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Energy poverty in recent publications

Energy Poverty Advisory Hub Handbooks

The Energy Poverty Advisory Hub (EPAH) Handbooks are a series of practical guidebooks targeting energy poverty, energy transition, and energy efficiency, all with a socially just perspective. The guidebooks are mainly for the local governments and practitioners in the sector. There will be four handbooks in total: (1) Introduction, (2) Assessment of energy poverty at an identified local level (diagnosis), (3) Development of an informed plan (planning), and (4) Execution of an impactful energy poverty project (implementation).


First of four EPAH publications is out

The first handbook, the Introduction to the Energy Poverty Advisory Hub (EPAH) Handbooks: A Guide to Understanding and Addressing Energy Poverty, is aiming to "present the concept of energy poverty with the different approaches that can be useful for obtaining a general picture of energy poverty in your local government as well as the initial introduction to the methodology to tackle energy poverty".

Thematic sections

The handbook introduces the reader to two main thematic sections:

Causes of energy poverty

The Handbook states there are three main causes of energy poverty:

Low income level: Low income can result from low salary, job insecurity, unemployment, low social protection or a combination of these. The most affected people here are the most vulnerable ones, such as single parents, people with disabilities, or people of older age.

Low household energy efficiency and energy performance of buildings: Poor quality houses and appliances, old heating systems, lack of insulation and many more are all factors influencing the quality of living and the price of energy. Moreover, many times it is hard for tenants/homeowners to improve these factors as their options are limited either financially or from the side of the landlord.

High energy prices: Prices of energy are easily influenced by external factors such as socio-political-technical systems, natural events, and climate change policies and measures, which can make certain groups of people more vulnerable than others.

Vulnerability factors

The handbook lists vulnerability factors that refer to groups of people who are at higher risk of falling into the energy poverty trap:

Energy Poverty Handbook, 2nd edition


In September 2022, the second edition of the Energy Poverty Handbook has been released. In the foreword, Keilani Farha, Former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to housing, stated that this year, the topic of housing has been challenged by the extreme heatwaves, COVID-19 pandemic, extreme increase not only in the cost of living but also construction materials, and lastly, the expected rise of energy costs by 30% as a response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. All these factors impact us all, but those suffering the most are low-income households and vulnerable groups of people. The increase in expanses “leaves many to choose between heating one’s home, turning on lights, or paying for rent or food” (p.6). Keilani calls governments and municipalities to action, noting that the energy poverty crisis is a crisis of human rights.

The handbook consists of 22 articles from organisations engaged in climate and social spheres, poverty, housing, clean energy transition, organisations working with municipalities and citizen cooperatives, and energy agencies, to name a few.

The handbook is divided into three thematic parts:

Meanwhile, check the most recent publication of the Residential Energy Efficiency (REE) Observatory in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), which also covers topics such as energy poverty, energy efficiency, multi-apartment buildings and many more, here.


The truth is that energy efficiency of residential sector has finally gained more attention among the key EU stakeholders. It became clear that the building sector is critical for achieving EU's environmental goals. However, as we pay more and more attention to this issue, investment gaps in residential sector financing of energy efficiency are becoming increasingly evident. One among many financial support mechanisms aiming at the residential sector are grants. Speaking about the existing gaps, these are not an exemption. On November 18, 2021, the Energy Community therefore organized a Workshop on financing energy efficiency in residential sector. Participating experts aimed to explore the state of energy efficiency measures in the residential sector with respect to financing.

Energy Community: Who are they?

With the aim of establishing a stable Pan-European energy market, in October 2005, the European Commission has signed the Energy Community Treaty establishing a new international organization, the Energy Community.

The main objective of this organization is to extend the EU energy acquis to countries in South East Europe, the Black Sea region and beyond. In doing so, the Energy Community seeks to improve the environmental situation, enhance economic development, and strengthen social stability across the region.

Recently, on November 30, 2021, the Energy Community held its Ministerial Council, where it adopted five key legislative acts towards the implementation of the Clean Energy for all Europeans package. At the next Ministerial Council planned for 2022, the Energy Community will adopt renewables, energy efficiency and greenhouse gas reduction targets for 2030.

