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HFHI presenting learnings from REELIH at Sustainable Cities Week in Geneva

Being a long-standing partner of UNECE, especially of its Committee on Urban Development, Housing and Land Management, Habitat on Humanity International has cooperated with UNECE on several projects already. Most recently, we have contributed to a new issue of Guidelines on Condominium Management and several of our projects were published in UNECE Compendium of Best Practices. Apart from the publications, our Policy and Advocacy Associate Director, Gyorgy Sumeghy, has been a member of the UNECE Real Estate Market Advisory Group since 2016. This team of specialists assists the Committee on Housing and Land Management and the Working Party on Land Administration to develop stronger real estate markets, addressing the energy efficiency of building stock, affordable and social housing, housing finance, property valuation and registration and land markets and administration.

Affordable housing and urban infrastructure for all groups of the population

During the first week of October 2019, annual UNECE's Sustainable Cities Week took place in Geneva. In the name of "Affordable housing and urban infrastructure for all groups of the population", the discussions of the week were held about the progress and challenges related to the implementation of recent international agreements such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the New Urban Agenda and the Geneva UN Charter on Sustainable Housing. Representatives of national and local governments, private sector, academia and civil society met together to present and discuss with the wider public, as the Sustainable Cities Week is open for everyone interested in the topic.

Ensuring access to decent, adequate, affordable and health housing for all

Among other participants, Gyorgy Sumeghy representing Habitat for Humanity International likewise got an opportunity to speak on a panel dedicated to "Ensuring access to decent, adequate, affordable and health housing for all". He presented main lessons learned from Habitat for Humanity and USAID's REELIH project implemented in Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and North Macedonia, where 30 % to 70% of existing housing stock consists of pre-fabricated multi-storey apartment buildings built between 1960s and 1990s.

Residential energy efficiency for low income households (REELIH) project

There are several key challenges that the REELIH project faces in the countries where it is implemented, when trying to create a functioning market for residential energy efficiency refurbishments. Among others, these are low level of income in general, lack of "ownership" among home-owners, weak legislation for Home-Owner Associations (HOAs), limited access to finance of HOAs and energy poverty in the family and multi-family housing.

REELIH project succeeded in delivering initiatives that helped solving the challenges of residential energy efficiency (REE) in project countries by:

On advocacy level, two areas of influence were recognized:

Thanks to this project, EU-level awareness raising takes place. REELIH project practice is used as an example for further knowledge sharing such as in UNECE Compendium of Best Practices.


In spite of all hard work and successful stories from REELIH project, energy poverty is far from being defeated. Most of all, it is crucial to define the relation mechanisms between residential energy efficiency and alleviation of energy poverty.

This task is challenging due to lacking data from many regions and high share of solid fuels, like wood and coal, used in countryside. Another influencing factor is the nature of HOAs which in fact have mixed social composition and apart from supporting just renovation of buildings, it is important to support individual households, too.

For the research of energy poverty and residential energy efficiency, we have cooperated with Metropolitan Research Institute, Budapest and Building Performance Institute Europe, Brussels. We plan to present the completed research at the regional REELIH conference early next year in Brussels, so stay tuned!

Compendium of best practices on standards and technologies for energy efficiency in buildings in the UNECE region is a fresh publication which collected the best case studies in the UNECE region supporting energy efficiency of buildings.The case studies serve as best practice examples providing practical information as well as inspiration for others.

The report was prepared under the framework of the UNECE projects "Energy Efficiency Standards in Buildings in the UNECE region” by the activities of the UNECE Joint Task Force on Energy Efficiency Standards in Buildings. The compendium serves as a basis to improve the knowledge of UNECE member States concerning energy efficiency best practices related to existing standards and technologies, so that they will be able to develop and implement more effective energy efficiency policies in buildings.

Due to a specific character of some parts of this region such as Eastern Europe,the report turns its attention to existing building stock and its retrofitting which is a crucial activity for future development and fight against energy poverty in many countries.

