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ComAct report: Energy poverty in the privately-owned, multi-family apartment buildings

What is ComAct?

ComAct - Community Tailored Actions for Energy Poverty Mitigation is an EU funded Horizon2020 project that aims to make comprehensive energy efficient improvements in multi-family apartment buildings in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) and in the republics of the former Soviet Union (CIS).

The key is to make renovations affordable and manageable for energy poor communities, as well as to provide needed assistance for lifting said communities out of energy poverty.

The idea is to identify energy poor households and to create a new understanding of energy poverty. Next step is intervening across the three key dimensions, being it stakeholders and communities, the financial, and the technical one, and finally testing the approach in five pilot countries - Hungary, Bulgaria, Lithuania, North Macedonia and Ukraine.

Energy poverty is rather a complex concept. Hence a detailed and specific solutions are needed to tackle it, for which there is ComAct with its new report.

The overview report on energy poverty concept

The Overview report on the energy poverty concept is aimed at highlighting the need to tackle energy poverty as swiftly as possible, as it is an issue that acts as a gatekeeper against a higher standard of living. The report was put together by a consortium of organizations that contribute to ComAct - Building Performance Institute Europe, Metropolitan Research Institute, LVOA-ALCO, OHU, ENOVA, IWO, EnEffect, Burgas Municipality as well as Habitat for Humanity International and Habitat for Humanity Macedonia. All of these organizations brought together their best experts in the field of energy poverty and housing to deliver a report on the state of energy poverty within the five ComAct pilot countries, how energy-poor are identified there, and what financial and other supportive programs are in place to support them. Furthermore, the report has identified existing financial schemes from all over Europe, which have been proven to help alleviate energy poverty in multi-family apartment buildings (MFABs).

Some of the key findings related to the concept of energy poverty are:

Energy poverty in the pilot countries

As mentioned above, the report and the ComAct project itself focuses on five pilot countries of the CEE and CIS regions:

Countries in the CEE and CIS regions have the most energy-poor people in Europe, mainly due to high energy prices and poor energy efficiency of the buildings, heating systems and appliances. In these regions, the housing stock is predominantly privately-owned and characterized by a large percentage of MFABs. This is the result of mass privatization in the 1990s, along with the deconstruction of the social safety net: utility and energy costs of the flats massively rose, burdening the family budgets. At the same time, the socialist-era collective maintenance mechanisms were left behind, and the decay of homeowners’ associations has not been addressed effectively with a clear set solution.

To address the complex roots of energy poverty, there is a need to develop a new approach to make interventions affordable, substantially influence energy costs and consequently reduce the high energy poverty level in the CEE and CIS region.

Following is a short description of the state of energy poverty of each ComAct implementing country.

Hungary

Surprisingly, the country has a rather low level of energy poverty compared to other states within the ComAct project. Just around 5 to 10% of households are energy poor in Hungary. It is mostly the rural areas, specifically the family houses that are more affected. Nevertheless, MFABs have a myriad of other specific problems, such as a large number of apartment owners that make renovation more challenging from an organizational point of view. Hungary also uses the term 'vulnerable consumer' for law-making, which is a descriptor of social status. Problem is that there are no socially targeted renovation subsidies available, which might make it harder for Hungary to implement the coming EU Renovation Wave Strategy in the most effective way.

Bulgaria

Among the ComAct countries, Bulgaria has the highest share of energy-poor households, with a whopping 10 to 35% of households being energy poor, and with only 3.6% receiving a heating allowance. The current renovation program also lacks income components to help facilitate an alleviation of energy poverty in the country.

Lithuania

Following Bulgaria, Lithuania is the second energy poorest state, with an energy poverty level of 10-26%. MFABs in cities and towns are more affected than family houses in rural areas. There also is no official definition of energy poverty, but there are some measures like heating allowances and socially targeted renovation schemes, which aim at alleviating the energy poverty stricken owners.

North Macedonia

North Macedonia is very forward thinking, as it already addresses issue of energy poverty in several strategic documents, as well as through policies targeting vulnerable energy consumers. The number of energy-poor households is comparable to that of Lithuania and Bulgaria, which highlights how being within the EU does not automatically mean a higher standard of living, as it takes time and appropriate policy work. Although the condition of buildings in rural areas is worse, the problem of energy poverty is much more severe in urban areas due to the affordability of energy.