Energy Community in Action: Workshop on Financing Energy Efficiency in the Residential Sector

To foster the dialogue, Energy Community actively engages the stakeholders from the field on numerous occasions. On November 18, 2021, the Energy Community organized a Workshop on financing energy efficiency in the residential sector. Above all, the energy crisis has proved that integration of small isolated markets at pan-European level is crucial. Stable environment for financing and investment decisions is key to boost energy performance of buildings that is institutionally anchored in the EU´s Energy Performance of Buildings Directive and the Energy Efficiency Directive.

Therefore, the workshop brought together speakers from various organizations and institutions who shared their insightful expertise. The main topic of their discussion was allocation and share of grants as financing tools to reach energy efficiency targets. Moreover, they also talked about different possibilities of other scaling up elements of renovations.

Voices of Experience and Expertise

Among others, Tamara Babayan from the World Bank and Set Landau from the consultant firm Eco ltd. presented the findings of their extensive “Residential Energy Efficiency Market Analysis in the Western Balkans”.

Nora Cimili, Energy Efficiency Specialist from the Millennium Foundation Kosovo (MFK) presented about Pilot Subsidies on Energy Efficiency in Kosovo, that are part of Reliable Energy Landscape Project implemented via Kosovo Threshold Program that is funded by Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) - an agency of the US government.

How to make lending to homeowner associations attractive?

Habitat for Humanity International was honored to participate at this workshop as well. Gyorgy Sumeghy, Associate Director, Policy and Advocacy, presented about financing gaps that exist in the housing sector of Western Balkan countries.

In these countries, homeowners associations (HOAs) of multi-apartment buildings are perceived as extremely high-risk targets of lending by banks. As Gyorgy explained, the reasons for such a restrained perspective of banking sector are various. They include limited availability of financing products, restricted institutional capacities, or viability of lending. As a result, in Western Balkan countries, lending to HOAs is insignificant, if not non-existent. Gyorgy talked about all the key gaps in banking and introduced specific recommendations for:

If interested to find out more about these, you can read the full analysis prepared by our experts here: “Gap Analysis of the Housing Sector in Western Balkans: Bosnia and Hercegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia and Serbia vs. Slovak Republic”.

To find out more about the presentations of other speakers, visit the website of Energy Community and feel free to download their presentations here.

Energy inefficiency and the overall low quality of the building stock in Central and Eastern Europe is one of the most alarming issues of the region. The European data on countries affected by energy poverty only confirm that the post-socialist countries are listed among the most affected ones by energy poverty. If you are aware of our REELIH project and what is the reasoning behind our interest in supporting renovation of co-owned multi-apartment buildings, you know that the primary cause of the housing issues in this region is the large number of the old building stock built during the communist era. The current high numbers of privately owned units in these residential buildings are resulting from the privatization wave after the fall of communism in 1990s. This became the main obstacle in finding consent among the owners to improve the quality of their dwellings and stepping out of the closed circle of energy poverty.

The whole problem of energy inefficient buildings stock in this region is manifold, considering all the factors that contribute to the overall high rates of energy poverty. Rising energy prices, low incomes, misfunctioning homeowner associations and lacking financial possibilities to renovate the residential buildings all together contribute to the gravity of the situation.

The energy poverty and the challenges of the socialist-era housing facilities are discussed in a new C4E Forum blog prepared by two representatives from Romanian Center for the Study of Democracy, Babes-Bolyai University, Anca Sinea and Andreea Vornicu-Chira. Learn more about the topic in this article.


There are no more doubts that our planet is in the state of climate emergency. With buildings being one of the biggest contributors to the climate change in Europe, it is our responsibility to come up with realizable ideas and to transfer them into functioning projects that will help meeting EU's energy efficiency targets and long-term goal under the EU Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) to fully decarbonize it's buildings stock by 2050.

Renovation became crucial and its rate needs to increase to at least 2-3% of renovated building stock per year.

It is the European cities themselves who can significantly contribute to this renovation process. That is the main motivation for BUILD UPON2 project, funded by EU Horizon 2020 and led by World Green Building Council, to empower the cities across Europe to cooperate with national governments and industry to strengthen the overall local effectiveness and implementation of the national building renovation strategies required by the EPBD. To effectively accelerate the renovation process, the EU Member States are, apart from development of their renovation strategies, further required to set out specific roadmaps, including measurable progress indicators and milestones. BUILD UPON2 thus addresses one of the main barriers standing in the way of renovation process, being it the lack of an adequate, widely shared Impact Framework to track the renovation process and its implementation.

