24 October 2023

Housing for all: a call for a renewed European ambition

On 19 September 2023, URBAN Intergroup, Métropole de Lyon, FEANTSA and Housing Europe organised a special event at the European Parliament in Brussels to put the issues of housing, indecent housing and homelessness at the heart of the priorities of the European institutions.
 
Jan Olbrycht MEP, President of the Intergroup, introduced the event and highlighted that for many years Urban Intergroup was cooperating with different organisations working on housing, trying to create lobbing in the European Union and trying to persuade other Members of the European Parliament, but also European Commission, that housing is a European problem. Mr Olbrycht reminded that when he was working as reporter on ERDF many years ago, there was also a problem, which we still face – having one unique definition of social housing.
 
Panel 1: Employment and housing for “frontline” workers

 

Nathalie Guri, Eurocities Projects and Knowledge sharing Director, started a discussion with statement that housing costs are rising much faster than people’s income. Most of the EU countries have very limited social housing options and as a result, it has become very common to allocate 50% or more for their income to rent.

 

Lenka Antalová Plavuchová, Bratislava Deputy-Mayor, gave a statement that situation on housing in Bratislava is very critical. Rental housing is unstable. Bratislava is the second most expensive city in Europe in comparison to the salaries. She stressed that there is a strong need for cooperation between the cities, to learn from each other.

 

Pierfransco Maran, Milan Deputy-Mayor for Housing and Neighbourhood Planning, mentioned that housing prices in Milan had doubled but people’s income only grew by 5%. He stressed that there should be regulation regarding tourist rented housing as 20-25 % of flats in the centre of Milan are rented by tourists, there need to be a national regulation because there are no tools that the local authorities have to deal with this problem.

 

Alison Gilliland, Dublin City Councillor, stated that the average rent in Dublin is 2300 euro, which in most cases is 50-60% of people’s salaries. The city is actively building social housing but they also have introduced housing that is not for profit, the rent aims to pay the loans and the maintenance over 40 years. They adopted new legislation that the rent there needs to be 25% below the market rate. Dublin focus also on buying places and introducing tenants in situ, where tenants are in risk of eviction because of landlord’s decision of renovation and increased rent. The city is always looking for new additions to the current buildings (additional floors). Theris new program is called ‘adapt and reuse’, where the aim is to create more accommodation from derelict buildings.

 

Sergej Kara, Bratislava Social Affairs Department director, underlined that the first step to better housing is to change minds of people, and show that housing is a basic need, it is not an investment, it is a human right. The main point in every change should be communication with people. Bratislava, together with Prague, is working on the new housing policy, after 60 years of stagnation in this topic.

 

Marie Linder, The President of the International Union of Tenants, presented the International Union of Tenants, founded in Zurich in 1926, which represents 20 million tenants in Europe. She spoke of the housing crisis in Europe, particularly in Dublin, where rents have almost doubled since 2013; in Lisbon, where thousands of people demonstrated in the streets in April 2023; and in Sweden, where landlords want to increase rents by 12% in the cities of Stockholm and Göteborg. The city of Berlin is currently discussing the replacement of heating systems in more than 40 million homes. In order to tackle the housing crisis, Ms Linder is calling for an increase in European funds, but also the possibility of taking funds from each Member State as a gesture of solidarity. Jan Olbrycht responded by pointing out that we need legal solutions, solutions that can then be implemented at national level.

 

PANEL 2: Poor housing and homelessness

 

Freek Spinnewijn, FEANTSA Director, pointed out that homelessness is a major problem and that the “European Parliament has always been an ally” on these issues. The rate of homelessness has risen by 10% since 2019.

 

Renaud Payre, Lyon Metropole Vice-president in charge of Housing, Social Housing and Urban Policy, pointed out that a lot of progress had been made, such as the European platform to combat homelessness, but that an essential step was missing: recognising housing as a fundamental right. Housing is an ecological, economic and social issue. In his view, investors’ involvement in housing should be regulated. Then we need to regulate the housing market and control rents. The creation of European funds would be a solution for social housing providers, as would the creation of a long-term loan. He also proposed independent, self-contained accommodation as a way of eradicating homelessness. He concluded by saying that “we need twofold recognition: cultural and political, otherwise we will be facing headwinds”, and that “we need funding and investment”.

 

Sonia Fuertes Barcelona Social Action Commissioner, wants to strengthen prevention on three levels: social protection, combating homelessness and helping to consolidate professional projects. She spoke of the need for governance at three levels. Firstly, at local level, because it is closer to the ground; then at national level, particularly with regard to migration; and finally at European level, by finding European solutions.

