Ending Homelessness in post-Covid 19 times: what policies and partnerships in the housing sector?
On 18th June 2021, the Housing Solutions Platform held a debate on social housing policies and partnerships to end Homelessness post-Covid 19. Alice Pittini, research director of Housing Europe moderated the debate. She underlined that the pandemic has shown that people who live in inadequate housing or are homeless are at a particular high health risk. Ending homelessness requires strong action and strong cooperation between the different stakeholders. This webinar aimed to explore the role of social housing in ending homelessness.
The debate was opened by MEP Cindy Franssen, co-chair of the European Parliament Intergroup on Fighting against Poverty. In her introduction, Ms Franssen reminded that the number of people experiencing homelessness is very high in the EU, has grown over the recent crises, and is even likely to increase further. The European Parliament has repeatedly called to end homelessness and has recently adopted a resolution on access to decent and affordable housing for all. According to Ms Franssen now is the time to promote Housing-First-led policies. The social housing sector can play an important role here by offering support and housing solutions.
The EU Platform on Combatting Homelessness launched on 21 June as part of the Action Plan on the European Pillar of Social Rights can and will be an important turning point. To make the Platform a success, cooperation among all actors involved is absolutely necessary. According to Ms Franssen, better and more holistic approach to housing policies will be important to end homelessness.
Sarah Coupechoux from the Fondation Abbé Pierre spoke about Housing First in addressing homelessness in France. France is the only EU country where there is an enforceable right to housing: when someone does not have adequate housing, they can sue the state. This is a big legislative tool to promote the right to housing.
In France Housing First began as an experiment in Paris, Lille, Marseille, and Toulouse. An important objective of these policies has been to make a bridge between health services and psychiatric hospitals for people with mental issues in the streets.
Ms Coupechoux underlined that more resources and political will are needed in all EU member states to make change happen in practice. Furthermore, there is a need for better coordination between the different actors: national and local government, civil society, private and social housing.
To promote more social housing for people in poverty and with very low resources, targeted subsidies to cover their rents are needed. Housing homeless people should be prioritised by creating partnerships at the local level, including also partnerships with the private sector for direct contracts between landlords and tenants. To end homelessness in the EU, policies must move from a pilot approach to a systemic approach.
Maria Montes Miguel, Vice-president of the Spanish Federation of Public Housing, AVS, presented the Spanish experience on combating homelessness through a partnership with municipalities. The social housing sector in Spain is mostly public. In this model social housing providers at the regional or local level make dwellings available for homeless people.
For social housing providers to make dwellings available to homeless people a political commitment is required. NGO’s and social services from the municipalities work together to identify and determine which homeless people will become tenants. The NGOs are contracted by the municipality to provide social support to help the new tenant gain independence. People experiencing homelessness then sign the rental contract with the social housing provider. The rent is fixed depending on the income of the tenant but is always less than 20% of their income.
This Housing First programme is part of the housing policy, and it is not a temporary programme. It does not end once people become tenants, as they can remain tenants of the public dwelling for the rest of their lives as long as they respect the law. This successful model gives the municipality the role of aggregator that empowers and gives responsibility to the people that are housed through Housing First.
Kjell Larsson, the President of FEANTSA and Director of the Swedish Association of City Mission presented the model of Housing First in Sweden and the role of public housing in the city of Gothenburg. Mr Larsson started his presentation by saying “There is no Housing First without a house”.
As there is no social housing sector in Sweden, to create Housing First Programmes there was the need to cooperate with the public housing sector.
Housing First in Sweden started in Gotheburg. In 2003, 60 apartments were dedicated from Poseidon, a part of Gothenburg public housing corporate group with 1000 co-workers and approx. 75000 apartments, to house homeless people. This decision required the courage to take the risk and find hands-on solutions for tackling homelessness. In 2008, the project was permanently completed. Until 2020 the same kind of partnership has been created for 8 of the 10 largest Housing First Programme in Sweden. Mr Larsson ended his presentation by underlining that “without guts no glory”: sometimes stakeholders, and in particular decision-makers need to take a risk to find innovative solutions to house the homeless. He welcomed the EU level political commitment to end homelessness, in the shape of the upcoming EU Platform, and urged this to happen at all levels or governance.
Bjorn Mallants, the Director of VVH, the Association of Flemish Housing Companies, managing 150.000 homes in the Belgian region Flanders, spoke about social housing for the homeless and lessons learnt from the Flemish Housing First programme. In Flanders, there is a big waiting list for social housing. Housing First in Flanders goes mainly through the social or public housing sector. Besides, social rental agencies have a very specific role as they guarantee the priority allocation of housing for people experiencing homelessness.
Furthermore, adequate, and sufficient support services are crucial: currently, in Flanders, there is enough housing space for priority allocation for homeless people but a waiting list for assistance. Mr Mallants called for a direct combination of healthcare and assistance and social housing when needed. Housing First is best way to tackle homelessness and social housing providers can provide these services if they get support and if cooperation with other stakeholders works well.
He also highlighted the important work social housing providers carry out to prevent evictions which may otherwise result into homelessness.
The second panel touched upon the question of what role the social housing sector can have in the European Platform on Combating Homelessness.
Katarina Ivankovic-Knezevic, Director of the unit Social Affairs in the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion gave an introduction on the role of the Commission in the new EU platform on combatting homelessness. According to her, the European Commission has a role to play in bringing European stakeholders but also national, regional and local stakeholders together. The Platform will be a place for exchanging and discussing best practices and to learn from each other. Particular attention will be put on how to prevent and solve homelessness through housing-led approaches and housing solutions. The Platform is going to work on the use of existing national and EU funds: The European Social Fund+ and European Regional and Development Funds but also other resources as InvestEU to leverage public and private investment for eradicating homelessness. Furthermore, the Renovation Wave, Recovery & Resilience Facility and the Multiannual Financial framework will need to be employed to work in the same direction. Data collection and evidence-based policies will be crucial.
Through mainstreaming homelessness in different EU policies, the platform will be a place where also other EU initiatives can be discussed that are important to tackle homelessness: the EU Child Guarantee, the Strategy for the right of persons with Disabilities, the Affordable Housing Initiative, and the fight against energy poverty under the Renovation Wave.
The final discussion evolved around the question of what the EU can do to contribute to eradicating homelessness in all EU Member States. According to Ms Coupechoux, the EU can use funding that can bring systemic change at the local and national level. The EU can also help the Member States to fix some goals and create an evaluation of the policies. According to Ms Montes Miguel funding is necessary but first, we need a political commitment, and the EU can help create this common engagement.
The debate ended with a conclusion by Sorcha Edwards, the Secretary-General of Housing Europe. She reminded of the importance of forging partnerships. Already before the pandemic the housing crisis was already brewing and now, we have come to a turning point where the need to boost the supply of social housing to help tackle the extreme housing inequalities in our society is evident. It is going to take guts at all levels to push for new housing approaches that put dignity at the centre. Housing First policies need to be embedded into a smart sustainable integrated housing policy.
Here you can watch the video of the event:
Hereafter you can download the presentation of the speakers: