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Peter Robl: Forgotten human misery of our neglected buildings

The crumbling legacy of misguided 20th century housing policies casts a towering shadow over every major town in the Visegrád Four. Town after town. City after city. Country after country. Despite the economic growth observed in many CEE countries during the last decade, the vast majority of residential buildings in this part of Europe is in desperate need of renovation.

We simply take neglect for granted and forget that there are millions of lives trapped behind all that cheap concrete and peeling paint.

We forget the sickening misery of freezing apartments in winter and suffocating rooms in summer. We forget the distress of no money to pay bills and the despair of low-income poor health. That is the reason why more than 25 experts from Visegrád countries joined forces at the recent Central and Eastern Energy Efficiency Forum (C4E) to demand immediate and concerted action from their governments.

The human cost of poor housing is clear from official statistics. In Slovakia, for example, people pay the highest energy bills per income in the European Union and there are 3,000 premature deaths annually due to air pollution caused by heating with solid fuels1. Those living in unsatisfactory housing conditions suffer from up to 2.9 times more frequent health issues than others in their country2.

Across Visegrád, two-thirds of residential buildings need renovating. And for those who consider lives in financial terms — those buildings are costing society up to €11.2 billion in health care every year 3.

Yet, Visegrád Governments have an historic opportunity to create housing renovation policies that really deliver. At the C4E, experts from Buildings for the Future in Slovakia, the Hungarian Energy Efficiency Institute, Chance for Buildings in the Czech Republic and Poland’s National Energy Efficiency Agency called on governments to maximise the opportunities for change presented by negotiations surrounding the new multiannual European Union budget and the implementation of revised EU directives promoting energy efficiency.

All Member States must transpose the Energy Efficiency Directive and Energy Performance of Buildings Directive and reveal how they will achieve national energy savings targets. Improving buildings to make them energy efficient will accelerate progress to achieve these targets and help the most vulnerable in society.

The Visegrád experts agree the broad strokes are these:

We can no longer afford to ignore the misery of people caged in appalling housing. Every time we pass another collective of blocks must be a reminder that we can do better. Must do better. Together.

As Public Affairs Manager for Knauf Insulation in Slovakia, Peter Robl advocates for public policies promoting energy efficient and sustainable buildings. Peter initiated the Building for the Future alliance back in 2013 and has since developed it into the leading voice of the construction industry in the public debate, representing more than 150 companies with aggregated Net Sales of EUR 1.7 bn.

European Commission's Directorate-General for Energy and the Executive Agency for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises prepared a guide that gathers more than 60 good practices meant to support a clean energy transition in the CESEC[1] region. It was launched at the Sustainable Energy Investment Forum that took place on 28 June in Sofia, followed by the CESEC High Level Group Ministerial meeting on 29 June. The good practices presented in the guide are the results from projects supported by the Intelligent Energy Europe and Horizon 2020 programmes addressing key energy efficiency areas of relevance for the CESEC region.

The projects provide examples of actions that have already or are expected to have a significant impact in the targeted regions, as well as best practice methods that could be replicated in the future. The guide also includes a short country-by-country analysis, which provides an overview of the key energy efficiency indicators, such as energy consumption trends concerning primary and final energy consumption, and energy intensity levels per sector of activity (industry, transport, residential and services).

Good practice example projects were grouped into the following topics:

Read the publication online here.

[1] Central and South-Eastern European Energy Connectivity (CESEC) initiative brings together nine EU Member States - Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia, and eight Energy Community Contracting Parties - Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia and Ukraine

The World Habitat Awards (WHA), established in 1985, are the world’s leading housing awards. They are run by World Habitat (a UK based NGO) in partnership with UN-Habitat. The WHA recognize and highlight innovative, outstanding and sometimes revolutionary housing ideas, projects and programmes from across the world. More than 250 outstanding World Habitat Awards projects have been recognized over the years, demonstrating substantial, lasting improvements in living conditions.

We are proud to announce that Residential Energy in Low Income Households (REELIH) project, coordinated by Habitat for Humanity International with the support of USAID, was one of the eight finalists of the WHA 2017 from over 100 entries from across the world. REELIH was also one of the two projects that had additionally received a special mention from the judges (the second best in the global North!).

Through the REELIH project, homeowners living in formerly state-owned buildings are supported to work together to improve their homes. Many multi-apartment blocks in former Eastern Bloc countries Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia fell into widespread disrepair following mass privatization in the early 1990s. By supporting homeowner associations, we help residents to have access to loans and subsidies to carry out energy efficiency improvements to their homes. This makes heating homes more affordable, improving the health and well-being of residents.

