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The State of Housing in Europe 2021: Housing Europe´s Flagship Publication

Housing Europe, the European Federation of Public, Cooperative & Social Housing, has published the first comprehensive evidence-based analysis of the COVID-19 impact on housing in Europe. Being rich in facts, figures and timely information, the State of Housing in Europe 2021 Report provides its readers with insightful overview of the housing situation and its evolution across 21 countries during the Coronavirus pandemic. In this blog we aim to share some of the key messages of the Report with our readers while also highlighting one of the country profiles representing CEE Region - Armenia.

ABOUT THE PUBLICATION

The State of Housing in Europe 2021 is a comprehensive analysis of the current state of housing in Europe which explores the link between housing and health, examines the impact of COVID-19 on public, cooperative and social housing, maps out the recent developments in national and EU housing policies and analyzes the situation of 21 country profiles. It also synthetizes and reviews a growing body of literature, data and other useful evidence from (see below or Chapter 2 in the Report).

The Report has been done in collaboration with the Housing Europe Observatory, which is the research branch of Housing Europe responsible for identifying research needs and analyzing the key trends in the field of housing at the European level. This report is published on a bi-annual basis and serves as a great reference document in the housing sector.

The Report was launched online at the event organized by the Housing Europe where high-level experts from different EU institutions discussed the most pressing issues pertaining the housing sector at the moment. Moderated by Housing Europe Secretary General, Sorcha Edwards, the roundtable discussion hosted Kim Van Sparrentak (MEP and Rapporteur), Pedro Nuno Santos (Portuguese Minister for Infrastructure and Housing), Lucie Devoine (Deputy Head of Unit DG Employment, EC), Declan Costello (Deputy Director-General, DG ECFIN, EC) and Alessandro Rancati (from the Design for Policy at the New European Bauhaus, Joint Research Centre).

KEY MESSAGES OF THE REPORT

Critical Role of Housing: More Explicit Than Ever

The world at the juncture of the global health crisis required us to inevitably stay at our homes. Long-lasting housing crisis, however, has not made this possible for so many of us. As Laurent Ghekiere, Chair of Housing Europe Observatory, says

#StayAtHome has been easier said than done for a very large part of the EU population

Poor living conditions in the households or lack of housing have not only increased affected people´s chances of getting the virus but have also directly increased the risks of them dying.[1] The inadequate housing has demonstrably impacted people´s well-being, mental health, school and work performance. The pandemic has thus reinforced the importance of adequate and affordable housing for all and the need for addressing the rising inequalities as soon as possible.

Public, Cooperative and Social Housing: In the Loop

In addition to exploring the link between housing and health, including both physical and mental one, the Report observes the development of the housing sector with a special focus on the public, cooperative and social housing before and after the pandemic. The Housing Europe President, Bent Madsen, says that the mission of public, cooperative and social housing is to “factor in climate without pricing out people”. One of the findings positively reveals how public, social, and cooperative housing providers mobilized to support their tenants and communities so that they do not lose their homes. Nevertheless, there remain to persist many unfavorable realities caused by the long-lasting housing crisis that require more attention of the competent stakeholders.

The Key Issues Pertaining Housing Sector:

One of the most pressing ones, as the Report points out, is rising homelessness in the EU. Combined with trends of increasing housing prices and financialization penetrating the housing sector, this remains to be a great challenge. Collected evidence from a number of countries further suggests increasing demand for social housing - phenomenon expected only to increase in the near future. The energy performance of building and digitalization of housing sector have also become an issue.

Country profile of Armenia

Substantial part of the Housing Europe´s Report is dedicated to the selected 21 countries profiles. Among these, 3 chapters are dedicated to countries in Central and Eastern Europe: Czechia, Estonia, Slovenia and one chapter is dedicated to Armenia.

The impact of the pandemic in Armenia could be felt mostly in the construction and maintenance of the housing sector. As the Report points out, the overall construction activities in Armenia decreased by around 10 percentage points. What is more, out of this overall construction sector, provision of social housing constitutes only a very small share, although it belongs to one of the priorities of the National Social Housing Agency (ASBA). This fact can be explained by the specificity of the whole CEE region where majority of the residential building stock is co-owned by individual flat-owners.

Despite of high rates of housing availability, the need for housing in Armenia remains to be apparent, as the high rates can be easily explained by decreasing population, large share of empty dwellings, and persisting homelessness. Furthermore, there is significant group of people who are in need of better housing as their current one is in informal settlements or is simply unfit for human occupation.