Multi-Level Renovation Impact Framework

This pilot framework includes a suite of milestones and measurable progress indicators for city renovation strategies. It will monitor indicators such as the emissions reductions, increased employment and improved health. During the project, these data are captured locally in the chosen cities. At a national level, the framework is supposed to link renovation to policy and decision making process, leading to greater investments in renovation. Developed methodology by the project also indicates:

Testing of the Framework will be realized in 8 pilot cities, each located in different European country:

GBC España is the main Coordinator of the project accompanied by a think tank Buildings Performance Institute Europe (BPIE) and the municipal network Climate Alliance which leads the Covenant of Mayors Office-Europe. The consortium of eight national Green Building Councils consists of:

Future of the BUILD UPON2 Project Framework

Success of this project should serve as a motivation and a "know-how" for cities around Europe to transform their national renovation strategies into more local city strategies to achieve the goal of the EU to completely decarbonize its building stock by 2050. For now, the goal of BUILD UPON2 is to motivate and see at least 10 more cities committing to establish their own strategies by 2021. For future instances, the developed Framework should become a cornerstone of and an inspiration for any building renovation process not only within the area of the European Union.

Find more information about WGBC here.

Find more information about BUILD UPON2 project and its partners here.



In countries of the UNECE region, existing normative instruments for buildings' energy performance range from voluntary guidelines to mandatory standards applying to different building types. Its development is a complex decision-making process involving variety of stakeholders, like for publicly, so for privately owned buildings. New UNECE publication Promoting Energy Efficiency Standards And Technologies To Enhance Energy Efficiency in Buildings aims to provide better understanding of the status of deployment and implementation of energy efficiency standards in buildings in the UNECE region based on data gathered through desk research and stakeholder outreach.

UNECE | Smart Water Magazine

Our HFHI Advocacy Officer Zita Kakalejcikova and our partners Marin Petrovic from Enova, Liljana Alceva from HFH Macedonia, Varsenik Khloyan from HFH Armenia and Andrew Popelka from USAID are listed among contributors to this publication in regard to REELIH project.

Residential multi-apartment buildings

In this publication, residential multi-apartment buildings are defined as structures used primarily as dwellings for one or more households. Within this understanding, they address challenges of climatic conditions, latitude, legislative acts, construction practices, existing building stock and maintenance practices and occupant behavior, including enforcement, training and monitoring mechanisms. The main challenges connected with residential multi-apartment buildings in "Subregions C" and "E" *, which cover all three REELIH project implementing countries-North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Armenia, are identified as follow:

Many countries, particularly in Subregion C, experience difficulties also in increasing market deployment of energy-efficient technologies stemming from incoherent policies in regard to financial incentives, lack of consumers awareness on benefits of such technologies, insufficiently developed building energy codes and lack of technical expertise.

On the other side, the publication highlights how smart solutions show good results in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Armenia because of government-supported implementation of municipal level energy management systems resulting in higher quality of energy action plans for municipalities, for residential multi-apartment buildings and public buildings.

Publication's chapter "Best Practices on Standards and Technologies for Energy Efficiency In Buildings" identifies best practices in adopting, implementing and enforcing energy efficiency standards and energy-efficient technologies for buildings in the UNECE region. These examples are organized into sections based on their performance in legislative and behavior change, technical measures, and financial mechanisms. REELIH countries are included in the following sections:

Habitat for Humanity International thanks UNECE for recognizing all successful work done in REELIH projects and USAID and our other partners for their continuous support in these projects.

Find the publication in full here.

*UNECE member States are divided into specific subregions based on their geographical location:
Subregion A: Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom;
Subregion B: Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia;
Subregion C: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Republic of Moldova, Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan;
Subregion D: Canada, United States of America;
Subregion E: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia;
Subregion F: Turkey.
Israel and San Marino are not listed due to insufficiency of data required for this study.

FEANTSA-the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless, in collaboration with Fondation Abbé Pierre, published a wonderful publication called


The publication is an overview of national tools for combating energy poverty across Europe and an analysis of the EU approach. It elaborates on prioritized "Green Deal" which should support the poorest households and respond to the challenges of energy poverty. The publication emphasizes that one of the basic weaknesses within the European context remains that Europe still lacks a common definition of energy poverty.

The Energy Poverty Observatory, launched by the European Commission, identified main principles to determine energy poverty:

Even though these indicators cover much of the issue, this publication argues that they fail to grasp one of the key factors - that low-income households are disproportionately vulnerable.

