By Karin Zauner.
Co-Founder of Housing4Europe.Org
Q: As Secretary-General you are responsible for implementing the decisions of your boards and members. Which have been the most actual topics to deal with, next COVID-19 agenda?
Last year we started a task force on COVID-19 to allow our members to exchange on different matters. It was important for us to exchange their feelings and experience, we addressed also issues like the priorities by the European Union in the Green Deal, Recovery and Resilient Fund in the need for cities to be involved in the design of national plans for recovery – all this, of course, will have an influence on how the investments will be organized in the future years. And one of the topics of course for us is refitting of housing and public buildings. This is a big chunk of the energy-saving and fights against climate change. This, and where to support the families in keeping and getting affordable housing. We started by discussing the situation of COVID-19 in this taskforce and moved on to what will happen next with the European Commission’s proposals and priorities linked to both the Green Deal, which was announced before the COVID-19 situation and the Resilience and Recovery Funds. And we want to make sure, that these funds are used for the transition towards a carbon-free society, that is the objective to be carbon-free in 2050 and one big thing for municipalities is public buildings and housing. If you want to safe energy and want to fight against climate change, this is a high priority for us and our members.
Public buildings and housing are countable for around 70% of the green gas emissions in Europe, so that is a very big issue. And this answers two things; first, fight against climate change and second, organized investments and recovery for the future and safe money for the citizens to keep housing as affordable as possible.
Q: Eastern European countries are absolutely under specific conditions when it comes to refitting and financing the housing stock market. We have a lot of ownership in housing, so it might be difficult to get modernization funded by the European Union. What is your perspective on the Eastern European countries when it comes to affordable housing?
We do not address specifical the Eastern European situation. What I can tell you can be adapted to the whole continent. First of all, we have the Transition Funds for mostly Eastern European countries, to move from a carbon economy to a low or now carbon economy. This includes energy use for housing. We believe that in that Transition Fund there should be some funding for changing the energy provision for buildings. And there is another thing, which we are working on right now, but it is just a project; we would like to work with the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the European institutions to better design the instruments the EIB is providing for cities and regions. One topic we would like to address with them is creating revolving funds. That means that we would create some funds in cities that would be fed by the savings on energy. And with this fund, there would be possibilities to finance energy refitting projects. For public and private owners to put it into a long perspective.
This has been done for example in the city of Stuttgart, Germany ten years ago. It is also working in other places like for example in La Rochelle, FR, but for Eastern European countries, this is all new, they need the support of organizations like ours or other more specific organizations working on energy. We will start with the EIB as soon as possible.
Q: Are you satisfied with the service infrastructure for cities when it comes to funding?
I cannot say that we are satisfied, but we agree with the objectives of the European Commission. The problem now is that we must see, how they will be implemented. We don’t want only states to be targeted, particularly true for Eastern European countries, for example in Poland. We know that the cities are much more ambitious than the states, we would like to fund directly to local and regional governments so that they can develop their policies better.
Q: Over the last decades, a lot of institutions have worked on affordable housing concepts. Those have been and are going to be implemented in the regulations. This theoretical approach is important, but didn’t it take to long? How can we close the gap between theory, rules and regulations and the reality which the citizens of the cities are facing in the last years?
The president of the European Commission has launched an idea of the New Bauhaus Initiative. A concept that is interesting, to see how we can do better with less. One of the motto of the Bauhaus Initiative is “less is more”. So, to redesign the concept of the policies all the way to the infrastructures and to delivery of policies. I think if we go this way, we can try to reach the gap. The relation between affordable housing and good construction is important. When we want to build buildings and energy savers than it can be very cost intense. But we can play also with the savings that can be made by using less energy. For example, the norms for energy production and norms for buildings that can produce their own energy needs is an interesting way to go. The other thing is that the costs of the building are directly linked to the costs of the land. We also want cities to be able to use their own land to lower the costs of the constructions. This needs a lot of reflection because the cities are still selling the land to private companies. That is something that needs to be compensated to be cost-efficient in construction. We need to keep construction affordable for everyone, but not of the costs of the quality of the constructions. This mistake has been made in European cities; we see this after 30-40 years. This must be taken into consideration.
Q: Which cities are struggling the most the last month and is there a specific need? Is it all about financing or is it more on political decisions?
It is difficult to say which cities are struggling the most. We are not at a point where can set a real view on what the crisis is to provide yet. It is too early to say where the problems are. A lot of cities that are dependable on tourism will struggle of course. What we need is to have a strong EU recovery package that supports the states which are not able to support the cities. In countries like Austria, Germany or France the situation might be different, because of the higher capacities, but in a country where the already had problems, those countries and their cities have to be supported. The Recovery plan is established for this reason, but as I said in the beginning, it is important that the money goes directly to the cities! To avoid bureaucracy, but it is also a question of political will, how will the cities reinvent themselves! We need to give perspectives for the future, for a more sustainable and carbon-free future. And this only works with political will.