With regards to the need for improving the existing housing stock´s conditions, the Housing Europe´s Report refers to HFHI´s findings about the inefficient energy insulations used in the collective residential housing units in Armenia which resulted in huge energy losses and made many low and middle-income families in Armenia spend 25 to 50% of their incomes only on utilities.

Sadly, the pandemic impact on Armenian households has been furthermore worsened by heightened political tensions and period of military hostilities, leaving many households exposed to significant challenges.

WHAT IS NEXT?

Against the immediate consequences and given the projections of the medium to long-term COVID-19 impact, the investment in social and affordable housing must clearly become a key priority for public policies and must constitute “a central pillar of economic recovery efforts”, claim the authors of the Report. Fiscal and monetary policies implemented by the EU to accommodate the COVID-19 impact together with its mandate to implement social rights, especially the right to access to social housing, should help favorable development of social and affordable housing in Europe.


[1] Supporting evidence reveals a 50% higher risk of coronavirus incidence and 42% higher risk of COVID-19 mortality with 5% increase of households with poor housing conditions.


Find the recording from the launch event here.

Find the full report here.

Find Housing Europe press release here.

"Housing governance to support housing affordability"

is a Regional Online Workshop that took place during the last week of February 2021. It was co-organized by the Ministry of Environment and Spatial planning of Slovenia and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), together with the support of Housing Europe, the Union for the Mediterranean and UN-Habitat. The event opened up for a discussion about the undersupply of affordable housing, homelessness, rising urban rents, low quality of housing and urban infrastructure, limited access to land for housing construction and renovation, and mounting urban poverty in the UNECE region. These challenges has been long on rise, however, the Covid-19 pandemic situation made the need of sustainable and affordable housing one of the most important policy challenges of current days.

Affordable and adequate housing is far from being a standard within the UNECE region and is especially important for vulnerable groups which at the same time suffer also from limited access to healthcare, fuel poverty and price inflation. Moreover, mounting unemployment connected with Covid-19 pandemic widens the number of people in the need of housing and other basic services even more. The UNECE, representing a diverse region with ranging national and local contexts of housing sector and its legal frameworks, decided to organize this online workshop to share knowledge and good practice for inspiration and allowing others to formulate viable and sustainable solutions to long-standing housing issues in this region together with responding to the world pandemic crisis.

Workshop

The workshop was organized as a two days event. The first day of the workshop was dedicated to the theme of key international initiatives on affordable housing in Europe and on governance for affordable, adequate and healthy housing for all.

The morning of the second day was reserved for discussion of #Housing2030: Improving Housing Affordability in the UNECE Region. It is a new UNECE study under development with a goal of improving capacities of national and local governments to formulate policies that improve housing affordability and sustainability in the UNECE region. As one of the topics of this study addresses housing governance and regulation, the UNECE reserved this time for workshop session with a focus on the preparation of this chapter of the #Housing2030 study.

The final session of the two-day workshop called "Governance of the housing sector: Focus on South-East Europe" was oriented towards housing policies in countries of the South-Eastern Europe.

Andrew Popelka, a representative of the USAID which provides funding for REELIH project, contributed to the session with a comprehensive presentation of a new comparative study Gap Analysis of the Housing Sector In Western Balkan Countries: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, and Serbia VS. Slovak Republic. The study identifies and analyses the gaps in housing regulations in the Western Balkans.

REELIH project is mentioned in this study to manifest its impact on establishing mechanisms that help people in REELIH implementing countries to find consensus and get finances for renovation of the multi-owner apartment buildings.

Andrew Popelka admits that the multi-owned apartment buildings lack the attention of the donors since the multi-ownership of the building complicates the overall decision making prior and also during the renovation works. That is another reason why REELIH works on creating more financing possibilities for these buildings, providing technical assistance and serving as a mediator in the complex environment of many stakeholders included.

We would like to thank the UNECE for organizing this workshop and to Andrew Popelka from USAID for his contribution to this workshop, again showcasing REELIH as a good practice in the region of Central and Eastern Europe.


Find more information about the UNECE workshop here. 

Find a new comparative study by USAID here.

 

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

ENERGY POVERTY: WHAT ARE THE FOUNDATIONS FOR A GREEN AND SOCIAL PACT FOR EUROPE?

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.

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 https://danube-region.eu/about/


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.

Cooperation

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.

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