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One of the key challenges that urban authorities are called on to tackle is access to affordable housing. This issue is rooted in more than 30 years of housing market deregulation which has been worsened by the financial and economic crisis of 2007 and dug the affordable housing gap, making living, buying, renting adequate homes more and more challenging. In general terms, cities lack affordable and social housing across all tenures, while some suffer from housing vacancies and decaying stock. In 2015, 11.3 % of the EU-28 population lived in households that spent more than 40 % of their income on housing. Vulnerable or excluded groups in society (elderly, lone parents, people with disabilities, homeless, long-term unemployed, migrants, etc.) are particularly exposed to low-quality housing and have greater difficulties accessing social and sustainable housing. Hence, sustained access to affordable housing presents complex undertaking as it is highly linked to multiple issues - economic, environmental and social.

In order to help address these challenges, Urban Innovative Actions invited cities in Europe to put forward innovative projects addressing:

  • Economic issues. Housing affordability is the central focus of the topic. A number of crosscutting issues are linked to it such as energy efficiency and sustainable use of land, local jobs and innovative financing schemes.
  • Sustainability issues. The second set of the EU suggestions focused on limiting waste through efficient use of resources, recyclability of housing, brownfield redevelopment and housing refurbishment.
  • Social and quality related issues. The concluding set of suggestions aimed to inspire people-based solutions, such as quality housing solutions corresponding to different life courses, consideration of demographic trends, desegregation, prevention of gentrification and consideration of the needs of vulnerable groups, among others.


budapest project

Trends of the solutions proposed

The 3rd Urban Innovative Actions call (2017) emphasized the complexity and relevance of housing in the European urban context as 39 urban authorities from 11 European Member States proposed innovative solutions to it.

An analysis of the submitted applications points out three major trends in the solutions proposed.

Cities experience a lack of affordable housing options for certain groups of population. Some proposals address this challenge by:

  • Providing a variety of housing tenures: social housing, affordable rental housing and affordable homeownership and emerging tenures such as the community land trust (CLT).
  • Engineering different financial mechanisms: about 1/3 of the applications propose financial mechanisms such as support for energy efficiency refurbishment in existing housing or cooperative housing and community land trusts (CLT).
  • Experiencing emerging ways of co-housing: nearly 25% of the submitted applications was co-housing or co-habitation, both single and multi-generational.
Credits - Noé Bravoux
Credits - Noé Bravoux


The clear majority of the proposals build their case around an effective, affordable housing supply, either:

  • By optimizing the supply and demand matching in the housing market using software platforms and housing data analysis.
  • Through revitalisation of the existing housing stock. Over 50% of the applications aimed to reuse existing, often empty, housing to provide affordable and energy efficient housing to its vulnerable or less advantaged citizens. Most of them propose to revitalise and re-populate their decaying city centres, through the renovation of empty privately owned housing and its conversion through purchase, rent or lease into social or other forms of affordable housing (e.g. cooperatives).
  • Through the supply of new affordable housing. Approximately 50% of the applications proposed a new housing supply, solely or in combination with other urban renovation initiatives. Most projects propose to do so using industrialised or semi-industrialised construction solutions (prefabrication, off-site production, modular and mobile housing) as it often reduces building costs.

As housing is the place where people live, it is, by definition, an issue related to all dimension of economic and social life. Considering the crosscutting challenges it implies, several projects take an integrated approach including social and environmental solutions to their scope such as social services, training and jobs for the population groups that the projects aimed to serve, energy efficiency solutions, etc. Indeed, environmental issues such as energy efficiency or urban sprawl are addressed directly or indirectly by most of the submitted projects.

In addition to physical intervention, several projects tackle social issues such as unemployment or social exclusion through a set of community-led activities related to job training and social cohesion along with participatory processes in order to foster empowerment and a greater sense of community belonging.


UIA projects, solutions implemented and common issues

Five projects have been implemented in 2018:

Looking at these five projects gives an understanding of the crosscutting issues that urban authorities are dealing with regarding housing innovative projects.

The main objective, shared by all projects, is to provide better accessibility to affordable housing for all. Therefore, several projects address specific issues of accessibility to adequate housing by vulnerable groups that are often more exposed to difficulties regarding access to affordable housing. Depending on the local context, the households targets are different.

For example, the CALICO project aims at providing community-led support in order to address the specific housing issues of ageing people, low-income families, women and migrants whereas in the Home Silk Road project targets generally excluded groups (homeless people, migrants, single parents, students, etc.).

Improving accessibility to affordable housing for all is also about providing quality housing. The E-Co-Housing project led by Budapest’s urban authorities combines both dimensions: it provides high quality standards for social affordable housing. Indeed, building modular housing units has two major assets: it can be adapted to the households needs and it facilitates the monitoring of the building costs. Thus, this specific process provides 100 social dwellings with the highest quality standard for different types of households.



