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Energy poverty in Central and Eastern Europe: 13 recommendations for better addressing of this challenge

Since the environmental challenges are these days on top of the agenda of the European Union (EU), new strategies to incorporate green topics into various spheres, including the building sector, started to emerge more and more often. The EU's Renovation Wave Strategy, which is consolidated into the EU Green Deal, aims to support the improvement of buildings in order to make them more sustainable and energy-efficient.

To maximize the potential of the Renovation Wave Strategy for people who are likely to face energy poverty, a collaboration between Habitat for Humanity Hungary (HFHH) and the Center for the Study of Democracy, Romania (CSD) arose

to raise their concerns toward the EU to consider the need for more region-specific recommendations how to tackle energy poverty.

As stated in the report, more than 50 million people in the EU are unable to secure an adequate level of energy for their living. The most affected regions are located in Central and Eastern (CEE) and Southeastern Europe (SEE). Both of these areas are marked by the era of socialism and a high level of marginalized communities.

While there is no official and general definition of energy poverty, we talk about it when:

Not only is the current state of many dwellings in the CEE/SEE region energy inefficient, but it is also one of the biggest air pollutants in most of the region. Usage of outdated heating systems and solid fuels, such as wood and coal, as the main heating products, caused Hungary to ascribe over 80% of PM2.5 emissions to these combustibles.

Therefore, HFHH and CSD call for EU policies and funding schemes to support the renovation of buildings while taking specific needs and circumstances of the CEE/SEE region into account. As a result, they came up with 13 detailed recommendations within three major topic areas:

      • stronger focus on energy poverty - an obligation of EU member states to target energy-poor households while making sure the funds are designated to address energy poverty of those living in the rural areas, urban areas and the marginalized and segregated communities
      • appropriate funding instruments - mainly through tailor-made financial solutions, implementation of a buy-back program, low-rate loans, financial behaviour consultations and education in energy efficiency, and support of upgrade of the most inefficient and polluting devices
      • the need for EU policies to address energy poverty - complement the EU legislation by suitable funds and measures which would target the housing issue, improvement of data collection, make sure that national governments go beyond their National Energy and Climate Plans (NECP), and direct support of the implementation of renewable energy sources.

 


Read the whole report with 13 recommendations here.

What is the EU Green Week about?

The European Union is becoming very serious about creating a greener future and the annual event called EU Green Week only proves this fact. The week starting with the 31st of May, until the 4th of June was dedicated to hosting the annual series of events concerning how to tackle pollution. These events included high-level political debates, awards, virtual exhibitions, preview features and side-events, as well as the hundreds of the EU Green Week Partner activities staged all over Europe.

Pollution affects each of us through the air we breathe, the water we drink and the land that sustains us. Pollution can be present in our residences, making living conditions much worse than they should be. It is the largest environmental cause of both physical and mental illness, and a major factor in the premature death of children, people with medical conditions and the elderly.

The EU Green Week 2021 brought together different groups in society together with stakeholders and policymakers to thrash out the solutions and make the ambition for a zero-pollution and toxic-free environment a reality.

Air pollution and energy poverty

Perhaps the most interesting of the events that took place during the EU Green Week was a partner event, which discussed how to tackle and combine energy poverty and air pollution into a single-issue area. This event took place on the 3rd of June, and was organized by the new Energy Poverty Advisory Hub. This is a currently ongoing EU initiative aiming to build upon existing energy related structures, transforming the Energy Poverty Observatory into it, while using the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy and the Clean Energy for EU Islands project as extensions of its base.

In large parts of Europe, low-income households often suffer from a combination of poor domestic heating systems, insufficient insulation and limited financial resources to access sustainable energy services. As a result, there is a visible impact on the air quality, which has a big impact on the livelihoods and health of residents. Therefore, this partner event focused on the tight connections between air quality and energy poverty, and how household energy renovations could be the answer to the problems of vulnerable energy consumers, such as those living in the region of Central and Eastern Europe, for example.

Analytics and good practices

The event was moderated by Jeppe Mikel Jensen from the Climate Alliance, which is a group dedicated to stopping further deterioration of the climate and environment. The speakers represented a wide variety of organizations across Europe, with people such as Teresa Aristegui, a Policy Officer from DG Energy, EU. She presented the EU’s views on how the Fit for 55 package will be one of the key measures in strengthening the energy performance of buildings to promote greener and healthier renovation.

Ina Karova from the Energy Agency of Plovdiv in Bulgaria, which is an agency that has been studying the link between energy poverty and air pollution for more than a decade, has contributed to the discussion, too. According to the investigation that Ina has been a part of,

energy poverty increases the use of raw materials for heating, as well as it creates a culture of low energy consumption, poor energy habits, lack of energy and environmental damage.

This is especially true for households heating with wood and coal, which they found to encapsulate the heaviest issues of energy poverty, such as poor housing conditions, cramped apartments, and the fact that the elderly and disabled live in even worse conditions than those heating with wood and oil.