Ukraine

Ukraine has a large energy poverty problem since the cancellation of its high energy subsidies during the last five to six years. Not all subsidy schemes were abolished and some are still in place, but as there is a large energy-poor population and the building stock has a very low energy performance, it is difficult to target these schemes at the most vulnerable consumers.

The EU perspective on energy efficiency of buildings

Energy poverty has a long tradition inside the EU, hence according to the known regulations such as the National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs), and also as a part of the Renovation Wave Strategy or the EU Green Deal, the EU has dedicated mechanisms to support building renovation, for which money is earmarked within the Recovery and Resilience Facility, as well as other instruments. Problem is though that the EU member state implementation is rather insufficient, and hence energy poverty is still a large issue.

All EU member states should ensure the necessary supply of energy for vulnerable customers and in doing so integrate an approach, which looks at various policy areas that could be used to measure and tackle energy efficiency improvements of housing. Effectively, these directives should acknowledge the existence of energy poverty and say that the protection of vulnerable consumers is a minimum requirement to eliminate it, keeping in mind that energy poverty is a broader concept than that of vulnerable customers.

Existing energy policies

The Clean Energy for Europeans package takes it a step further, as it consists of eight legislative proposals targeting various sectors: energy efficiency, energy performance of buildings, renewable energy, energy security and more. The Governance of the Energy Union and Climate Action Regulation also stipulates that EU member states should assess the number of energy-poor households, but measures and solutions are still not exactly clear. Similarly, the Energy Efficiency Directive tackles energy poverty in a way, in which it calls for measures to address vulnerable households as a priority. Lastly, under the revised Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, EU member states are required to outline relevant national measures to help alleviate energy poverty as part of their Long-term Renovation Strategies, to support the renovation of both residential and non-residential building stock.

Said legislations are also important for the Energy Community members, such as North Macedonia and Ukraine, although they have still not implemented the Clean Energy package, as their legislation is lagging behind that of EU member states.

All in all, the EU is primed to address energy poverty within and even outside the EU. However, if it means to do that properly, heavy cooperation with both the EU member states and the civil society experts will be necessary, as they are the ones with the real field expertise. And just as the overview report of ComAct illustrates, solutions must be direct and comprehensive, targeted at the most vulnerable energy consumers.


Find more information about ComAct on the official website of the project here.

For more information on the overview report and its findings, please visit this site.

The European Climate Pact (ECP) is a new, EU-wide initiative inviting individuals, communities and organizations to participate in climate action and building a greener Europe. This pact is introduced under the European Green Deal (EGD), which is an action plan to boost the efficient use of resources by moving to a clean and circular economy. The goal of the EGD is to make EU’s economy sustainable by turning climate and environmental challenges into opportunities and making the transition just and inclusive for all. In order to achieve this goal, the EGD must encourage a stronger action coming from citizens. Hence, the role of the ECP is to create a space for everyone to share information, to open for discussion and to act on the climate crisis with a goal of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

The ECP wishes to create a space or network for people across Europe, being it professionals or citizens, communities or individuals. The inclusiveness of this approach to the EU public shall connect regions, local communities, industry, schools and civil society, to share information about climate change, and to promote solutions. The ECP is built on the following values:

social sustainability, social well-being, inclusion, equality, diversity, accessibility and affordability

The European Climate Pact and housing

In the starting phase, the ECP will prioritize actions having immediate benefits for the climate, for the environment and for the health and wellbeing of citizens. The four selected areas for this phase are green areas, green mobility, green buildings and green skills. In respect of targeted area of green buildings, this initiative will support the renovation of buildings in line with the Renovation Wave to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The ECP recognizes the building sector as one of those with the most potential for having a positive impact on climate change.

The ECP will support sharing of information and knowledge of benefits that improvements of energy and materials performance bring to homes, hospitals, schools, social housing and municipal services. Moreover, they aim to support mayors and citizens in provision of guidance and technical assistance with tackling the low energy performance of their buildings and improving their resilience, with a special consideration of affordability and energy poverty.