Energy poverty severely impacts country's economic and health situation and also its social cohesion. Moreover, there are large contrasts in realities across Europe and Southern and Eastern Member States particularly suffer from issues of energy poverty. For these reasons, the development of policy instruments to fight and eliminate energy poverty has to be done on two levels - national and European.

This report presents the following topics:

The European Framework

The European Union's policy is built on two pillars:

  1. it sets objectives to take vulnerable consumers into account
  2. it reduces the energy consumption

The European Union is working to help Member States with improving the housing situation through different programs. Now, the European Green Deal highlights the need to support the most affected people and regions and provides financial support through Just Transition Fund. With the general goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by 2030, this fund will be directed for the regions with the biggest transition challenges in form of investments in renewable energy sources and energy efficiency in the housing sector.

The European Union recognizes the process of reducing energy consumption through increasing the energy efficiency of the housing stock and delivers a number of successful programs to finance the housing renovation, such as JESSICA , Horizon 2020 or LEMON. Moreover, there is a revolving fund which is a lending facility, continually being replenished by projects reimbursing their loans, which enables the fund to lend again to other projects.

National Intervention Mechanisms

To deal with energy poverty issues on national level, national governments provide public funds for energy and encourage different initiatives to involve also the private sector. However, these mechanisms often fail at reaching all energy poor households because of inadequate funding, targeting or lack of accessibility.

Strategies used by national governments:

The non-take-up is one of the most common issues connected to the state financial programs that fight energy poverty. This is generally linked to three obstacles - knowledge about the aid, accessibility of the aid (complexity of application process) and administrative efficiency in granting the aid. As a solution, the state can either be targeting those who are most vulnerable, or to offer the same aid to everyone. The latter, for example, provides a solution to the stigma associated with receiving of financial aid but can be financially unsustainable. To add, for example, automating payments significantly limit the risk of non-take-ups as such. At the same time, it still does not guarantee that all eligible households will benefit from this kind of support.

Energy poverty combated through renovation of existing housing stock 

The existing housing stock regularly does not confine with the most current regulations and standards on energy efficiency of buildings. Therefore, apart from direct financial support for energy bill payments, there is a material need to renovate the existing residential buildings as a means to get long-term benefit in form of increased savings from lowered energy expenses.

Social Housing

Improving energy efficiency in the social housing stock is even more complex process due to the number of actors included in the process. The key role has to be played by social landlords who adopt comprehensive and strategic approaches. The tenants have to become part of the constructive dialogue with their landlords and the motivation of the landlords has to be assured as to move with the process of housing renovations, especially in social housing.

Issues when renovating private co-owned properties

Basic challenge of renovation of co-owned properties is the amount of money required for the investment in connection of a high number of co-owners of the building. There are all legal, human and financial obstacles to renovating these types of buildings.

The multi-apartment buildings, indeed owned by many small-scale owner-occupiers, are often overlooked in the programs aiming at financial help for renovation.

In this regard, this new report by FEANTSA uses, among others, also REELIH project as an example of a project which improves the living conditions of owner occupiers of exactly these kinds of buildings.

Proposed Recommendations

You can find the whole publication here.

Organized by UN-Habitat, the conference World Urban Forum 2020 took place in Abu Dhabi from 8 - 13 February, 2020. It was already for the 10th time that this international event brought together the experts from the field and enthusiasts of sustainable urbanization to gather and exchange the views on urban issues. The theme of this tenth session of WUF was

Cities of Opportunities:
Connecting Culture and Innovation

The conference was divided into six dialogues session:

These six dialogues covered the emerging innovative approaches and practices in harnessing culture and innovation as drivers for sustainable urbanization. At the same time, the sessions provided great insight into the linkages between urbanization, culture and innovation as a basis for achieving inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable cities and human settlements. The emphasis was put on a synergy between tradition and modernity, and deeper understanding of multi-generational communities. Through this approach, the conference sessions tried to unfold and introduce the role of culture and innovation in implementation of the New Urban Agenda and achieving urban dimensions of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

WUF10 Training Event

Susana Rojas Williams, HFHI - EMEA Director of Housing and Human Settlements Department, was at WUF10 to speak about the success of REELIH project. UNECE was kind enough to invite HFHI to speak at their training event called

Innovative management of multi-apartment high rise housing: Localizing Sustainable Development Goals 7 & 11 and New Urban Agenda through housing strategies.