 

MEP Estrella Durá Ferrandis, agreed with the main point of the declaration: “housing is a fundamental right”. She referred to the European Parliament report that her group has conducted on access to decent and affordable housing. The report aims to build a stronger social Europe, combat property speculation and make life easier for the homeless. She would like to propose that the European Commission ask the Member States to provide affordable housing and apply these standards. The Member States also need funding, and it is important to coordinate at all levels, taking into account the realities of each country.

 

MEP Kim Van Sparrentak stated that the EU can make a real difference to social housing. In her view, the EU must take action to combat the financialisation of housing, in particular through greater transparency. She hopes that negotiations can be reached during the Spanish Presidency.

 

PANEL 3: The financialisation of housing

 

Ian Brossat, Deputy Mayor of Paris in charge of housing, emergency accommodation and refugee protection described the difficulties of housing, in particular the problem of the city’s small surface area, which makes it impossible to build new housing. This difficulty is all the more acute with the recent development of short-term tourist rentals such as Airbnb. He mentioned the strategies adopted by the City of Paris to regulate these platforms, which have led to a series of abuses in which investors have bought flats and entire buildings in order to transform them into year-round tourist rentals. One of the solutions has been to limit the number of days a property can be rented on Airbnb. The idea is to say yes to occasional rentals but no to year-round rentals. In his view, regulation is essential in the most popular tourist cities in order to protect accommodation.

 

Emily Marion Clancy from the city of Bologna presented the five strategies of the Bologna’s housing plan, which are:
1. Three new social housing complexes for a new idea of housing (Lazzaretto, Ravone and Stamoto);
2. Five new models of collaborative public housing – regenerated buildings dedicated to co-housing and cooperative-housing;
3. Three programmes for the renewal of public housing – Zero vacancy programme, the fight against energy poverty and social inclusion measures;
4. New governance for social housing – Incentives, a social housing fund and a social housing agency;
5. Attracting and retaining national and international talent – Talent landing in Bologna.

She also presented a plan for new governance for social housing, including a municipal alliance for a national housing policy:
1. Framework and resources for public and social housing;
2. To enable municipalities to take advantage of vacant public buildings and brownfield sites (e.g. former military barracks, unused railway land) for social housing purposes;
3. Refinancing the national rent subsidy fund and the national rent arrears fund;
4. A national law giving cities the power to regulate short-term rentals;
5. Structural measures and resources allocated to emergency housing, homelessness and housing first programmes.

Therefore, with the “Housing for All” declaration, the city of Bologna is calling for housing to be a human right and for the EU to take action:
– By regulating the involvement of private investors in housing;
– By regulating the housing market to prevent speculation through rent control laws;
– Putting in place a “Next Housing EU plan” to support investment by affordable social housing providers across Europe and the operational needs to provide care services;
– Promoting the only way to end homelessness: the provision of independent housing and adequate support services, regardless of people’s circumstances.

 

MEP Kateřina Konečná spoke on the issue of platforms but also on the need to find a compromise on this housing issue. She thanked the report on short-term rentals. She welcomed the fact that the report gave policymakers access to data on short-term rentals. In her view, platforms should be held accountable for data sharing.

Conclusions

 

Christophe Collignon Minister for Housing, Local Government and Urban Affairs, Wallonia is convinced that housing is a fundamental right, an element of fulfilled citizenship, and that the right to housing is enshrined in the Belgian constitution. The main points he raised were:
– A reminder of the need for financial resources;
– Collective responsibility for the ecological transition. Putting housing at the top of the agenda;
– The example of Wallonia’s housing stock, in particular the Walloon public housing stock of 110,000 homes, representing 800 million euros thanks to an EIB loan to renovate a quarter of the stock so that public housing is optimal and the public can benefit from housing worthy of the 21st century;
– Development of new housing with the European recovery plan for exemplary housing. Use public-private partnerships to manage housing. Enable local authorities to control land. Supporting homelessness plans.
– Conclusion: he is convinced that we need to take the problem to heart, implement a Marshall Plan and enable as many European citizens as possible to be well housed.

 

MEP Fabienne Keller spoke about gentrification and single mothers. Social diversity is a source of well-being for everyone. Within the budget committee, of which Jan Olbrycht and Fabienne Keller are members of, they are trying to put more money into housing, as with the recovery plan, in the Green Deal for example.

 

More on the Declaration here.