Possibilities of public engagement

Involving people directly in discussions on climate challenges creates co-ownership, unlocks technological and social innovation, and optimizes decision-making. The role of the ECP is to open up for public and encourage people to engage in the topic. In the first place, the ideas and contributions to the ECP will be communicated during an Annual Climate Pact event.

Another way to become part of the ECP is to sing up to climate action pledges. The ECP invites organizations, collectives and even individuals to register their climate initiatives and turn them into climate action pledges, in order to boost action, encourage others to join, and scale up and replicate good ideas and projects.
As an individual, one can become a volunteering ECP Ambassador and contribute to the ECP by informing, inspiring and supporting climate action in their communities and networks.

Public consultation of the European Climate Pact

As part of the development of the ECP, the European Commission had opened for a public consultation in the first half of 2020. Its aim was to gather input from a broad range of stakeholders, ranging from national, regional and local authorities to businesses, civil society and education organizations, consumer groups, research and innovation centers, as well as individual citizens. Habitat for Humanity International contributed to this consultation as we considered it an opportunity to deliver our messages about the importance of renovation of multi-apartment buildings and support of functioning homeowner associations.
We see it as a success that one of the main topics of the ECP is "green buildings". It confirms that the renovation of buildings is a crucial step in the fight against the climate change. Moreover, the ECP acknowledges that the renovation of buildings has a significant impact on health and well-being of the citizens.

The European Climate Pact is yet another important initiative under the European Green Deal that can significantly contribute to awareness-raising, knowledge-sharing and uniting all relevant stakeholders in the process of making Europe a greener place. Renovation of buildings is an inevitable part of this whole process and thanks to initiatives like the ECP, we hope for better and more effective implementation of solutions, such as renovation of existing building stock, that will alleviate energy poverty in the European region and make people's houses real, high-quality homes.


Find more information about the European Green Deal here.

Find more information about the European Climate Pact here and about the "green buildings" as a priority topic here.

Find more information about the EC public consultation of the European Climate Pact here.

It has been already more than ten months from the date when the EU Member States were supposed to submit their newest Long-Term Renovation Strategies (LTRS). This national strategy is an important document of planning since it serves to support the renovation of national building stock in a highly energy efficiency and decarbonization-oriented manner. The LTRSs should align with the requirements introduced by the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, including detailed plans how Member States want to address energy poverty. At the same time, LTRSs should be part of integrated National Energy and Climate Plans of the EU Member States. Meeting these requirements and making these documents dependent on each other, it will be much easier to achieve effective and quick process of renovation of national building stock in the EU.

Caroline Milne, Senior Communications manager at BPIE, wrote a comprehensive article about the LTRSs for C4E Forum. She brings to the attention the fact that still, at the beginning of 2021, twelve national strategies are missing, including all the strategies from the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. The author of the article acknowledges the crucial role of building renovation and she outlines the main benefits of building renovation works, including higher quality of life for inhabitants, creation of new job and investment opportunities and the acceleration of green recovery. Considering it an investment priority, the article provides an information about all the possibilities of financing the renovation of buildings from the EU funding.

You can find the article in full here and learn more about the current EU initiatives supporting building stock renovations.

BUILD UPON2 PROJECT

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.

 

 

Year 2020 is rather a strange year due to enormous impact of COVID-19 crisis that has changed the way of living of most people around the world. At the same time, the question of adequate housing became "a must" and moved to the center of many discussions around the globe which is overall a positive sign. Since in-person conferences are still not in the foreseeable, the discussion moved to the online space. Even though the online versions of conferences do not bring the benefit of personal meeting with various specialists and stakeholders, the conferences and enriching presentations, on the other hand, become more accessible for anyone who is interested in the topic. And so, there are many opportunities this month to learn more about energy efficiency and housing from different perspectives since many leading housing organizations considered October as the best time of the year to organize at least online form of their, some already postponed, events.

 

Sustainable Cities Week

The first week of October 2020, UN-ECE organizes exceptionally an in-person event Sustainable Cities Week in Geneva, Switzerland. The first day of this event is dedicated to discussion of SDG 11, its successes and challenges in implementation process. The second day belongs to The Forum of Mayors bringing together city leaders from Europe, North America, Central Asia and Caucasus under this year's topic "City action for a resilient future". Next two days are reserved for the 81st Session of the Committee on Urban Development, Housing and Land Management to discuss the implementation of key international agreements such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the New Urban Agenda and the Geneva UN Charter for Sustainable Housing. The last day belongs to the annual meeting of Sustainable Smart Cities.