It aimed to develop practical knowledge and skills in maintenance and management of multi-apartment residential buildings and to unfold its problematic sides.

At the same time, presented were different approaches that establish a sustainable maintenance and management systems with adequate finance, direct citizen engagement, laws and regulations. The adoption of policies targeting existing housing stock is a strategy that helps realization of SDG 11 and the New Urban Agenda.

The topic of this event acknowledged the specificity of Central and Eastern European region where a significant part of the housing stock consists of old and energy inefficient multi-apartment buildings. The main issue there is that home-owners do not assume the responsibility to maintain the buildings they live in. It is a result of different factors influencing the last decade of 20th century:

This situation left residents of multi-apartment buildings unprepared for a new way of living in these yet ageing, not properly maintained buildings. Simply said, no one was there to tell the homeowners that they have the financial and social obligations to organize and pay for the maintenance and management of their common goods and properties and to ensure their building is fully functioning. Therefore, there is a critical need in this region to build homeowner associations and within them a financial reserve for cyclical maintenance and capital refurbishments for future.

REELIH project as best practice

The story of multi-apartment buildings in Central and Eastern Europe is related also to REELIH implementation countries. There, facilitating the "eco-system of residential energy efficiency stakeholders" helped fighting the described challenges.  Creating a common environment for people (home-owners), private (banks, construction) and public (local/national government) sector improved the overall efficiency of communication level between these sectors. Moreover, it eased the way in which the homeowners get into a constructive dialogue, get to an agreement for common action and access a financial and other support from private and public sectors. REELIH project's two key messages say that

without homeowners, energy efficient improvements, building maintenance and management cannot happen. Moreover, without the right institutional structure, energy efficiency retrofits, housing management and maintenance cannot scale.

Inter-sector communication is the crucial activity to be present when finding the right solutions to housing issues not only in the Central and Eastern Europe. Check out the solutions to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Armenia and Macedonia and their REELIH success stories on our websites.

Find more information about World Urban Forum here.

Find the WUF10 Declaration here.

Find the REELIH presentation for WUF10 here.

The office of the Government of the Czech Republic organized a seminar in Prague on the 12th December, 2019 to present a new policy paper and a study called Energy Poverty in the Danube Region.

The research was co-funded by the European Union (ERDF) and was done by Czech Technical University in Prague. The study is also a part of the EU Strategy program for the Danube Region (EUSDR) which is a macro-regional strategy adopted by the European Commission.

One of EUSDR’s priority areas is Sustainable Energy and works on three main objectives – coordination of regional energy policies, helping to implement the EU energy acquis, and launching cutting edge technology developments to increase energy efficiency of the region.

About the publication

Defining energy poverty

It is evident that the definition of energy poverty which was proposed last year by Covenant of Mayors in publication Alleviating energy poverty becomes more and more used as a keystone of energy poverty research. The study of Danube Region is not an exception to this tendency. Indifferently, the study identifies the lack of clear and universal definition as a threat to the research in this area as it could bring clarity into understanding the scope of this topic, especially considering the mobility within the definition.

“A situation where a household or an individual is unable to afford basic energy services (heating, cooling, lighting, mobility and power) to guarantee a decent standard of living due to a combination of low income, high energy expenditure and low energy efficiency of their homes”

Danube Region is a large region with different historical influences, cultures, wealth or living standards and energy poverty varies significantly between these countries. Moreover, the region consists of both EU Member States and non-EU countries.

The estimated number of people at risk of energy poverty in the European Union is between 10% and 25% of the population.


EU Strategy for the Danube Region - map. From

Indicators of energy poverty

The study identifies three main drivers of energy poverty which are then accompanied by varying secondary drivers. The main three indicators are:

The cause of energy poverty, however, cannot be sought only in these general identifiers. They rather intersect and connect to a wide range of social changes and phenomena, such as unemployment or low paid jobs, property seizures, poor thermal efficiency and low-quality housing connected with increase of fuel prices. Moreover, deregulation and privatization of housing and energy sector lead to change of perception of energy from being a public good to a general commodity on market.

Another dimension includes the age, education, health and family situations as social drivers of energy poverty. If we add the incapability or missing interest of local or state governments to cope with this situation, we come to a full image of energy poverty in all specific dimensions.

Energy poverty is not only about availability or affordability. Similarly, it is about (in)efficiency and flexibility of energy services that meet the needs of households.

