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International Social Housing Festival in Helsinki

The International Social Housing Festival (ISHF) 2022 took place in Helsinki, Finland, on June 14–17, and it was organized by The Housing Finance and Development Centre of Finland (ARA), the City of Helsinki and Housing Europe.

The 2022 edition of ISHF explored housing as the foundation of good life, highlighted the role of social, public, and co-operative housing in achieving socially and ecologically sustainable living in our cities now and in the future. It welcomed the international housing community – housing practitioners, policymakers, architects, researchers, and tenants – to take part in this critical conversation, ask questions and find answers together. A wide range of international and Finnish partners came together to provide a variety of seminars, site visits and workshops exploring both policy and practice of putting people first.

Topics discussed

The Festival had 3 main topics: People first: quality of housing as quality of living; Achieving affordability and sustainability in housing; The right to housing: getting rid of the excuses not to guarantee it. The session organized by Habitat for Humanity International (HFHI) focused on owner-occupied multi-apartment building stock in Central and Eastern Europe, as a special case for the second topic with some connection to the first topic too. Owner occupiers of multi-apartment buildings are very often at risk of energy poverty, due to rising energy prices and lacking home insulation, among other factors. For this reason, HFHI was proud to talk bring out this issue and open a conversation about this specific regional challenge.

Renovation wave and energy poverty: a special case of owner-occupiers in multi-apartment buildings

On the 15th of June 2022, HFHI presented two sessions at the National Museum in Helsinki. These sessions aimed to bring together a network of practitioners from public, private, and NGO sectors to discuss energy poverty, EU policies and their implementation at the national level, community mobilization, and scaling up the financing for the renovation of multi-apartment buildings.

The event specifically addressed the question of tenure structure and renovation of multi-apartment building stock in Central and Eastern Europe, countries of the Eastern Neighborhood and the Western Balkans and Southern Europe in the EU. Being one of the very few regional affordable housing advocates focusing on this specific region, organizing this event helped HFHI to build a stronger voice for specific challenges this region shares when it comes to affordable housing and energy poverty. Moreover, HFHI aims to widen this dialogue network by including Southern Europe into discussion as this part of Europe also shares some of the challenges, like low level of social housing and high rates of owner-occupied multi-apartment buildings.


Session 1: Energy poverty in owner-occupied multi-apartment buildings in Central and Eastern Europe. How to scale up energy efficiency renovations?

This session focused on best practices, followed by a moderated discussion on the wider applicability of the presented best practices and joint action towards influencing EU policy-making.

Present during the session were Elena Milanovska from the Terwilliger Center for Shelter and Innovation of Habitat for Humanity International who delivered a presentation about best practices in North Macedonia originally prepared by Liljana Alceva from HFH Macedonia, Vidas Lekavicius from the Lithuanian Energy Institute, Aniko Palffy from MEHI, the Hungarian Energy Efficiency Institute, and Petra Cakovska from the Consumer Protection Society in Slovakia.

Discussing the renovation without talking about the government’s role is impossible, which is why perhaps most speakers highlighted how there is a need for the national governments to support low-income households and the renovations, as they might be caught unaware by the incoming energy transition and its changes. Because both multi-apartment buildings and older houses are often occupied by families with mixed social status and backgrounds, it is imperative that a solution would not be one-size-fits-all, but rather directly tailored to specific needs. Likewise, as communicated by Aniko Palffy and Elena Milanovska, very often the associations or owners either do not know how, or do not care about the renovations, be it because of costs, limited technical skills, lacking bank financing, administrative requirements, or a simple lack of knowledge, which one-stop-shops can often help with.

The key takeaways from this session are that financial mechanisms are very important to support the renovations, with proper planning, implementation, and collective action to incentivize lower energy consumption required to tackle energy poverty on a full scale. Furthermore, mobilizing the homeowners and associations is perhaps the most relevant part of a successful solution to this particular challenge.

Session 2: Dialogue between housing practitioners from Southern Europe and Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). What can we learn from each other about the renovation of owner-occupied multi-apartment buildings?

This moderated panel discussion dwelt on the similarities and differences between Southern Europe and CEE, seeking to discuss the key topics such as how to address bottlenecks in the regulation of home-owner associations, what kind of social facilitation is needed to support HOAs, who should do the social facilitation and how this should be funded.

This time, the array of speakers was also very interesting, as this session aimed to bring together the representatives from different regions. From the CEE part by Knut Hoeller from IWO – The Housing Initiative for Eastern Europe and  Elena Szolgayova from #Housing2030 were sharing best practices from the Baltic states and Slovakia. The Southern ideas and solutions were presented by Alice Corovessi from INZEB in Greece and by Andoni Hidalgo from the Basque Urban Agenda of the Basque Autonomous Community in Spain.

Alice Corovessi highlighted that in Greece, the multi-apartment buildings face many issues, from a lack of funds to renovate (echoed by all participants), through considering even the smallest of buildings as multi-apartment, despite housing “only” four owners. This experience was also felt by Andoni Hidalgo from the Basque region in Spain, which also experiences bottlenecks in the administration of these buildings. However, they boast some good practices such as one-stop-shops and neighborhood renovations, something like the ideas of the EU’s New European Bauhaus initiative.

The main takeaways from this session are that without proper financing for a long-term period, supported by qualified administration, renovations will not happen. As Elena Szolgayova said, stable financing and correct conditions are what helped to renovate 75% of the multi-apartment stock in Slovakia. It is also imperative that the state sets a proper financial and policy environment for these renovations to happen so that even the local communities could take it upon themselves to partner up with potential investors to make the lives of their citizens more livable.

We thank the organizers for the opportunity to contribute to the festival with own session and for putting together a rich program encouraging for further actions in the housing sector.

Find more information about the ISHF here.

Find more information about The European Responsible Housing Initiative (ERHIN) and its awards here.

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