Laurent Ghekiere.

An Interview.
By Karin Zauner. 
Co-Founder of Housing4Europe.Org

Q: Europe is facing a housing crisis. In many growing cities rents and house prices are exploding. But housing is in the competence of the Member States. What can the EU contribute to more affordable and social housing?

Laurent Ghekiere
Housing does indeed fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Member States, or the Regions in the case of Federal States, and housing policies tend to be implemented by European cities. The housing crisis is nowadays a Europe-wide phenomenon, one that varies from one territory to another, being characterised by growing differences between big cities, medium-sized cities and rural areas.

Housing assistance is however a fundamental right under the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, and access to social housing and to quality housing assistance is one of the 20 Principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights. The European policies of cohesion, social inclusion, the Green Deal, the wave of thermal renovations, InvestEU, ReactEU, and lastly the action plan of the European Pillar of Social Rights, are all examples of initiatives that are directly reliant on investment in affordable housing.

Nowadays, Europe is well aware that it must proactively incite and assist the Member States to invest in affordable housing if it wants to attain its own targets. The recent declarations of Commissioners Timmermans and Schmit bear witness to this.

Q: You have established the European Alliance for Sustainable and Inclusive Social Housing in France. Which organizations do this alliance consist of?

Laurent Ghekiere
The “European Alliance for Sustainable and Inclusive Social Housing” aims to foster access to financing from the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the Council of Europe Development Bank (CEDB) for social housing bodies in France (known as “HLM”).

The priorities of these two European public investment banks are absolutely complementary and their loans for the construction of social housing, the thermal renovation of social housing, the accommodation of the homeless and refugees are intermediated by Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations (CDC), the French public investment bank. The aim of the Alliance is to ensure equal access for HLM housing associations to the loans of the EIB and the CEDB and to communicate the role of these two European public investment banks in France.

Q: This alliance is well known as a best practice when it comes to financing social housing in the EU. How does it work? What are the advantages of social housing providers?

Laurent Ghekiere
Each year, the Alliance defines its requirements in terms of the financing of investments in social housing in France, and their nature. The contribution made by the financing provided by the EIB and the CEDB is enshrined in a framework agreement for “global loans” signed with Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations. An initial wave of 650 million [euros] of global loans was thus negotiated under the aegis of the Alliance in 2021.

These loans from the EIB and the CEDB will complement the regulated loans of Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations and contribute towards reducing the social housing bodies’ need to self-finance their investment projects. These intermediated, complementary, fixed-rate and long-term loans (20 to 40 years) are accessible to all social housing bodies from the platform of Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations.

Q: Can this model be transferred to other Member States?

Laurent Ghekiere
Of course, it can. The complementary nature of the two European public investment banks is remarkable and access to their services by the owners of social dwellings can be facilitated by the intermediation of any bank in a Member State, be it a public investment bank like in France or private banks, while ensuring complementarity between the loans of the EIB and the CEDB and the loans of the intermediating bank of the Member State.

Small local projects can thus be financed over long periods of time, up to 40 years in the case of the EIB for instance, and at fixed rates, the EIB and the CEDB not having the capacity to handle all these local requests for financing directly.

Q: Why do you think that investments in social housing can bring the EU closer to its citizens and communities?

Laurent Ghekiere
One of the priorities of the European Alliance is to communicate with the households that are the final beneficiaries of this financing and the local stakeholders, about the role played by the European Union in the financing of local housing programmes, and more generally by providing an overview of the social housing programmes that are thus co-financed, on the social networks. The communication policy of the Alliance contributes towards bringing French households closer to Europe by making its concrete and effective contribution towards local investments in affordable housing clearer and more legible.