3 July 2023

Manifesto for Metropolitan Europe

On 27 June 2023, the Urban Intergroup welcomed METREX to an event to discuss a manifesto that it is developing to promote the concept of a new, metropolitan approach to Europe. METREX is a network of over 50 European metropolitan regions and areas and exists to share practical solutions to address local and regional challenges and aspirations.

 

MEP Andreas Scheider, Vice President of the Intergroup, introduced the event and highlighted the knowhow within the Intergroup in terms of urban and metropolitan issues. The Intergroup speaks often about the deep crises we are in, from finance and refugees through to Covid and the climate. Mr Scheider highlighted the intense and ongoing discussions that take place in the European Parliament on issues such as the Nature Restoration Law, and the impact of these changes on citizens.

 

Jakub Mazur, First Deputy Mayor of Wrocław and President of METREX, welcomed guests to this discussion which he said was critical to the future of cities, regions and the organisations that are shaping Europe. Mr Mazur spoke about the Manifesto in the context of the 27-year life span of METREX, during which Europe has changed significantly. The Manifesto, Mr Mazur said, is about presenting a new vision of Europe, that is supplemented with the metropolitan dimension.

 

Łukasz Medeksza, the Deputy Director of the City Development and Strategy Department for the City of Wrocław and Managing Committee Member of METREX, gave a briefing on the Manifesto and an introduction to metropolitan areas. With over 60% of Europe’s population living in them, 70% of Europe’s GDP generated in them, and 81% of migrants choosing them as their destination, metropolitan areas are an important component in Europe’s DNA.

 

The metropolitan agenda is on the rise globally, demonstrated three weeks ago by the United Nations’ adoption of a resolution that underlines the role of metropolitan governance in addressing the Sustainable Development Goals. The resolution openly calls on national governments to strengthen the metropolitan dimension. This is what the Manifesto calls for in Europe. Above all, it is about urban and rural balance.

 

During the drafting of the Manifesto, the term “metropolitan partnerships” has been adopted to represent the “metropolitan state of mind”, which METREX says includes cross-border, multi-actor, multi-level approaches.

 

Within the Manifesto is a series of 12 demands. Six are aimed at the EU and include attaining a greater say on the direction of policies, a dedicated ‘metropolitan programme 2050’ in the MFF (Multi Financial Framework), and a Commissioner with Metropolitan Partnerships within their portfolio, amongst other things. The remaining six are aimed at national governments, which calls for capacity building and benchmarking, regulations to be adopted on things such as spatial planning, and national programmes dedicated to metropolitan regions and areas.

 

Markku Markkula, Vice President of the Committee of the Regions and President of the Helsinki-Uusimaa Region, spoke about how the Helsinki-Uusimaa region coordinates action in partnerships with the participating municipalities. Helsinki-Uusimaa has three measurable targets as a region: to hit carbon neutrality by 2030; reach 5% GDP in research and development; raise employment to 80%.

 

Mr. Markkula spoke about the metropolitan level taking on the role of ‘future planners’ to work out what sort of places are wanted, and what is required to deliver them. While the city is a platform tackle specific agendas such as the circular economy and data economy, the regional level is about collaboration between places to share and amplify the best instruments to reach the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

 

Emiel Reiding, Secretary Director of the Metropolitan Region of Amsterdam (MRA), explained about the informal nature of the newly formed MRA, which is a collaboration of 30 municipalities, two regions and a transport authority. It is a voluntary agreement, but collaboration is growing. Their focus includes spatial planning, and within that some specific areas such as mobility, housing, industry and energy. Their goal is to create a sustainable economy. The size of these challenges necessitates that they work and think at a larger, metropolitan scale. When problems are intertwined, solutions should be too.

 

The informal nature of the MRA is an advantage and allows flexibility to incorporate differing goals between the partners. The MRA does not have any decision-making powers – this is left to the municipal level – but it does advise and influence direction. The importance of the MRA to its partners is demonstrated by the new addition of a permanent member of staff in Brussels.

 

Discussion with the audience

 

Greater collaboration
Mr. Markkula suggested that the scale of the challenges faced, and indeed the aspirations that are called for, will require greater collaboration. Whether it is Amsterdam’s move towards a circular economy, or Helsinki’s regional masterplan covering urban to rural areas, big transformations are required where multiple actors in the region, such as universities, can be mobilised.

 

It was questioned what type of stakeholders are being included and whether this has already extended to industries such as retail and wholesale, particularly as they will play a big role in actions on circularity. Metropolitan Partnerships such as the MRA can be described as a quadruple helix as it already includes society, industry, government, academia.