Apart from talking about the drivers of energy poverty, it is likewise crucial to identify the areas of life impacted by energy poverty. This publication uses the Eurostat framework of 8+1 dimensions of quality of life to define further energy poverty impact. These are:

As in the case of main and secondary indicators of energy poverty, all these indicators of life quality have to be considered simultaneously because of potential trade-offs between them. The publication provides useful examples of how different areas of life are affected by energy poverty, like the following.

Energy poverty and bad living conditions have negative effect on children's performance in school.


With high energy bills, there is a little or no money left for leisure activities or sudden expenses.


The question is, what can the state do to improve the situation? Through legislation, regulations, counselling and social work, subsidies, technical solutions and other types of measure, state can help the people suffering from energy poverty. Of course, it is crucial to define the vulnerable groups for which the previous factors serve as guidance in this process.


Apart from national governments, there are many international institutions and organizations supporting the solutions to energy poverty and not only in the Danube Region. Examples of such activities can be found in the activities and projects of International Energy Agency, Ashoka, Energy Sector Management Assistance Program, ENGAGER, EU Energy Poverty Observatory, Right to Energy Coalition or Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy.

Energy Poverty Documents used in Study on Energy Poverty in Danube Region

Participation with such platforms is a good way to learn how to do things, and avoid mistakes already made or even share own experience with others. For example, the EU Energy Observatory can inspire others with their projects and connect with other relevant organizations. Covenant of Mayors is a relevant platform for another specific type of stakeholders-municipalities. Moreover, The Policy Paper on Energy Poverty in the Danube Region, offers a guidance on replicating success of already implemented projects:


Good practice

The EVALUATE project

Energy Vulnerability and Urban Transitions in Europe was a European Research Council funded project that took place between 2013 and 2018. Its goal was to investigate how urban institutional structures, built tissues and everyday practices shape energy vulnerability at a variety of geographical scale.

The project consisted of deep research in four Eastern and Central European post-communist areas: Gdańsk (Poland), Prague (Czech Republic), Budapest (Hungary) and Skopje (Republic of Macedonia).

The initial premise of the project says that providing affordable energy in cities depends on ensuring adequate match between housing types, heating systems and household needs on one side, and incomes and energy efficiency on the other. It succeeded in overcoming the short-sighted approach of focusing solely on poverty and access to energy efficiency. This research rather shows more complex issues of resilience and precariousness, investigating multiple social and spacial dimensions of energy vulnerability in the four mentioned areas.

The project resulted in numerous publications on energy poverty and vulnerability within the region and many of them are considered a crucial contribution to the multi-dimensional issue-solving.

Find more information about the study and policy paper Energy Poverty in the Danube Region here.

Find more information about the EVALUATE project here.

How USAID and HFHI united neighbors to heat their homes, reduce their energy bills, and strengthen their communities


“I’m always finding some excuse to be the last one at work because it’s warmer there. I’m fed up with high bills and chilly rooms.” — Lile Kike, Skopje, North Macedonia

“I could not afford to heat our house last year. I just turned on the stove for 20 minutes in the kitchen to make it possible for everyone in the family to sit around the table for breakfast.” — Nona Nalbandyan,Yerevan, Armenia

“When I first moved in here, the windows were old, and we covered them with blankets to stop the wind.” — Ivana Georgievska, Skopje, North Macedonia


Low income housing in Yerevan, Armenia. / Habitat for Humanity

These stories are all too common in Europe and Eurasia, where housing for low income residents and retirees is dominated by 1960s era apartment blocks. When the Communist bloc collapsed, a wave of privatization swept across the region. Sadly, the governance structures and financial mechanisms required to maintain these buildings did not immediately follow. The massive state institutions charged with repairs during the Soviet period no longer existed.

Many residents of these aging apartment blocks are already struggling with daily expenses. In North Macedonia, for example, 25.7 percent of the population was considered unable to keep their homes adequately warm according to Eurostat data from 2016. This way of life is perilous in a part of the world where winters are long and dark, with temperatures routinely dipping to 20–30 degrees Fahrenheit (-6 to -1 degree Celsius).


Building with shattered windows prior to retrofit, Yerevan, Armenia. / Habitat for Humanity

As heat escapes through the cracks in the walls and ceilings, the cost of heating a building — and keeping the lights on — rises by as much as 20 to 30 percent. The situation becomes particularly dire during the winter months, when the price for heat is too high for many people to bear.