 

FEANTSA Online Conference

FEANSTA Conference 2020 is another event held online in the first week of October. This is an online version of their annual conference that usually takes place in June. This online event will be composed of series of webinars running throughout the whole week. For each day, they prepared series of three one-hour webinars. The topics cover homelessness in various perspectives, talking about specific groupings of people, such as LGBTIQ, asylum seekers and refugees, working poor, women, youth... COVID-19 and its impact on the homelessness will be discussed as well, together with social enterprises, eviction prevention, housing first initiative and usage of EU Funds to combat homelessness.

 

Housing Europe Annual Conference

HOUSING EUROPE's Annual Conference has been, too, moved to online world. The narrative of this high level event will be a bit unusual, ceasing from the price tags and financial issues connected to housing in big cities. Instead, it will be leading the focus toward much-neglected social value of housing.

 

 

The 15th Annual Session of Global Forum on Human Settlements & Sustainable Cities and Human Settlements Awards Ceremony

Another online event is organized between October 15 and 16, 2020 by Global Forum On Human Settlements as The 15th Annual Session of Global Forum on Human Settlements & Sustainable Cities and Human Settlements Awards Ceremony. The main theme of the event is Post-Pandemic Recovery and Transformation: Resilient Cities, Healthy Planet. Thematic Forum 2b will be on energy-efficient and sustainable housing prepared and hosted by UN-ECE.

 

The 18th European Week of Regions and Cities 2020

The last, but definitely not the least, October event is the three week series of online events under the 18th European Week of Regions and Cities 2020. Each week is dedicated to different topic, first being "Empowering citizens", second on "Cohesion and Cooperation", and the last on "Green Europe". On Monday, 19 October, there will be a session on Energy efficiency: low-income households where Brussels-Capital Region, Ghent, Lille Metropole and Vienna will share their actions in upgrading the energy efficiency of existing buildings and alleviating energy poverty for low-income households.

This week, from September 21st to September 25th 2020, World Green Building Council (WGBC) organizes the 11th edition of World Green Building Week which is an annual campaign empowering all relevant stakeholders to deliver greener buildings. This year, the main topic of the week are net zero buildings and the main goal is to mobilize relevant policymakers, governments and building sector to act toward delivering more and more net zero buildings. The campaign is underlined by global goal of tackling the climate change and the belief that each of us can make a difference.

The campaign is built around a key slogan #ActOnClimate and consists of three pillars arguing for support of net zero buildings:

                        

As a part of World Green Building Week 2020, WGBC prepared a Call for Action Statement urging all levels of governance to implement policies that would help achieving a fully decarbonized building and construction sector by 2050 and fulfilling other commitments included in Paris Agreement. This Call for Action Statement can be endorsed here.

"Net zero carbon buildings: for communities, for the planet, for economies. No matter where you are, you can #ActOnClimate #WGBW2020."


Find more information about WGBC here.

Find more information about World Green Building Week here.

EU Sustainable Energy Week
Beyond the crisis: clean energy for green recovery and growth

 

The last week of June traditionally belongs to the biggest event dedicated to energy efficiency and renewables in Europe – EU Sustainable Energy Week. 15th time organized Sustainable Energy Week took place not as usual in Brussels, but online between June 22 and 26, 2020. It was accompanied by Policy Conference, EUSEW Awards, Energy Days, networking activities, side events and for the first time, EUSEW introduced the European Youth Energy Day.

 

Policy Conference

This is the biggest European conference dedicated to topics of renewables and energy efficiency. The sessions are organized by the European Commission and energy stakeholders. Their focus is on sustainable energy issues, new policy developments, best practices and sustainable energy ideas.

The discussion went much around the European Green Deal and its Renovation Wave initiative which becomes even more crucial in the uncertain times of coronavirus crisis. Due to the current situation, the Renovation Wave will serve not only as an initiative boosting current low renovation rates but will become a means to support recovery process after the crisis, too.

