At the Vienna conference mayors and other representatives from cities and municipalities, housing providers, tenants’ representatives and also experts discussed better housing policies for Europe with representatives of the EU institutions.
What can be done to mitigate the current housing crisis in Europe’s growing cities? How can investment in affordable housing be made to increase once more? Ways out of this tight situation were highlighted by the international conference “Housing for All – Affordable Housing in Growing Cities in Europe” held on 4 and 5 December in Vienna. The premises of Wiener Wohnen were set to host roughly 300 participants from 36 countries.
“Cities are the engine that drives Europe’s development; two thirds of the EU population live in cities. For this reason, cities assume a decisive role for the project of European integration. In particular, they are called upon to act in order to cope with global challenges, social inclusion and economic development. Therefore cities need adequate frame conditions – above all to boost investment in affordable housing”, as Michael Ludwig, Mayor of the City of Vienna, affirmed.
Market failure in the housing market
“The free market will never supply broad strata of the population with affordable housing. Specific policies are therefore needed to attain this goal. The ‘Partnership on Housing’ within the scope of the EU Urban Agenda has developed concrete legislative proposals for the EU Commission, which will be presented today here in Vienna and which should be implemented without delay. Now it is the turn of the EU legislators – and of the European Commission, all EU Member States and the European Parliament. Europe must act now and take measures to combat undesirable developments in Europe’s housing markets”, Ludwig continued.
Lack of investments in affordable housing
There are over 220 million households in the EU – and as many as 82 million Europeans today have problems finding access to affordable housing, as housing prices and rents in EU cities have for years been rising quickly and massively. Since the financial and economic crisis of 2008/2009, investment in affordable and social housing has decreased, today amounting to only half the volume of the pre-crisis period. The EU “High-Level Task Force for Investing in Social Infrastructure in Europe” has identified a reduction by 20 percent and estimates the investment gap regarding affordable housing at around Euro 57 billion annually. Since OECD figures show that a large part (53 percent) of public investment occurs at the sub-national level, it is evident that cities are affected to a particularly high degree.
Housing as a human right
”Housing is a human right – not a commodity” , Leilani Farha , since 2014 the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, emphasised. At the conference, the Canadian lawyer and activist presented her initiative “Make the Shift”, which is to support municipalities and city administrations in responding rapidly to this negative development. “The speed and extent to which financial enterprises and funds take over housing space and real estate, causing a lack of affordability as well as crowding-out effects and homelessness in the cities, are staggering. Housing is a key issue of the 21 st century”, Farha commented. “Cities are drivers of national economies. It is hence in the interests of all levels of government to co-operate in order to safeguard adequate and affordable housing, thereby protecting what makes cities great: diversity and inclusion.” Leilani Farha called upon municipal administrations to support and sign the declaration “Cities for Adequate Housing”.
The EU Partnership on Housing demands sustainably effective measures
In 2016, the “Urban Agenda for the EU” was launched in Amsterdam by the EU Council with the objective of strengthening cities in the EU governance process. The conference “Housing for All” provided the conclusion to the EU Urban Agenda – Housing Partnership. Over the past three years, the Partnership on Housing has engaged very intensively with the challenges of affordable housing. The catalogue of measures that is now presented comprises a number of already implemented outcomes – e.g. studies on the housing situation in old and new EU Member States, a database on effective housing projects, an extensive analysis of state aid provisions and a brochure on urban solutions for housing policies. Moreover, the catalogue includes recommendations addressed to the EU legislator, in particular with regard to the desideratum of greater scope for investment to be granted to cities.
Decreasing housing costs
Laia Ortiz , Deputy Mayor of Barcelona, a founding member of EUROCITIES, the network of major European cities that for years has been campaigning for better frame conditions, drew attention to the exclusion of many persons from the housing market, “The EU must give priority to the right to housing and ensure that cities are prepared for coping with the housing crisis. The cities cannot do all of this on their own. We need the EU to provide all resources and mechanisms for cities in order to attain this goal. Otherwise, homelessness and marginalisation will further increase in Europe’s cities.”
A comprehensive support and rehabilitation programme for socially disadvantaged neighbourhoods is underway in Lisbon. Rui Neves Bochmann Franco , Deputy City Councillor for Housing of the Portuguese capital and a member of the Partnership on Housing, commented, “Lisbon is faced with big challenges caused by tourism platforms and global real-estate investors. At the same time, we are trying to create new perspectives by e.g. promoting neighbourhood developments.” He, too, believes that action at the EU level is required and identifies a great demand for exchange tools and platforms for cities . “We also call for a new definition of what constitutes housing cost overburden” , Rui Neves Bochmann Franco added.