As housing prices and energy bills continued to rise through the 1990s and into the 2000s, residents of these crumbling structures had few places to turn. Fearing the impact of skyrocketing housing costs on already fragile communities, USAID and Habitat for Humanity stepped in.

Starting in 2011 in North Macedonia and expanding into Armenia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, USAID works with Habitat for Humanity in Europe and Eurasia to help create the financial mechanisms, public awareness, organizations, and local government buy-in needed to empower residents to organize for better, healthier, more affordable neighborhoods.

USAID’s partnership with Habitat for Humanity is far from traditional development. Directly retrofitting every apartment block would have been prohibitively expensive. It would also have taken decision-making out of the hands of the residents.

USAID and Habitat for Humanity chose a different course. Habitat reached out to homeowners to inform them about how much money they were losing per month in unnecessary energy bills. Those who expressed interest in retrofitting their homes found a partner in Habitat.



Homeowner’s Association meeting in Banovici, Tuzla Canton, Bosnia and Herzegovina. / Habitat for Humanity


The key to success turned out to be a combination of community organizing and burden sharing. Residents had to pool their own resources, request a loan from a bank, and consistently pay down that loan as a community. Habitat helped neighbors organize and agree on a refurbishment plan. Now they only needed a financing partner.

In North Macedonia, Habitat set up its own loan fund to demonstrate that homeowner’s associations are reliable clients. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, residents started out financing the repairs through personal savings and local government subsidies facilitated by Habitat. In Armenia, Habitat worked directly with banks to craft loans tailored for homeowner’s associations.

To understand the success of the partnership between Habitat for Humanity and USAID, one only needs to visit these neighborhoods.


Above: Views before and after a building with shattered windows in Yerevan, Armenia, received a retrofit. Below: A building with shattered windows prior to and after a retrofit, in Tuzla Canton, Bosnia and Herzegovina. / Habitat for Humanity
In North Macedonia, where I served as acting country representative, at least 62 buildings in eight municipalities have received retrofitting, impacting more than 1,900 homeowners. In Armenia, 18 buildings (519 housing units, 1,500 residents) have been repaired. More importantly, this work so impressed the Yerevan Municipality that its leaders are considering co-financing retrofits on 900 additional units.

And in Bosnia and Herzegovina, four buildings (49 housing units, 133 residents) have been retrofitted. Now local governments in the Tuzla Canton have developed an action plan to retrofit 973 more homes. The plan will provide subsidies to match loans and other funds raised by homeowners associations.


A happy resident of a Habitat for Humanity-repaired home. / Habitat for Humanity


Beyond the numbers, Habitat for Humanity has forged a market ecosystem where homeowners, banks, and government officials work together to create healthier, more affordable housing for some of the most vulnerable populations in the region. In the process, they have also created a model which can be replicated across Europe and Eurasia because it benefits everyone in that system.

Banks now have a tested way to work with potential new customers via their homeowners associations. By pitching in now, local governments reduce the likelihood of having to invest a greater sum down the road to retrofit buildings, build new housing, or increase subsidies for electricity bills. Homeowners are empowered to take control of their own future and feel a renewed sense of pride in their homes and communities.

Most importantly, residents are welcoming the extra they find in their pocketbooks. According to Habitat, retrofitting has cut energy bills for low income homeowners by up to 50 percent.



“The difference is obvious after the windows installation in the lobby. Most of the day the boiler is switched off. This year it is very warm in the winter.” — Alaverdi Toumasyan, Yerevan, Armenia



“It feels like I’m in a dream with the roof done. It’s about time and the feeling is incredible.” — Milenko Lukich, Tuzla Canton, Bosnia and Herzegovina


“I never believed that our building was going to end up looking like this…it is a thousand times better, a thousand times….” — Meho Mehinovich, Tuzla Canton, Bosnia and Herzegovina


USAID’s partnership with Habitat for Humanity has important policy implications. Educating the public about how energy efficiency personally impacts them is a small but important step towards insulating the region from internal and external energy shocks, especially those perpetrated by foreign malign actors seeking to leverage energy access in exchange for political deference. And for those countries looking to join the European Union, which has exacting standards for energy efficiency, this new approach establishes important protocols now that may help down the road.


Image result for Gretchen Birkle

About the Author

Gretchen Birkle is the Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Europe and Eurasia and was the Acting Country Representative in North Macedonia.