 

A fair and equitable system
It was questioned to what extent human rights features within the manifesto and therefore at the metropolitan level. In response, Mr. Mazur commented that reaching all SDGs, including human rights, is the foundation of the Manifesto. And behind this, social prosperity and equality is at the heart of the policies of all Europe’s Metropolitan Regions and Areas.

 

Mr. Mazur gave the example of his city Wrocław, which has welcomed 250.000 Ukrainian refugees, often learning in the moment what is required. The ability for Metropolitan Regions and Areas to respond to human rights is however decided at the national level. Defining ‘metropolitan citizenship’ is becoming a challenge, with circa 30% of Wrocław’s population, who as Ukrainian immigrants are unable to vote, not having a say in city decision-making. This has a huge implication on not only service provision but also the making of a cohesive city.

 

Basic human rights are also linked to provision and access to vital services such as water, energy and food. This will become increasingly difficult as resources become ever scarcer. It was suggested that collaboration at the metropolitan scale – the ‘metropolitan partnership’ approach’ – can provide a fair approach to ecosystem management and thus avoid conflict.

 

Within this approach, collaboration between urban and rural areas will also play a big role in a fair and equitable system. Each has a role to play in providing what is collectively needed to sustain and enhance life; the rural area could provide water, food and energy, while the urban area can provide human capital and more concentrated services.

 

Spatial planning to solve big issues
How spatial planning – the likes of which is done at the metropolitan level – can be leveraged to address crises facing Europe is an issue being explored by Eurocities. METREX through the Manifesto was urged to look in particular at how spatial planning can be used to reach climate neutrality, a subject which the commentor believed that the metropolitan level can do more to address.

 

The right governance in the right place
A representative of the Covenant of Mayors questioned adding further levels of governance and stressed the importance of connection to national-level governance. Cities are often said to be in the driving seat in the response to challenges and therefore they need support. But they need the right conditions to scale and accelerate, which are often set at the national level. Effective legislation should therefore be set to enable more effective collaboration between all levels of governance. It was clarified that the Manifesto calls for better use of existing layers – not the addition of new layers. Helping each other by coordinating resources and bringing stronger collaboration.

 

As formal, or not, as required
Not all metropolitan regions and areas seek greater formalisation and Metropolitan Partnerships are about employing the right system for the partners involved and according to the goals at hand. Some will respond better to a formalised partnership, while others will work better within a looser structure. The MRA, for instance, has established an informal and flexible approach, where its role is to advise the partners on decisions, not take decisions itself. However, in the Italian context, a formal structure led to a national metropolitan programme, which otherwise would not have happened.

 

Metropolregion Rheinland supported the notion that installing a new layer of formal governance would not bring additional solutions. However, what is important is to provide a platform for many and diverse actors to work together towards solutions. Metropolitan Partnerships offer this and the possibility for playing a greater role in shaping Europe by offering views and solutions from both urban and rural areas.

 

Funding was raised as a potential issue with informality, where funders seek assurances from contracts and formal bodies. The METREX Secretary General called for help in defining the undefinable: to close the gap between tightly defining a project or partnership to win funding yet retaining informality. One answer, provided by Metropolregion Rheinland, was to establish a firm mandate as a region, backed by either a formal or informal partnership according to the context.

 

Metropolitan Partnerships are on a basic level also about pooling knowledge on how to work towards the SDGs. From different sectors, such as academia, the private sector and civil society. This link to the SDGs, including human rights, should be stressed in the Manifesto.

 

Specificity, realism and taking a risk on uniting big and small
Summing up the meeting, Jan Olbrycht MEP proposed the Urban Intergroup as a bridge to the European Parliament. In winning support for the Manifesto, Mr Olbrycht urged for the most appropriate and efficient tactics, rather than courting the ceremony that accompanies the European institutions.

 

Mr Olbrycht urged realism in terms of what the Manifesto calls for, and to be precise in terms of what it calls for. For example, the Manifesto promotes partnerships, rather than contracts. This is the more difficult approach, especially as is tried to marry big and small, urban and rural – and within this, different functions. However, this complex aspiration is what can set the Manifesto apart, by taking the risk to link big cities and rural areas. Afterall, everyone claims that this is an important goal, but no one is doing it.

 

Finally, Mr Olbrycht urged the Manifesto to focus on more than cohesion as this will only lead to a limited view and influence. A wider focus that includes all SDGs such as energy and climate will lead to greater impact. This point is especially true as in some member states, cohesion policy is simply not a priority.

 

Please find the full text of the Manifesto here.


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