After proving successful in Macedonia, the approach was transferred to Armenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Although all three countries face similar challenges, we adopted our approach to meet different needs in the 3 countries.

The project has developed connections between individuals, homeowner associations, local governments and banks. The work has helped spread awareness about residential energy efficiency and increased the funding available to residents to improve their buildings.

Find out more about the REELIH project on getwarmhomes.org

or topaodom.ba for Bosnian

or taqtun.am for Armenian local pages.

See the World Habitat Awards website and 2017 winners and finalists, as well as their blog post - Why Armenia’s REELIH project is worth making a noise about.

 

Besim Nebiu, Habitat for Humanity's REELIH program manager, attended an international conference in Barcelona on April 25, hosted by Housing Europe Spanish member, AVS along with the municipality of Barcelona, the Association of the Catalan social housing managers (GHS), and supported by Housing Europe. The event was focused on the renovation policies in Southern Europe, with the goal to bring together best practices in terms of funding for housing renovation and to discuss scalability potentials and transferability across borders.

Besim took part in the roundtable and debate Proactive Housing Renovation Policies Having a Social Impact and spoke about residential energy efficiency in Eastern Europe. Learn more about Habitat's mission in Eastern Europe in the video below:

 

The Buildings Performance Institute Europe (BPIE) published the analysis of the funding streams directed to energy efficiency in buildings in Central, Eastern and South-East Europe (CESEE).

The study shows which funds available in the region are allocated to upgrading the building stock. Both EU and non-EU funding streams were included in the analysis:

EU funding

Non-EU funding

The analysis revealed that less than 3% of the funds that could be used to support energy efficiency investments in the region is dedicated to upgrading buildings. Within EU funding streams, only 4.35% of the region’s Cohesion Policy Funds is allocated to demand side infrastructure, amounting to €3.96 Billion. The European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) has very little impact in the region, with only two energy projects active (including a gas project). The international financial institutions included in the analysis allocate only 1.7% of their total committed investments to demand-side infrastructure.

The study shows that, despite their critical role in reducing energy dependency, buildings are not perceived as a critical infrastructure and the opportunities for investments in demand-side infrastructure are not fully exploited. The current system fails to leverage sufficient private or institutional investment to upgrade the building stock.

The report addresses several challenges and suggests potential measures to overcome the lack of investments in demand-side infrastructure. According to BPIE, building technical capacity in the region is of utmost importance. BPIE suggests the creation of a regional energy efficiency financing platform that integrates capacity building, investment facilitation and project aggregation to create effective financing instruments and investment opportunities for demand-side energy efficiency. This would encourage private and institutional investment and result in a high investment leverage factor. Adopting an “efficiency-first” approach and promoting building renovation would be a viable alternative to increasing supply investments. Reducing uncertainty to spur private investments was also one of the challenges identified by BPIE, due to perceived high risks for investing in residential projects. That is why, stakeholder facilitation is one of the central aspects to our REELIH project, which you can learn more about here.

For this reason, BPIE suggests to set out comprehensive long-term national strategies for decarbonizing the building stock and guiding public and private investments, as well as to set up an independent non-political body, responsible for handling financial streams, in order to increase market confidence.

According to Oliver Rapf, Executive Director of BPIE, “The majority of buildings in the region urgently need deep renovation to reduce health and security risks, providing business opportunities and a stable return on investment. This debate becomes all the more relevant with the forthcoming negotiations on the next EU Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF). It should increase funding and support for demand-side efficiency investment and give up its bias for energy-supply infrastructure” (see BPIE press release here). BPIE proposes specific solutions that can be taken both at the EU and country level to increase the impact and reach of available funding for building renovation.

Written by Stuart Macdonald, a World Habitat trustee and Managing Director of PR agency See Media. See the original post here.
REELIH – Residential Energy Efficiency for Low Income Households is a project of Habitat for Humanity International and USAID.

We are in a quiet, windswept car park on a hill above Yerevan. The Soviet-era blocks of flats that surround us have impressive views down to the capital of Armenia below and west to Mount Ararat and Turkey.

An old man is painstakingly sweeping autumn leaves into a neat pile, when suddenly the peace is broken by a group of colourful women who burst around the corner of one of the blocks of flats.

Immediately our small group of World Habitat Awards judges is enveloped by enthusiastic chatter about the difference the REELIH energy-efficiency project has made to the lives of residents of these high-rise blocks.

