By Karin Zauner.
Co-Founder of Housing4Europe.Org
Q: Europe is facing a housing crisis. In which areas particularly is an urgent need for action?
As we all know the European Union has more than 220 million households but an alarming number of 82 million Europeans are overburdened by housing costs, many even at the risk of eviction. And in most EU countries and in the large part of our regions and cities, the COVID19 crisis, with the general loss of revenue, is at large increasing the number of people and families that cannot have access to a decent house or are in conditions to pay their rent or to face needed investments for renovation. So, from one side we have a very well-known social problem, which in last decades involve more and more very well-identified groups of EU population, young, elders, working poor, migrants, growing single parents’ families. On a second side there is the huge impact of pandemic crisis which worsen pre-existing situations and push new groups of population into such conditions of marginality or fragility.
Third, there is also the increasing push for renovation, which will be now pushed at large by the new EU strategy connected with the EU recovery and strong climate targets. That per se is an enormous opportunity, but that can also be a non-sustainable constraint for people already in poverty or at risk of poverty. As we know a large share of today’s EU building stock was built without any energy performance requirement: one third (35%) of the EU building stock is over 50 years old, more than 40% of the building stock was built before 1960. Almost 75% of it is energy inefficient according to current building standards.
Q: Housing is in the competence of the Member States. The EESC is proposing an action plan on decent and affordable housing in the framework of the implementation of the 19th principle of the European of Social Rights. How can this action plan be implemented in the Member States?
In the last years, there has been a growing push by all European institutions to act on the housing crisis, investing more in decent homes and ensure everyone gets equal access to decent, “healthy” housing, with connection to high-quality drinking water, adequate sanitation, sewage and reliable energy. There was already part of the previous priorities in the 2014-2020 MFF. This is now even reinforced in the new budget cycle (structural funds and the large climate priority, connected with the energy savings and buildings renovations targets included in the extraordinary Recovery Facility. I am convinced that the force of the new objective to at least double the annual energy renovation rate of residential and non-residential buildings by 2030 and to foster deep energy renovation, resulting in 35 million building units renovated by 2030, could be major leverage in that respect. With nearly 34 million Europeans unable to afford to keep their homes heated, public policies to promote energy-efficient renovation have to also respond to energy poverty, support the health and wellbeing of citizens and help reduce their energy bills. The Commission has also published a Recommendation for the Member States on tackling energy poverty. Investing in buildings can also inject a much-needed stimulus in the construction ecosystem and the broader economy. Renovation works are labour-intensive, create jobs and investments rooted in often local supply chains, can generate demand for high energy and resource-efficient equipment and bring long-term value to properties. So, for the very first time, this investment in buildings and houses could become a true win-win policy for everyone. But of course, public authorities have to be very vigilant, favouring the inclusion of the excluded and not allowing further growing of disparities.
So here I see the very strong and particular opportunity for the Members States to pass now to action, trough the implementation of their National Plan for Recovery and Resilience, that will have a very precise timeline, monitored by results.
Q: There was the ECI “Housing for all”, there is now the own-initiative report of the EU parliament on “Access to decent and affordable housing for all” and the EESC’ s report “Universal access to housing that is decent, sustainable and affordable over the long term”. How can the pressure on the Commission be increased? What else is needed?
As we all know “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. So here we have two main lines that are an unprecedented opportunity: the implementation of the Recovery Facility with its specific energy renovations targets and the newly Action Plan on the implementation of the Social Pillar, that reinforce the social dimension of this enormous effort to guide the EU transitions to a sustainable and more prosperous Europe. We should create a strong network to monitor the situation in members states, able to launch specific public and early warnings at the national or EU level. I think close cooperation with local and regional authorities is of foremost importance, as also a reinforced role of all civil society actors and stakeholders in this field. An annual conference where progress is checked, best practices are highlighted and also worst practices are made known.
Luca Jahier, Past EESC President 2018-2020