Success stories and positive numbers are recorded in the following categories:

As Habitat for Humanity International EMEA has long been working with UNECE, we were approached to contribute with local best practices from the field in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Armenia and North Macedonia thanks to our common project with USAID and delivered four successful case studies focusing on residential energy efficiency.

Case studies are focusing on efficient management and maintenance of multi apartment buildings, organizing homeowners to make a common decision together, raising awareness of the energy efficiency retrofits and its process and creating viable and sustainable financial models to support vulnerable households to reduce their energy consumption. All these components are essential for an "eco-system" of residential energy efficiency to work.

All of the four case studies are included in the report, two of them showcasing REELIH project of Habitat for Humanity International and USAID and other two showcasing work of HFH Macedonia that were possible to implement thanks to their previous residential energy efficiency projects funded by USAID.

The four case studies from HFH network in the UNECE compendium:

We thank UNECE to be the convener of showcasing best practices from the region and enabling to share the knowledge further, so that these cases become a mainstream practice instead of one time project cases.

Find the new UNECE report here. Find more information about REELIH project on this website and here. Find more information about UNECE here

Written by Éva Gerőházi and Hanna Szemző, Metropolitan Research Institute, Budapest

Upon the request of Habitat for Humanity International, Metropolitan Research Institute (MRI) has completed an in-depth research of energy efficiency renovation subsidy schemes in Central European countries (Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia) and assessed the potential of Bosnia & Herzegovina and Armenia for introduction of similar programs. The study was done within the framework of USAID project Residential Energy Efficiency for Low Income Households (REELIH) in order to strengthen the research potential of the project. This article is a summary of the case study of Poland.

Unlike the Hungarian subsidy scheme, the state interventions for supporting the renovation of residential units were not introduced in Poland as a part of a large housing subsidy package, but together with environmental and energy policies. The renovation of the housing stock was regarded as one of the tools to decrease energy consumption of the country and decrease the pressure on the environment. On the other hand subsidies for the renovation of cooperative buildings had existed from the late 1980s  focusing on the removal of the results of certain technological shortcomings (including some toxic materials) as well as renewing the system for the provision of energy (central heating and hot water) in form of state credit, which could be entirely amortized. This subsidy lasted till 1997 and was partly replaced by the subsidy based on the Act on Supporting Thermo-modernization and Repair of Exploited Buildings in 1998. Both multi-family and family houses were eligible for the subsidy, but the conditions favored multi-family buildings and family houses rarely took part in the program.

The Thermo-modernization Fund that is operated by the State Development Bank is a combination of state interventions and market mechanisms. The state fund provides non-repayable subsidies up to 25% of a commercial loan (currently at 4-7% interest rate) that must be taken for the purpose of renovation. The process is the following: the Home Owners Association (HOA), a condominium or a cooperative, is obliged to turn to commercial banks designated for this purpose that after a careful underwriting procedure provide a loan for the renovation covering up to 80% of the renovation costs. In case the renovation has been successfully completed the state provides 25% of the loan (thus 20% of the total costs) directly to the bank in order to reduce the amount of principal, which automatically reduces the amount of monthly installment. By this state authorities delegate all the administrative tasks to the banks thus ensuring that only the creditworthy HOAs are able to get the loan and the subsidy at the same time.

This was a bottleneck in the beginning of the subsidy scheme, as banks were not prepared to evaluate HOAs and require proper collateral. It took some years for the underwriting procedures to be developed and the collateral system to be eased by requiring mostly the cash-flow of the HOA as the main collateral instead of liens or deposits.

The loan with the incorporated subsidy could be used for any kind of interventions that resulted in energy savings (at least 10-25% saving was required depending on the type of interventions). The interventions must be preceded by energy audits.

The subsidy scheme has stayed rather stable with minor changes, for example the subsidy rate was reduced in 2009 to 20% of the loan amount from the original 25%.  Besides the Thermo-modernization Fund a renovation bonus and a compensation bonus were also introduced in 2009. These focused on the structural renovation of buildings that were in a critical state, such as those built before 1961. The subsidy content was more or less the same as in case of the thermos-modernization subsidy. Nearly €50 million was used annually for the thermo-modernization fund. From 1999 to 2015 altogether approximately 32.700 applications were received (one application means one multi-unit building) and nearly 30.000 premiums were granted – a relatively low number compared to the number of multi-unit buildings in Poland.