‘We are so much warmer’, says one. ‘The difference is incredible’, says another. ‘Before there was wind blowing through the front door and now there is not – it is very simple!’

On the surface, REELIH – led by non-profit housing organisation Habitat for Humanity International with the support of USAID – means that some relatively simple refurbishment jobs are undertaken in old Soviet-era high-rise blocks. It ensures funds are in place through existing ‘homeowner associations’ for energy-efficiency works to communal areas to install new double-glazed windows and secure, air-tight front doors. REELIH has also started a programme of external insulation work to buildings that – despite the exposed nature of many of the homes and sub-zero winter temperatures – were built with little or no insulation in the 1960s to 1980s.

This work is crucially important in helping tackle the fuel poverty that affects many Yerevan households.  Around one-in-three are classed by the government as being in poverty. Yet the improvements are simply the final act in what has been a painstaking process to put in place the necessary funding.

So what is it about the REELIH project that caught the attention of the World Habitat Awards judges and saw it become a finalist in the 2017 Awards?

To my mind, it was because they are:

How does REELIH work?

REELIH helps groups of high-rise residents to use their existing ‘homeowner associations’ to access bank loans to contribute to the cost of energy-efficiency improvement works. The difference is then made up by a local government grant.

The concept is relatively simple, but it had never been done before in Armenia due to lender concerns about the creditworthiness of homeowner associations. Also, while local and national governments could see that citizens face an issue with poorly insulated homes and rising energy prices, the capital works bill to adequately address this is steep. The REELIH mixture of loan and grant funding addresses these issues.

How did it overcome the challenges?

Habitat for Humanity Armenia was so keen to demonstrate the potential of REELIH that it first ran a pilot where it lent money to a homeowner association in order to convince lenders to come on board. This was a gamble, but it worked, with the homeowner association repaying the loan from its service fees.

As a result, lender Inecobank became a REELIH partner alongside the Yerevan Municipal Authority – the latter investing up to 40% of the overall cost per high-rise block.

By the end of 2017, 30 Yerevan blocks had been refurbished at an average cost of just $5,000. The Municipality plans to work with REELIH, Inecobank and homeowner associations to complete works to a further 100 buildings.

What is the impact?

The outcome of all parties working together to strike a deal on REELIH is that fuel poverty is reduced among some of Yerevan’s most vulnerable people.

However, it has proven difficult to accurately measure the fuel bill savings due to people now heating their homes adequately, whereas before they were simply living with cold rooms.

As well as the Armenian government taking notice of the success of the REELIH model and looking to build on its success at a national level, other former Eastern Bloc countries are also learning more. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia are also implementing REELIH-based approaches.

While in Yerevan, our group of World Habitat Awards judges met residents of several high-rise blocks and at each one the message was the same: ‘REELIH has significantly improved our homes and lives’.

The first residents we met were right: REELIH is definitely worth making a noise about.

On 13 February 2018, the LEDS-EEP organised the webinar "Learning from Eastern Europe: An energy efficiency model to reduce energy poverty in residential buildings," presented by Besim Nebiu and Zita Kakalejcikova, from Habitat for Humanity International. This webinar introduces the viewer to the processes and outcomes of the Residential Energy Efficiency for Low-Income Households (REELIH) project, run by Habitat for Humanity International and supported by USAID.

Residential heating energy accounts for more than 30 percent of energy use in most countries of Europe and Central Asia, and for more than 40 percent in the Balkans. Construction and heating methods used between the 1950s and 1980s were not focused on energy savings and environmental concerns, and as a result, highly inefficient energy use today intensifies the impact of escalating energy prices on low-income households. There is thus an urgent need to retrofit most of this housing stock to bring down heating costs and reduce energy poverty.

One way to bring down heating costs is to invest in energy-smart building renovations. One significant obstacle in the way of such renovations is that building owners have difficulty in reaching investment decisions together—a problem often made more difficult by legal complexities.

Habitat for Humanity International, with support from USAID, has run demonstration projects in Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), and Macedonia to raise awareness among homeowners, improve legal environment, and introduce new market solutions.

Habitat for Humanity has also carried out comparative research on state programs in Central Europe that have been successful. Based on its research and project findings, Habitat for Humanity hosts a dedicated regional knowledge platform at getwarmhomes.org, as well as national knowledge platforms for BiH and Armenia.