On November 25th and 26th, 2019 Centre for Social Sciences Institute of Sociology (TKSZI) in Budapest, Hungary hosted a two day International Conference and Workshop on energy poverty under title ENERGY POVERTY: From Household Problems to Climate Crisis. This event was co-organized by Habitat for Humanity Hungary together with Elosztó and Engager.

From global to local

First day of the conference was dedicated to presentations and discussion on current research, good practices and experiences around defining and measuring energy poverty in Europe with a special focus on Central and Eastern Europe. There were many interesting presentations starting from a high level overview by Diana Ürge-Vorsatz, a Climate researcher from CEU and a member of the UN International Panel on Climate Change, stressing that climate change amplifies inequalities as the severe weather changes affect and will affect the most the poorest ones. Therefore climate change mitigation needs to be interconnected with international development.


Following up on this, the focus shifted to national level, taking examples on energy poverty mitigation from other countries such as Spain. Spain has gone through a long path of defining energy poverty and the indicators needed to measure it from 2009, to having a full new National Energy Poverty Strategy in 2019, being in effect until 2024. This was presented by Sergio Tirado Herrero, a  Marie Curie Research Fellow from Autonomous University of Barcelona. Sergio showed by his presentation that it takes time and a lot of effort and political will to design functioning policies targeting energy poor. Similar approach was presented later by Jakub Sokołowski from Institute for Structural Research University of Warsaw, where Poland also defined energy poverty and picked other similar indicators to measure it, fitting the context of the country.

Understanding energy poverty

What we could learn for these approaches is that indicators are not meant to design policies per se. They rather serve the important purpose of recognizing the issue of energy poverty and being able to understand the phenomena. They are not meant to exactly define the person who is energy poor, which would be in a big scale very ineffective and costly, they rather serve as the basis to work out the policies from the understanding of the issue.

On this occasion, Habitat for Humanity International presented learnings from REELIH project of HFHI and USAID related to energy poverty. REELIH project was not originally designed to address energy poverty in the region. The main aim was to get the market and system of energy efficiency refurbishments of multi apartment buildings running. Focusing on working with all the stakeholders from the system, starting with the homeowners until the government to set up a working "eco-system" for people to be able to refurbish their buildings and therefore pay and consume less of the energy. However over the course of implementing the project it was inevitable to start thinking about and taking into consideration the issue of energy poverty in the region. We have contracted Metropolitan Research Institute from Budapest together with Buildings Performance Institute Europe from Brussels to conduct a *research on energy poverty in the countries of implementation of REELIH project-North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Armenia.

Energy poverty in Western Balkans and Armenia 

There are several impediments in these countries when trying to define energy poverty. First of all, there is very severe lack of data needed to be able to measure or compare energy poverty in the countries. Many people heat only part of their apartments to be able to pay for their heating, many people use solid fuel to heat which makes it much more difficult to really find the energy poor. Most important of all for our project, the homeowners in the multi apartment buildings create big social mix of low income, middle income even higher income living in one building.

Therefore, what to do with a socially mixed community when talking about defining energy poor. There are several solutions to that offered by MRI and BPIE in their study:

However, in countries like Western Balkans and Armenia where the system of management and maintenance of multi apartment buildings does not function properly, it might be more useful to focus first on establishing one and only then start addressing energy poor. It is essential first to develop a proper and working regulatory framework for homeowners associations so they are able to act, finance and implement renovations. It is essential to develop banks to offer products to the homeowners associations and to develop national or local governments to be able to motivate their citizens to consume less energy by refurbishing their buildings. Only then it might be useful to try to focus on energy poverty when talking about multi apartment buildings. Similar process happened in countries of Central Europe such as Slovakia or Czech Republic, where only now, after refurbishing almost half of their residential building stock, they start talking about the issue of energy poverty and how to respond to it.

Energy poverty definition in Hungary

Building on knowledge gained from the first day, second day of the conference was in a format of interactive workshop serving as an opportunity for all to contribute to a draft definition of energy poverty and set of indicators for energy poverty within the Hungarian context. This was a well facilitated day, working in groups, exchanging knowledge, brainstorming and discussing together among experts to try to define and understand energy poverty issue in Hungary.

You can find out more on the ENGAGER project here.

You can find out more on the Eloszto project here.

You can find out more on Habitat for Humanity Hungary here.

*The research will be available online early next year 2020.

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