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How can the Affordable Housing Initiative respond to the housing needs of most vulnerable groups?

On 20 April 2021, HSP organised a meeting between the European Commission and several NGOs, civil society organisations, and the Council of Europe Development Bank (CEB) to discuss the Affordable Housing Initiative (AHI) announced by the European Commission as a cornerstone of its renovation wave strategy.

The Affordable Housing Initiative aims at revitalising 100 neighbourhoods as lighthouse projects across the EU in the coming years while ensuring that renovated units remain affordable and demonstrating the replication potential towards other districts.

In the introduction to the event, Sorcha Edwards from Housing Europe underlined the importance of taking the reality from local organisations and authorities dealing with homelessness, housing exclusions and housing crises into account when shaping the Renovation Wave.

Oceane Peiffer-Smadja from the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs (DG GROW) presented the state of play of the Affordable Housing Initiative. The presented key objective is to facilitate the creation of local industrial partnerships which shall implement the renovation of social and affordable housing. The AHI should follow a district-level approach: when transforming entire neighbourhoods, the needs of residents should be taken into account and new business opportunities on the local level should be created. Furthermore, the renovation pilots will build on innovative digital and sustainable technologies, modular renovation toolkits and eco-design and renewable energy sources.

To implement the initiative the EU will support cross-sectoral partnerships between actors from the construction industry, electronics, creative industry, social housing sector, social housing providers, social economy, civil society and representatives of the local authorities.

Karel Vanderpoorten, policy officer at DG GROW, spoke about the funding possibilities for implementing the The AHI will not directly provide funding for the renovation of all the districts but facilitate access to EU financial resources. Financing for the initiative could come from resources such as the ERDF, ESF+, and InvestEU, as well as private and philanthropic funding.

Another key part of the initiative is knowledge transfer and capacity building. DG GROW is looking to support social enterprises and cooperatives and to promote these forms of enterprises especially in Central and Eastern Europe where they are not very common.

Samir Kulenovic from the Council of Europe Development Bank (CEB) and the independent consultant Hans-Joachim Dübel explored what will make the AHI a truly social initiative. The CEB is interested in investment opportunities in social and affordable housing solutions and looks for different EU programs and financing instruments that can complement the CEB funding, through, for instance, blending of funds and tapping on InvestEU opportunities.

They underlined the necessity of developing an EU strategy to provide housing for people with low income. There is a particular need to target those countries where today the overall rental sector - and social rental housing in particular - are marginalized or nonexistent. This is partly the case in countries in Southern Europe and mostly in Central and Eastern European countries. They also gave concrete recommendations for utilising the InvestEU programme, such as the need to complement guarantees for low-income housing by long-term investment funds in forms of grants and long-term loans.

Gyorgy Sumeghy and Besim Nebiu from Habitat for Humanity equally spoke about the housing context in Central and Eastern Europe and underlined how important it was to see the differences in the housing systems in the three macro-regions of Europe (Northern, Southern and Central-Eastern Europe). In Central and Eastern Europe, there are major issues with energy poverty for people living in multi-unit residential buildings. Furthermore, targeted subsidies for low-income households and social housing are lacking. The speakers expressed that EU policy should not principally focus on social housing, or at least not in Central and Eastern Europe, as the housing reality there is different. The mass privatization in the 1990s resulted in owner-occupation rates from 80 to over 90%. Hence, the homeowners' decision making on building maintenance and the improvement of common spaces is key.

Katarzyna Przybylska from Habitat Poland focused on the situation in Poland where there is a significant housing problem and 14% of Poles live in substandard housing. Only 5,7% of the housing stock is owned by municipalities and merely 2,2,% of flats are social or affordable housing. She underlined the importance of creating partnership between municipalities, private entities, NGOs and people living in the areas and social care institutions as well as shaping people-oriented projects, working with people (tenants and owners) and acting for them.

Subsequently, two concrete examples of a neighbourhood approach including vulnerable groups were given:

Gabriel Sibille and Judith de Saint Laurent presented the urban project l’autre soie, in the French city Villeurbanne. The project includes 290 housing units, a concert hall, an affordable housing insertion workshop, social housing support, housing first units, student accommodation, rooms for migrants in student accommodation, a parent centre, cultural facilities, restaurants, co-working spaces, participative housing, an elderly residence and social rental housing. The scope to include everyone in the neighbourhood and to build bridges among the different generations, cultures and societal backgrounds.

More information about L'autre soire can be found here.

Claudia Thiesen and Andrea Wieland presented Mehr Als Wohnen (more than housing), a non-profit housing project from Zurich in Switzerland. Switzerland does not have social housing on a big scale, but there is a lot of non-profit housing: 25% of housing belong to housing cooperatives or municipalities. The Hunziker Areal in Zurich has been the first project by the housing cooperative Mehr als Wohnen founded in 2007. The cooperative provides affordable and high-quality living and working spaces. The Areal is an urban microcosm containing 370 apartments, restaurants, a guesthouse, shops, studios and more. Every project of the cooperative aims to be open and accessible for all people, and promote inclusion of migrants, refugees, elderly people, students and people with disabilities.

More information about Mehr als Wohnen here and here.

In conclusion, Sarah Coupechoux, from the Fondation Abbé Pierre underlined that the situation on housing exclusion in Europe is not new and that emergency shelters are not the adequate solution to homelessness and housing exclusion. To tackle housing exclusion effectively, the Renovation Wave must be social and environmental, especially in those member states that suffer most from energy poverty to make sure “no one is left behind”.

AHI_European Commission DG GROW
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AHI_CEB Introduction
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AHI_ CEB Study
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AHI_ Habitat for Humanity International
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AHI_Habitat Poland
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