Wood and coal are expensive, impractical, and ineffective materials for heating, hence a solution to tackle the alarming air quality that stems from such heating sources would be to change stoves into more efficient ones, upgrading boilers as well as a reduction in energy generation by using fossil and non-renewable fuels. This, according to their research, brought a 10% reduction in energy consumption and a 30% increase in air quality, which is a small, but significant win.

A living example of grave air pollution is also North Macedonia's capital city of Skopje. Back in 2019, Habitat for Humanity EMEA in cooperation with Habitat for Humanity Macedonia produced a short video "Winter, Leave" capturing the situation in Skopje to raise awareness and knowledge about this particular issue.

Joao Pedro Gouveia, a senior researcher from FCT-NOVA University of Lisbon, highlighted the issues of energy poverty in Portugal, but also shed a light into how such problems can be universal across Southern and Eastern Europe. According to him, it is also important to look at

different backgrounds standing behind the problems of energy poverty which definitely differ between EU regions.

Energy poverty is linked the abundance of harmful pollutants present in homes due to inefficient energy consumption. Electrification and a replacement of inefficient biomass and coal fueled equipment should, therefore, be a necessary step to address energy poverty as well as health related concerns.


Find more information about the EU Green Week and the recordings of the sessions here

Find more information about the transition of Energy Poverty Observatory here.

 

 

Općina Centar Sarajevo / Municipality Centar Sarajevo | LinkedInThe REELIH project of USAID and HFHI, has been implemented in Bosnia and Herzegovina since 2012. Thanks to the project, technical assistance for the development of the institutional environment and a sustainable financing model for energy efficiency measures in the housing sector with a focus on low-income households was provided in localities of Tuzla Canton, Central Bosnia Canton, Bosnia-Podrinje Canton, Tesanj and Doboj. We are very excited that from March until November 2021, the project will be implemented in yet the seventh location, Municipality of Centar Sarajevo, Sarajevo Canton.

This municipality is one of Sarajevo's four and belongs to the most developed municipalities in Sarajevo Canton. The development of this municipality is citizen-focused, concentrating on their well-being and accelerating their potential. The aim of Municipality of Centar is to establish and maintain the environmental balance and commitment to modernization of its services and institutions. The implementation of REELIH project can definitely contribute to reaching this goal.

The agreement was mediated by the REELIH implementing company ENOVA in Bosnia and Herzegovina. ENOVA started the implementation of the project by presenting the REELIH project in the presence of Centar's Mayor Srđan Mandić, and other representatives of relevant municipal services.

One of the goals of the REELIH project implemented in the Municipality of Centar is to adopt a five-year action plan for measures to increase energy efficiency in the housing sector based on a development of suitable financing program. Results should contribute to a creation of long-term capacities for implementation of energy efficiency programs in the housing sector of this municipality.

Fingers crossed for a successful implementation of the REELIH project in this Bosnian municipality!

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.

Housing Solutions Platform is an initiative which aims to identify, debate and promote innovative solutions for affordable housing in Europe. It was established with joint efforts of FEANTSA, the Fondation Abbé Pierre, Friends of Europe and Housing Europe. Last year, they published "50-Out-of-the-box Solutions to Homelessness and Housing Exclusion" which is a collection of some of the most innovative and daring examples of housing solutions in Europe. We very much appreciate that Housing Solutions Platform recognized REELIH project and included it as an example of best practice in this publication.

This year, among hosting other roundtable discussions and webinars, Housing Solutions Platform prepared a series of three webinars under name #50Solutions:

The series of webinars touches upon topics connected to current events, such as response to COVID-19 crisis in relation to homeless and vulnerable groups, and the European Green Deal. The first webinar talks about the challenges that came with the pandemic situation and the emergent need for support of the most vulnerable people who suffer the most from the housing difficulties. The second and the third webinar showcase some of the 50-out-of-the-box solutions under two thematic discussions. The second webinar promoted discussion about the alternative forms of land and property ownership.

The last webinar was organized in the context of the European Green Deal and freshly introduced Renovation Wave Strategy, which ambition is to trigger massive building renovation as a contribution to climate neutrality, mandatory minimum energy performance standards and affordable housing initiatives. The projects presented during the last webinar of this series combine social and ecological objectives in their initiatives. We are very glad that we could present REELIH learnings during this session, together with French project Toits d'Abord by Fondation Abbé Pierre and Flemish project Sustainability Through Energy-Effective Retrofit by VVH – Association of Flemish Social Housing.

The webinar offered a fruitful discussion on topics of undergoing the renovation process and energy efficiency improvements in lower-income households and vulnerable groups both through private and public funding. The special thanks belongs also to Julien Dijol from Housing Europe who reflected on all three presented projects in relation to the Renovation Wave Strategy. He acknowledges the specific intention of the Renovation Wave to support especially Eastern European states and its multi-apartment buildings. This is aimed to be done mostly through the technical support and creation of one-stop-shops where entities, such as municipalities or public housing companies, could act on behalf of homeowner associations and serve its purpose as community facilitators in a way.

If you missed the webinar, you can follow up by watching the recording from the event available on Housing Solutions Platform website.

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.

 

 

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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