Tuesday

5th Mar 2024

Opinion

S&D urges EU plan to address housing crisis for young people

  • Inadequate housing conditions negatively affect people’s physical and mental health, quality of life and dignity, as well as their access to employment and essential services (Photo: European Parliament)
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The right to affordable housing was raised by many of the young MEPs in our EUobserver project 'Young & MEP'

This weekend the Socialist & Democrats (S&D) are in Málaga preparing our progressive manifesto for the European elections next year. As we arrived, we were met with a cry for help from the local youth, frustrated with the housing crisis sweeping over Spain and all over Europe.

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They are both angry and frustrated, there is a housing dilemma in Malaga: there is more demand than supply, but sales are falling due to high prices. Architects have warned of the serious problem of access to housing in Malaga due to prices.

The housing crisis affects people across various income groups. From low to medium-income earners, many grapple with excessive costs, poor living conditions and the risk of homelessness or eviction. Young people are among those who bear the brunt.

Housing market failures endanger a social Europe and undermine democracy. It is crucial to fully grasp the meaning of these words, particularly in times when populist and far-right parties threaten to weaken our European project.

It is more important than ever to understand the frustrations of Europeans and to engage with them to ensure a better future.

That is why we, the Socialists and Democrats, are calling for a strong, progressive European plan to ensure decent and affordable housing for all, especially young people.

We need to put in place policies that ensure an adequate housing supply while striking a balance between economic development and the well-being of our communities. We propose five main avenues for action.

Five-point plan

First, the EU must properly regulate the European housing market. Despite some claims that housing does not fall within European competence, we know that there are ways to do it, as long as there is political will.

The EU should intervene to limit the privatisation of public and social housing, to ensure appropriate rules for rent and full transparency of investments in residential housing, as well as to curb 'touristification', also known as the 'Airbnb effect'. Here in Spain — as so many Spanish cities attract millions of tourists each year — we are acutely aware of this pressing issue. Our cities are not only the place for tourists, the rich or the old.

Furthermore, the EU has to curb the soaring housing prices. From 2010 to 2023, rent prices have shot up by 20 percent, while house prices have skyrocketed by a staggering 46 percent.

House prices have more than doubled in Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Luxembourg, Czechia, and Austria. Inefficient housing markets are driving wealth inequality in the EU. Therefore, public intervention in the mortgage market is a pressing social justice imperative and the key to fair wealth distribution. It is time to take action.

The EU must introduce a temporary rate ceiling to curb the quick rise of mortgage rates. Banks and governments must act to protect the most vulnerable.

The EU also needs to boost public investments in green and social housing. At least 30 percent of all new houses should be affordable housing for lower-income groups, and at least another 30 percent for the middle-income group.

This crisis is deeply rooted in growing socioeconomic inequality, large-scale financialisation of housing and land, as well as unsustainable housing systems that prioritise profit over human rights. That is also why the reform of EU fiscal rules, which is currently being negotiated, matters so much. It is key to enable an ambitious public investment agenda.

Moreover, the EU must ensure decent homes for children. Many families are forced to live in an overcrowded home, while the limited availability of social housing results in agonizingly long waiting lists.

These problems not only affect the well-being of our children but also their health, growth, and education. Children's right to adequate housing should be ensured through public measures. The European Child Guarantee must get a dedicated budget of at least €20bn.

Finally, the EU must do more to fight homelessness. As of 2023, nearly 900,000 Europeans are homeless. Homelessness deeply undermines human dignity and violates multiple human rights. To combat homelessness, all EU countries must embrace the Housing First programme. The criminalisation of homeless people must end.

Aporophobia — negative attitudes and feelings towards poverty and poor people — must be recognised as a hate crime. Discrimination due to homelessness should be banned across the EU.

Next week, EU ministers responsible for housing will gather in Gijón for an informal meeting. This will be the first opportunity to discuss our concrete progressive proposals to overcome the housing crisis.

Inadequate housing conditions negatively affect people's physical and mental health, quality of life and dignity, as well as their access to employment and essential services. Decent and affordable housing is a human right, not a market for speculation, and we must ensure that this right is fully cherished and respected.

Author bio

Iratxe García Pérez is president of the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) group in the European Parliament.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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