Lead writer for the Housing2030 project
Honorary Associate Professor, Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia
By Karin Zauner.
Co-Founder of Housing4Europe.Org
Q: What is your personal motivation to deal with housing issues?
Housing is so much more than real estate. Housing can be an oasis, refuge and a stepping stone in life. Every step along the way can be made more safe and secure or, unfortunately, more risky and precarious. There are many aspects of housing that keep researchers busy, but I choose to dedicate the most time to how we can design housing systems that promote more inclusive and adequate housing for all. In most countries housing is typically provided by market actors, operating according to rules shaped by governments. If we are really committed to housing as a human right and want to realise this right, we will need to reform the way we govern the relationships between key housing actors: the landowners, the investors, the builders and housing providers. Like every relationship, this requires purposeful investment.
The pandemic has impacted differently people’s lives and well-being and shown once again that not everyone has access to a safe, secure and affordable home or is able to live, work, learn and play in a well-resourced neighbourhood. For this reason, housing and urban policy will remain firmly on all governments’ agenda throughout and beyond the next decade. Stronger market-shaping capacities, including purposeful investment, will be integral in addressing affordability concerns, post-pandemic recovery and importantly climate change.
Q: You are the content coordinator of “Housing 2030 – Time to Think and to Do Differently”. Who are the founders and people behind this initiative?
Housing2030 is an initiative of 56 countries in the UN European Commission for Europe, together with UN Commission for Human Settlements (Habitat) and Housing Europe, the not for profit federation of 45 public, co-operative and social housing providers.
They recognize the need for an effective, affordable housing policy to ensure access to decent, adequate, affordable and healthy housing for all, as demanded by the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, Geneva UN Charter for Sustainable Housing (2015) and Urban Agenda for the EU Housing Partnership. The importance of these goals have been amplified by COVID-19.
Housing2030’s project team includes people who have been researching housing policy practice for many years, such as Professor Michelle Norris an expert on housing finance, Professor Holger Walbaum an expert on climate-neutral along with myself, who share an interest in land policy, governance and purposeful investment too.
Q: What are the aims of “Housing2030”?
Through a survey of good practices, thematic workshops, podcast series and website, Housing2030 is developing a ‘tool kit’, rather than a universal ‘blueprint’, to respond to the different and changing demands of UNECE member states and regions.
This practical report defines key concepts and policy tools drawn from the experience of over 50 countries. The report zeroes in on four key areas: land policy and planning strategies, funding and financing instruments, and good governance and regulation as well as environmental and energy standards for a more sustainable future. Clear illustrations show how these policies have been implemented, pointing out what makes them best practice and providing useful links to a wealth of contacts and resources.
Q: Why do politicians or policy makers fail to provide their citizens with decent and affordable housing? What are the most considerable obstacles you identified in your research?
The consequences for failure are too costly for all, so its important to focus on how governments can succeed.
Governments can really kick goals for housing if they work together across multi-levels and ensuring that the power, capacity and resources to act are the right places. This often requires legislation, agreements on intergovernmental transfers and the strengthening local capacity. Policy implementation that engages with citizens on housing concerns and empowers them to play a role in managing their housing is also more likely to be effective.
Successful housing reforms certainly require good leadership across political parties and long term commitment far beyond each electoral term. Agreement on long term housing goals often expressed in a national housing strategy, taken at the highest level of decision making, also steers powerful treasury or finance departments, and increases the likelihood of adequate resourcing.
A good strategy is guided by high-level principles, such as the right to housing and the sustainable development goals. It clarifies the purpose of housing policy for all stakeholders and brings together information and expertise. It also informs and stimulates public discussion and debate and defines priorities that give momentum for reform. Importantly, a strategy provides directions for action and sets priorities for legislation, programs and investments.
A capable minister responsible for housing, backed by a national housing strategy, can achieve a lot towards making housing more affordable, adequate and accessible. I would vote for that!
Q: Are there any effective policy tools against speculation and increasing property prices?
Property speculation can be destabilizing for residents, undermine communities, frustrate good planning of urban areas and lockout long term providers in affordable housing. We also know that excessive inflation of housing costs erodes household budgets, diverts investment away from the productive economy, and eventually concentrates wealth in the hands of the few. It also makes most of us heavily dependent on mortgage debt.
There are many ways governments can minimize the harm of specul