Sunday

17th Feb 2019

Opinion

A social Europe needs better housing

  • Houses by artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser in Vienna. Around 60 percent of all households in the city live in subsidised apartments. (Photo: Pedro)

Local authorities play a central role in delivering social inclusion and welfare measures, as front-line providers of public services, such as housing support.

However, the global financial crisis exposed the existing inefficiencies of housing markets, namely an under-supply of social and affordable housing across the EU. This is one of the areas that the European Pillar of Social Rights tries to set out basic standards for.

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A lack of affordable housing poses a problem in Europe's large cities, where most residents argue that decent, affordable housing is a scarce resource.

Construction costs are also rising - EUROSTAT estimates that this increased by 24 percent between 2005 and 2016 - at a time when city budgets are being squeezed.

Meanwhile, public spending on housing, already relatively low across the EU at the beginning of the financial crisis (around 1 percent of GDP in 2009), had decreased to 0.6 percent by 2015.

Europe is facing a housing crisis. The 2016 Eurofound survey estimated the economic costs of inadequate housing in Europe, from direct costs such as healthcare and indirect costs such as lost productivity, to be around €194 billion per year.

In this context, we hope that the right to housing introduced via the European Pillar of Social Rights will help to reinforce investment in affordable housing across Europe.

Principles of the pillar

The underlying premise of the European Pillar of Social Rights is that member states should be investing more in social policies to improve the lives of all people. Principle 19 of the Pillar calls on member states to support vulnerable people to access housing.

According to European Commission data, finding good accommodation at a reasonable price was difficult in two out of three European cities in 2015.

Against this backdrop, publicly-supported housing is an important resource for fighting housing poverty and social exclusion in cities.

However, focusing exclusively on providing housing for the most vulnerable - for example, the lowest-income groups: single parents, young or elderly people - rather than providing affordable housing for all, can lead to the marginalisation of groups such as lower-middle income earners.

In Vienna, we support the principle of affordable housing for all. This includes lower and middle income earners who contribute to GDP, but who nonetheless cannot afford the private rental market.

Around 60 percent of all households in Vienna live in subsidised apartments, including 220,000 in council housing.

Our housing projects are mostly rentals, while a few are owner-occupied and they are built in all 23 Viennese districts to help encourage a greater social mix. Our goal is to provide comfortable and affordable housing in an attractive urban environment for all residents.

One of the ways we manage this is through development competitions. An upcoming project for winter 2018/19 in a new, low-traffic area of the city, will include several social facilities, green and open spaces and a mobility concept with a communal garage.

This model can be a source of inspiration to other cities that wish to address housing poverty in a way that does not leave low-income households disadvantaged. It is also relevant in the context of debates on the Social Pillar.

From local to EU level

With other members of Eurocities, the network of major European cities, we have asked for a European Council recommendation to reinforce the right to affordable housing for all.

The implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights cannot be effective without the involvement of local authorities.

City authorities work locally through integrated approaches to social problems, often combining different European funds and linking social provisions with appropriate activation measures to promote citizens' inclusion in society.

Given our experience in the urban partnership on affordable housing, we advocate for linking the Pillar to the Urban Agenda for the EU where a multi-level governance structure has already been established.

Including the local, urban perspective in the Social Pillar will help raise standards across Europe and deliver where past policy initiatives have failed.

A shared, common future for a social Europe begins with people affording their own homes.

Peter Florianschütz is a member of the Committee of the Regions, and Tanja Wehsely is chair of EUROCITIES' Economic Development Forum. Both are members of the city council, city of Vienna

EUROCITIES is the network of major European cities, with over 140 members, representing more than 130 million people.

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