society. Public, cooperative and social housing providers have a multifaceted and measurable impact in the wider community. Numerous best practices of dealing with challenges such as migration, homelessness and social exclusion in general can be identified across Europe. How can successful models be multiplied and adopted from the local to the national as well to the international level in times of tight public budgets?

After a short break the format changed. Speakers had to beat the clock, complying with the Pecha Kucha rules that only allow the use of 20 images that are displayed for 20 seconds each. The first Pecha Kucha session offered a taste of emerging responses, such as community-led housing and ‘housing first’ to the changing needs.

The lunch break, that was mainly used by participants as an excellent networking opportunity and as a chance to enjoy the view to the lake and to Mont Blanc, was followed by the second Pecha Kucha session that was dedicated to the role of cities. Cities have to have enough homes, have to be inclusive, have to overcome burdens linked with the lack of resources etc. This is why depending on the context, local authorities work together with all kinds of stakeholders and come up with a variety of creative responses to the challenges of our times.

Before the start of the second panel session conference participants and speakers watched a series of short videos put together in a fast pace mix of challenges, innovative solutions and campaigns from across the globe. You may watch all videos at the bottom of the page

The world is changing faster than the ways we provide housing. Climate change, drought, the economic osmosis, demographics and imponderables such as emerging war zones shape a new reality both for the housing sector and for the local and national authorities. Innovation in construction is now needed more than ever to address the demanding request for better homes both at faster pace and at a lower cost. What is the right mix between ground-breaking solutions, access to finance and policies to guarantee a resilient future for housing? The second panel session put together the challenges of Building, Construction and Finance.

The final session of the day was dedicated to urban development and social inclusion. Socio-spatial segregation is the major challenge in the modern urban environment. Inequalities generate a number of issues that are linked with exclusion from decent, affordable housing, lack of education, unemployment and even radicalization. This explosive mix has a direct effect in the communities we live in. Tackling the challenge may seem complicated but actually it only takes four steps to produce a response: mixing the housing options, offering adequate financing, empowering tenants and getting support from the EU can serve the vision of liveable communities. But is this enough?

David Orr, Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation (NHF) in the UK, also a member organisation of Housing Europe was the brave one who was supposed to lead the Wrap Up Session, outlining the next steps. However, David, a fan of the Scottish Hearts FC himself, showing some football skills dribbled around this challenge and decided to deliver a powerful closing message instead. “We don't need permission to do our work providing housing”, said David reminding everyone in the room of the collective power, the influence and the potential a network like Housing Europe has, bringing together more than 43.000 local housing organizations and employing more than 369.000 staff members.

David stressed that housing associations, housing cooperatives, public housing providers STAY and do not just deliver profits to shareholders: “We stay in our communities and invest in their success”, he added. Closing his intervention and the day as a whole David Orr re-used Javier Buron Cuadrado’s line, urging all representatives of housing providers in the room to “keep boogying out of the door because we can make it happen”, reminding them of the ‘’Housing for All’ campaign punchline that “Housing for All is not an ambition, it's our obligation”.

Work on the ground: the study visits

The day after the international conference a delegation of Housing Europe members paid a visit to a cooperative and to a student housing project in Geneva that provide solid proof about the balancing impact of affordable alternatives even on a saturated housing market.

Read the report on our blog to find out more