More than 50 million households in the European Union are struggling to attain adequate warmth, pay their utility bills on time and live in homes free of damp and mould. Awareness of energy poverty is rising in Europe and has been identified as a policy priority by a number of EU institutions, most notably in the European Commission’s 'Clean Energy for All Europeans' legislative package.

The creation of an EU Energy Poverty Observatory is part of the Commission's efforts to address energy poverty across EU countries. The Observatory aims to provide a user-friendly and open-access resource that will promote public engagement on the issue of energy poverty, disseminate information and good practice, facilitate knowledge sharing among stakeholders, as well as support informed decision making at local, national and EU level. The Observatory is being developed by a consortium led by the University of Manchester and includes, as core partners, Ecofys, National Energy Action, the European Policy Centre, Intrasoft International and the Wuppertal Institut.

The launch featured the participation of the Commission's Vice-President for the Energy Union Maroš Šefčovič, Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy Miguel Arias Cañete, and Director-General for Energy Dominique Ristori, along with numerous other high-profile speakers.

Find out more on the program and speech of the main speakers here.

Find the new website on energy poverty here.

ABOUT THE WEBINAR

Residential heating energy accounts for more than 30 percent of energy use in most countries of Europe and Central Asia, and for more than 40 percent in the Balkans. Construction and heating methods used between the 1950s and 1980s were not focused on energy savings and environmental concerns, and as a result, highly inefficient energy use today intensifies the impact of escalating energy prices on low-income households. There is thus an urgent need to retrofit most of this housing stock to bring down heating costs and reduce energy poverty.

One way to bring down heating costs is to invest in energy-smart building renovations. One significant obstacle in the way of such renovations is that building owners have difficulty in reaching investment decisions together—a problem often made more difficult by legal complexities.

Habitat for Humanity International, with support from USAID, has run demonstration projects in Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), and Macedonia to raise awareness among homeowners, improve legal environment, and introduce new market solutions. Habitat for Humanity has also carried out comparative research on state programs in Central Europe that have been successful. Based on its research and project findings, Habitat for Humanity hosts a dedicated regional knowledge platform at getwarmhomes.org, as well as national knowledge platforms for BiH and Armenia.

This webinar, delivered in English, takes place on February 13, 2018, from 15:00 to 16:00 CET. Participation is free of charge. To register, please contact tmorante@rec.org.

To join the webinar, please go HERE.

ABOUT THE PRESENTERS

Besim Nebiu

Besim has been with Habitat for Humanity for more than 10 years, and is currently project manager of the “Residential Energy Efficiency for Low-Income Households” (REELIH) project and program manager for several Habitat for Humanity countries in the ECA region, such as Armenia, Bulgaria, Macedonia and Poland. He has also worked for international organizations as a program personnel and consultant. Besim, who holds a master’s degree in economics from Ss. Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje, combines his professional third-sector engagement with civic activism.

Zita Kakalejcikova

Zita has been with Habitat for Humanity’s area office for Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) since 2014, working in the advocacy team that supports EMEA advocacy initiatives to change housing policies at both regional and national levels. In her current work with Habitat for Humanity on the USAID-run REELIH project, Zita is focused on regional-level advocacy for residential energy efficiency. She holds a master’s degree in international relations and European studies from Comenius University, Slovakia, having spent exchange semesters at Sciences Po Bordeaux and the University of Vienna.

Don't miss this June C4E Forum happening this June in Poland. The aim of C4E Forum is to build and strengthen Central and Eastern Europe’s energy efficiency community.

There are many interesting efficiency projects, policies and programmes happening in the region and this community can immensely benefit from sharing and learning from them. C4E Forum is a bi-annual community-building event designed to promote this objective.

Half-week interactive programme combining practical sessions, creative workshops and evening plenaries with high-level speakers and informal networking opportunities. Professionals and those interested in energy efficiency in buildings from government, industry, NGOs, think-tanks, financial institutions, etc. from across the CEE region all in one place.

Topics:

The topics will be woven into an interactive programme combining practical sessions, creative workshops and evening plenaries with high-level speakers. And of course, there will be plenty of informal networking opportunities. However, topics are open to suggestions, and you can add your own topic when you register to attend the event or when you submit your presentation outline.

 

SAVE THE DATE FOR C4E FORUM 2018: 13–16 JUNE

Registration fee: 325-550 EUR-accommodation in a double room and meals included
Submission of Presentations: DEADLINE 1 FEBRUARY 2018!
The location will be a green riverside resort Narvil in Poland, only 40 min from Warsaw
The length will be 2.5 days with the possibility of organizing pre-conference events at the margins

More information at www.c4eforum.net .

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