Providing affordable and quality housing requires innovativeness regarding financial strategies. The CALICO, ICCARus and Yes we rent! projects deal with the issue by developing mechanisms in order to protect housing from speculation (provision of social rent, rent regulation, short term rental regulation) but also to finance and monitor the costs of the projects (reuse of vacant building).

For instance, the CALICO project presents an innovative model for delivering social and affordable housing to vulnerable groups that also combines an alternative ownership model (the Community Land Trust approach). Innovative financing schemes are also emerging, such as the revolving fund designed by the ICCARus project as a mechanism for a fair share of added value. Ghent is indeed facing a shortage in affordable and qualitative housing as 10 000 low-income households are living in unsafe housing. The main challenge is to address a systemic issue with a fair finance mechanism, which uses public funds for housing renovations. Once the dwelling is renovated, it increases its value and in case it is being sold, part of this value goes back to the revolving fund. Thus, by using a tailor-made revolving fund, public money is not only used for a limited group, but can be used repeatedly to renovate a greater number of unsafe dwellings.

The Yes we rent! project experienced in Mataró combines finance mechanisms, participation incentives and governance by creating a social rental agency (operated in the form of a self-sustainable cooperative) that involves the empty units of private and corporate owners and let them out to households that are on the waiting list for social housing. The combination of these actions creates a framework that improves the efficiency of housing private market.


The five projects focus on inclusive approaches of collective, cooperative and municipal-led forms of housing. These community-led practices might also take the form of incentive participation processes or collaborative activities that might develop a greater sense of community. The community-led practices brought forward are locally determined and depend on the needs of the social groups targeted. The case of the CALICO project illustrates these different aspects of community led-practices as it implements at the same time a collaborative management of the dwellings and care facilities for both birth and end-of-life. Training and resident engagement are proposed to empower and grow the community, targeted at particularly vulnerable groups (elderly, women and young low- income families). The co-management model is also part of E-Co-Housing as the municipality and the residents are monitoring the project together. As for the Home Silk Road project, it aims at combatting the homelessness through a set of community-led actions related to the rehabilitation of the Silk area of Lyon.



Most of the projects take an integrative approach and combine a large range of actions dealing with economic, social and environmental issue. The combination of these different approaches and solutions creates a new framework in which innovation can be found.

NB : The above-mentioned projects are addressing the housing issue through an integrative approach which is also used by several UIA projects selected for other topics. For example, four of them are dealing with urban poverty or integration of migrants and refugees and provide housing solutions:

  • 5Bridges – Creating bridges between homeless and local communities, Nantes (Urban poverty)
  • Curing the Limbo – From apathy to active citizenship: Empowering refugees and migrants in limbo state to ignite housing affordability, Athens (Integration of migrants and refugees)
  • CURANT – Co-housing and case management for Unaccompanied young adult refugees in ANTwerp, Antwerp (Integration of migrants and refugees)
  • DARE – Digital Environment for collaborative Alliances to Regenerate urban Ecosystems in middle-sized cities, Ravenna (Digital Transition)


First lessons learnt

Throughout 2020, UIA and URBACT explore how cities can design housing policies and practical solutions to implement the right to housing, together with Antwerp (BE), Athens (EL), Barcelona (ES), Brussels Capital Region (BE), Budapest (HU), Chemnitz (DE), Ghent (BE), Lyon Metropole (FR), Mataró (ES), Nantes (FR) and Thessaloniki (EL).

Three questions are leading this work:

  • What are the most innovative practices at city level concretely delivering the right to housing?
  • What can cities do to ensure that everyone – particularly the most disadvantaged groups - have access to safe, adequate and affordable housing?
  • How can the EU and member States create an enabling environment for cities to innovate?


Find all resources, web conferences, videos and podcasts about housing in Europe on:

Get inspired and find more with UIA experts and UIA Knowledge Lab

UIA experts capture, analyze and narrate the main findings, lessons learnt and experiences coming from the different UIA housing projects. Look for their journals (analysis on main challenges for implementation) zoom-ins (focus on a crosscutting dimension or specific component of the project) and web articles (gives an overview of the project) to get deeper knowledge about housing and related topics. 

Explore the UIA Knowledge Lab and search for key words such as: community land trust, co-housing, etc.

Read our Topic Coordinators findings from the proposals submitted : UIA Call for proposals, housing topic, October 2018

Find our related videos in our YouTube playlist


Additional useful information


proposals received


projects approved

€ 22 M


See all resources on this topic Go to the UIA Knowledge Lab

Housing's projects