Although the Polish subsidy program has operated with low subsidy intensity, it has been very reliable, as the budget for it was granted by the state almost every year. However, the low subsidy level and the operation through commercial banks most probably have led to the exclusion of HOAs with low-income residents.

The Thermo-modernization Fund was the leading subsidy scheme for the renovation of multi-family buildings up to the end of 2015. However, as a result of the financial resources provided by the European Union in the 2014-2020 budgetary period new and quite generous subsidy schemes were created. These schemes provided 30-90% grants and soft loans for energy efficient renovations of family and multi-family buildings. However, it is important to note that these sources are meant to be used for a number of purposes, with the renovation of multi-unit buildings being just one of them. They concentrate on complex interventions and application of renewables which results in higher upfront costs, so the number of grants is quite limited. Given that, experts think that the importance of the Thermo-modernization Fund will remain the same as before.

You can read the full study here.


Éva Gerőházi (MSc in Economics) has twenty years of experience in research and consultancy in the field of regional and local economic development, housing policy and urban renewal. She has worked in several projects of the European Commission and has been assisting the Budapest Municipality and several Hungarian ministries and local governments in policy and program development. She researched and developed a programme for marginalised neighbourhoods and the use of European funds in these urban areas. She worked as a project manager of USAID financed condominium rehabilitation program in 1997-1999. She is also a co- founder of the Hungarian national subsidy scheme for complex renovation of multi-family buildings.

hanna-mri Dr Hanna Szemző has been working for MRI for 15 years. She has experience in research and consultancy in the fields of energy efficiency policy, urban renewal, city governance and real estate analysis and welfare policy. She has participated in numerous framework programs of the European Union, prepared strategic development concepts for local governments, and participated in the preparation of a study on the demographic future of European cities. Hanna worked on the health impact study of the energy efficient renewal program of the Hungarian housing estates. Lately, she has been working on the possible impact of collective self-organised housing on the European housing market. She has also focused on the possibilities of small business development in the areas of self-build and housing renewal and has been providing consultancy for Habitat for Humanity Europe, Middle East and Africa on the issue of energy efficiency in the framework of the REELIH project.

Written by Gyorgy Sumeghy, Advocacy Manager, Habitat for Humanity Europe, Middle East and Africa

The title of this new website captures very nicely that Habitat for Humanity International’s main focus when it comes to the energy efficiency of residential buildings are: the people. All our efforts are focusing on combatting energy poverty so that families should get  warmer homes and save money on their heating bills as a result of the retrofitting of their buildings.

We started to address residential energy efficiency more than 5 years ago with the support of USAID. We have run projects in Macedonia, Armenia and Bosnia and Hercegovina. We learned a lot from these projects and we also worked with researchers to better understand the context of residential energy efficiency in Central and Eastern Europe. We also engaged with many stakeholders both at the national level and at the European level and learned that our experience is worth sharing. That’s why we endeavored to develop a knowledge platform and launched this website to foster further knowledge sharing and policy dialogue among all the relevant actors in residential energy efficiency.

The current English version of this website will be soon complemented with an Armenian and Bosnian subpage targeting home-owner associations offering practical information how to start the retrofitting of their own buildings.

Because we all want to get warm homes!

György Sümeghy received his MA in English and Hungarian Literature in 1995 in Budapest. He spent ten years in public education and later at a private business college. Based on his management experience in education and volunteerism and interest in social development he joined Habitat for Humanity Hungary as National Director in 2005. Under his leadership, Habitat for Humanity Hungary has become an advocacy led organization where field projects support strong awareness raising and advocacy initiatives to change housing policies in the country. Gyorgy joined HFHI EMEA in 2013 to lead regional advocacy initiatives and support national advocacy programs in the EMEA region. He represents HFHI in Brussels and all over Europe at regional conferences and meetings.


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