Housing is a key infrastructure for cities’ economic growth and wellbeing of their citizens. Yet, lack of adequate housing of good quality is a continuing problem in most European countries. Over the past decade, worsening affordability, homelessness, social and housing polarisation and new forms of housing deprivation have been an increasing concern for public policies.
Several EU level policies have important impact on housing and provide support in this area (e.g. EU’s social policy agenda, energy, industry and environmental policies, regional and urban policies, single market, state aid). However, it is rather the national governments which develop their own housing policies. Many are facing similar challenges: how to renew housing stocks, how to plan and promote sustainable development, how to fight urban sprawl, how to help young and disadvantaged groups with housing and how to promote energy efficiency among house owners.
In 2015, 11.3 % of the EU-28 population lived in households that spent more than 40 % of their disposable income on housing. Nearly 11% of the EU's population is in a situation where their households are not able to adequately heat their homes at an affordable cost. In 2012, this situation was estimated to affect around 54 million people in Europe. The scale of the problem is due to rising energy prices, low income and poor energy efficient homes, and it is particularly prevalent in Central Eastern and Southern Europe. The new social housing production has decreased between 2009 and 2012, whereas the number of households on waiting lists keeps increasing: BE 140 000 to 186 000, FR 1.2 to 1.7 million, IT 600 000 to 650 000. Moreover, across the EU there is an increasing amount of homeless.
Relevance for and role of urban authorities
Housing policies preceding the global financial crisis put cities and local authorities in a challenging position. Their funding and responsibility for housing provision has been systematically reduced since the 1980s. As a result of more recent housing policy shift internationally (see UNECE, 2015) that has transferred the responsibility for housing from central to local authorities, cities are again increasingly asked to finance, manage and distribute housing assets. This change gives cities an opportunity to build innovative housing solutions fit for the realities of the housing markets post crisis.
Cities therefore play important role in housing provision and rehabilitation while working creatively with all types of housing providers, private, public and community (experience shows that the reliance on one sector to provide housing brought limited results) and promoting sustainable land use.
One of the key challenges that cities are called on to tackle following the economic and financial crisis, is access to affordable housing. In general terms, cities lack affordable and social housing across all tenures, while some suffer from housing vacancies and decaying stock. Examples of urban areas affected:
- Metropolitan areas with heated housing markets, where the demand for housing is increasing, where housing prices are inflated and housing affordability dropping significantly for the wide spectrum of income groups (from low income to medium and medium high income) and their varying needs.
- Neighbourhoods where inhabitants cannot afford to invest and/or to cover utility expenses.
- Shrinking cities and areas with low demand for housing (i.e. areas with an increased number of vacancies and empty housing).
Another challenge to tackle is the vulnerable groups in the society having a particular difficulty in accessing social and affordable housing, such as the elderly, lone parents, people with disabilities, homeless, long-term unemployed, youth leaving institutional care, Roma, migrants, etc. Particularly in these areas actions should be linked with relevant supporting measures (education, health, social affairs, employment, security, desegregation etc.).
Prompts for urban authorities
Without being prescriptive in terms of the types of projects expected, cities are invited to consider in particular the following themes and issues.
Considering the housing challenges faced by cities it is important to re-establish responsible housing production and housing consumption systems to address the issues of growing and shrinking cities, and deprived urban neighbourhoods. Responsible housing systems should:
1.Bring economic benefits, such as:
- increase housing affordability
- increase energy efficiency, reduce CO2 emissions
- promote efficient and sustainable use of building land and prevent urban sprawl
- local jobs
- innovative financing schemes through public-private partnership
2.Limit waste through:
- efficient use of resources
- recyclability of housing
- brownfield re-development
- housing refurbishment
3.Promote people based solutions , such as:
- better access to affordable, quality housing and social housing
- housing solutions corresponding to life courses
- reflection to demographic and social trends
- collaborative housing
- desegregation, closing the social and physical isolation gap between different groups of the society
- prevention of the unintended effects of gentrification (e.g. evictions)
- specific needs of vulnerable groups.
Urban interventions in the housing systems promote housing products and the built environment that is aesthetic and usable to the greatest extent possible by everyone, regardless of their age, gender, nationality or ethnic background.
- Assess the specific local needs and respond appropriately.
- Ensure an integrated approach so that the action is interlinked with other relevant measures to achieve better overall results.
- Actions should not have any discriminatory and segregating effects.
- Actively curb perceived competition for market share between different types of housing providers (e.g. private and public) in order to advance socially mixed and tenure mixed housing production and consumption.
- Sustainability of action beyond the timeframe of the project should be ensured.
For actions in favour of vulnerable groups, involve the community in the preparation, design (and implementation where relevant) of the action.
 Energy poverty may affect nearly 11% of the EU population, https://ec.europa.eu/energy/en/news/energy-poverty-may-affect-nearly-11-eu-population.
 Feantsa, The Second Overview of Housing Exclusion in Europe 2017, http://www.feantsa.org/en/report/2017/03/21/the-second-overview-of-housing-exclusion-in-europe-2017.