We drive your attention toward one of the EUSEW's sessions

How can Central and Eastern Europe and the Western Balkans transition to a zero-carbon economy after the COVID-19 crisis?

which talks about the specificities and potential of CEE countries for recovery and the transformation to a zero-carbon economy. Simultaneously, the session is directed to local and regional authorities interested in examples of good practice in this region.

Take the chance and check out more of EUSEW2020's interesting sessions available on EUSEW youtube channel:

 

EUSEW Awards

The EUSEW Secretariat stands behind the EUSEW Awards together with the Technical Advisory Committee which brings together experts from different fields of sustainable energy. They then decide for the winning initiatives in different categories. Most common initiatives that apply for EUSEW Awards consist of citizen-led sustainable energy-awareness programs, public schemes promoting energy-saving buildings, and private companies leading the way in green tech and carbon-neutral manufacturing.

This year, EUSEW Awards had three categories - Innovation, Youth, and Engagement. Additionally, there were winners of Women in Energy Award, the Eastern Partnership Award and the Citizens' Award.

 

Energy Days

Energy Days – an opportunity for all to contribute. These days take place between May and June and can be held anywhere within the region of the European Union. It can be any digital activity or an event organized by local public or private organization which is non-profit and aims to attract the public to promote clean energy and energy efficiency. Just check out the map of Energy Days across Europe.

 

European Youth Energy Day

This was the first time this event took place during EUSEW. A special concept invited young enthusiastic EU citizens aged between 18 - 30 to talk about their visions on Europe’s energy future, to present their ideas on innovation and views on European Green Deal. This was a unique opportunity for European youth to meet and build a dialogue among themselves as well as with Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice-President of the European Green Deal, who was personally involved in the discussions. This event shall serve as a starting point of new collaboration and implementation of many great ideas, connecting young experts from different fields who are determined to make the European continent carbon-neutral and number one in the process.


 

Find more information about EUSEW2020 here.

Find all online sessions recorded here.

 

Energy poverty and keeping cool in a changing climate

(ONLINE POLICY DIALOGUE)

 

The main topic of the annual, online conference of the EU Energy Poverty Observatory was the challenges on indoor cooling in the scope of energy poverty. The focus of the discussion was more on the southern part of Europe where energy poverty is connected with rather summer months and extreme heatwaves and resulting inability of people to keep their homes cooled. However, discussed were relevant topics also for Central and Eastern part of Europe for which winter energy poverty is more characteristic.

The introductory part was led by Stefan Bouzarovski who spoke about the successes of the EU Energy Poverty Observatory since its beginnings and talked about the two main ways to tackle energy sustainability of buildings:

He highlighted that there are many ways to address the issue of energy poor households, starting with division of summer and winter energy poverty.

What remains among the main challenges in the fight against the energy poverty is

Panel discussion

For the panel discussion, three experts were invited to talk about different challenges connected with energy poverty and cooling.

Pau Garcia Audi, Policy Officer at European Commission, EPBD, talked about tackling energy poverty from the EU perspective. Energy poverty is not a single-region problem but a wide-spread issue that is shaped by numerous factors, being it societal, economic, regional or historical. It is a fact that building stock in the EU is not energy efficient and that needs to be changed.

Energy poverty should be addressed both in national plans focusing on whole systems of energy efficiency, and in long-term renovation strategies focusing on decarbonization.

Vincent Viguie, Researcher on economics and climate change at CIRED Paris,  talked about "summer" energy poverty, its impact, possible solutions and risks within the country-specific scope. Exposure of warmth and more frequent heatwaves stand behind heat stress, lowering air quality, CO2 emissions because of more AC used, worsened economic activity, transportation system failures, tourism and also problems in agriculture.

Federico Beffa, Program Officer at Fondazione Cariplo Italy, looked at the issue from local perspective. According to him, one of the possible ways to alleviate energy poverty is to support local network and to include municipalities and non-for-profit organizations in a dialogue when developing the transition climate plans.

The conference was closed by Ciaran Cuffe, MEP (Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance). In his speech, he emphasized that it is necessary to tackle low incomes, renovation of building stock and to work on effective energy efficiency legislation and fair energy taxation across the EU. For the Renovation Wave to be successful, meaningful dialogue between the EU on one side and the regions, national and local level communities on the other, must be made more effective and constructive.


Find more information about the conference 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.

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.

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