29 January 2021
#ProgressiveHousingWeek: Time for Europe to deliver on housing for all!

#ProgressiveHousingWeek: Time for Europe to deliver on housing for all!

25-29 January 2021

As Progressive Housing Week comes to an end, we would like to say thank you to the speakers, who inspired us, and to the participants, who shared their experiences and thoughts on this important topic. Our fight will not finish here. Together, let's make sure that the right to housing for all becomes a reality in cities and regions – in the four corners of our continent and beyond!

We are happy to share the main lessons learnt and the highlights from this week here.

How can we make sure that everyone has a roof over their head? What innovative solutions do progressive leaders at local, regional, national and European level already put forward? What do key players from civil society – such as NGOs and researchers – propose and how can we work together? Finally, what specific European action is needed to tackle the persistent housing crisis, which has resurfaced during the pandemic?

These questions were at the heart of our Progressive Housing Week, a week full of passionate political debates, workshops, social media conversations, and a film screening. It was organised by the PES Group in the European Committee of the Regions, in cooperation with the S&D Group in the European Parliament, the Foundation for European Progressive Studies, the Party of European Socialists and the City of Vienna.

Bringing together 32 inspiring speakers from Europe and beyond, over 650 registered participants, and reaching out to thousands of people on social media, this first-ever progressive online gathering on housing had a clear message at its core: making decent, affordable and sustainable housing available for all must be a top priority for Europe's recovery. A petition: Make the right to housing a reality for all! was also created by the partners and launched during the week.

SIGN OUR PETITION ON CHANGE.ORG

Day 1 : Housing for all: progressive ideas for the future

 

We kick-started the week with the screening of the documentary “PUSH” by award-winning director Fredrik Gertten, who followed the former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to housing, Leilani Farha, on a trip around the world  trying to understand who is being pushed out of the city and why. At a time when housing prices are on the rise while incomes decrease, “PUSH” is a remarkable investigation into the few global players and hidden factors behind the sell-out of our cities. It clearly shows us why housing is one of today's most pressing issues: the very essence of our society, solidarity, is at stake. The time has come for cities and regions to unite in a common fight, and to make sure housing as a fundamental right is brought back to the heart of society. 

 

 

Did you like the film? Do you want to host a screening in your town / city / region or online? Get in touch with the PUSH team!

Do you want to see more of what Fredrik and Leilani are up to? Subscribe to their podcast “Pushback Talks”!

 

The film was followed by a political debate on “Housing for all: progressive ideas for the future”, moderated by Beatriz Ríos,  a journalist at the Luxembourg Times, El Mundo and EuranetPlus. 

 

 

The opening panel included the film's protagonist, Leilani Farha, its director Fredrik Gertten, the renowned professor of sociology, Saskia Sassen – one of the main characters in the documentary – and Frans Timmermans, executive vice-president of the European Commission. Leilani Farha underlined during the debate that:

The global pattern is that housing is both a driver of inequality and a consequence of inequality in every city that I've been to. If we really want to make change to ensure people can live in the city – and I mean all people –, then we have to be able to hold someone responsible for what is going on.”

Fredrik Gertten and Saskia Sassen called for bolder political action in a world where, as the sociologist warned, “housing has become a major option for financial firms and via algorithmic mathematics buildings cease to be about housing. They become financial instruments that can be bought and sold in an hour.”

Frans Timmermans reiterated the importance of political governance and of clear rules as a way to counter a market-driven society. He highlighted the need to put people back at the centre of the debate, in particular, the younger generations, who suffer the consequences of the housing crisis. He also stressed that social housing policies should not focus exclusively on the poorest households, but also include support for middle-income households.

The second panel consisted of progressive local and regional politicians from different parts of Europe, including Ada Colau, mayor of Barcelona, Michael Ludwig, mayor of Vienna and PES Group member, Nawal Ben Hamou, regional minister of Brussels, Fernando Medina, mayor of Lisbon and PES Group member, Elly Schlein, vice-president of the Emilia-Romagna Region, and Erik Pelling, mayor of Uppsala. They presented housing challenges and innovative good practices from their cities and regions.

Ada Colau stressed that making housing affordable for all required cities to join forces for strong political action: “to have fair, inclusive and innovative cities, we need to guarantee the right to housing. That cannot be left to the private market. We need the states to protect housing as a fundamental right.”

 

 

Michael Ludwig underlined that the coronavirus pandemic had clearly shown that strong action was highly needed to prevent evictions and make homes a safe place. He added: “However, cities and regions need the EU to protect our citizens from global developments that harm our housing markets, such as financialisation, touristification and money laundering. We also need a clear vision that housing is a right, not a commodity, and that public investment in new and better homes has to contribute to social cohesion and common wellbeing as much as to combating climate change.”

 

 

Nawal Ben Hamou emphasised that housing policy needed to protect citizens properly, especially in times of crisis when inequalities in European cities were growing. “In Brussels we give priority to the most vulnerable groups and ensure that everybody can access a reasonable rent”, she explained.

 

 

Fernando Medina underlined that access to affordable housing was one of the cornerstones of democracy and that protecting the rights of citizens in this matter was of utmost importance. “The big question for us is how we can put the right of people to have good and affordable housing out of the turmoil of the financial markets”, he added. 

Elly Schlein highlighted the urgent need to tackle the root causes of inequalities and recalled that social and environmental justice were at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Erik Pelling pointed to the need to find different renovation solutions, as renovations increase the rent of existing housing, meaning that people may not be able to afford it anymore.

Key conclusions from this part of the debate included the need to provide sufficient investment in Europe’s recovery to enable cities and regions to provide affordable and decent housing to the most vulnerable groups in society. The need for a common European strategy against hedge funds that want to create short-term profits at the expense of people was also highlighted. 

Feeding in from the perspective of an NGO, Sorcha Edwards, secretary-general of Housing Europe, reminded participants that a strong alliance of cities and their social, public and cooperative housing sectors was an additional element in the fight for decent and affordable housing for all, and in reaching the overall goals of the EU's Social Pillar. 

S&D Group president, Iratxe García Pérez, and PES Group president, Christophe Rouillon, mayor of Coulaines, concluded the debate.

 

 

Rouillon highlighted that housing is key to achieving the European Green Deal objectives, explaining that: “This is why we call for a European Deal for Housing and we want to make sure that every town, city and region is part of – and a key player in – this process. I am proud that the progressive family, from local to national and European level, is uniting behind this common  fight.”

 

 

Day 2: Concrete actions for social and affordable housing in the EU

 

The Foundation for Progressive Studies continued the debate through a discussion of measures taken at city level in London, with Tom Copley, and in Vienna, with Michaela Kauer. These measures aimed, among other things, to prevent evictions and improve mixite. Affordability, sustainability and inclusiveness were highlighted as some of the key European challenges in the field of housing and they were also the main focus of the study  study “Concrete actions for Social and Affordable Housing in the EU” presented by Sergio Nasarre-Aznar and Núria Lambea Llop. The discussion opened with Milan Ftáčnik stressing the role that EU policies and national decision-makers can play in supporting access to affordable housing for all. Our experts, Laura Colini, Sónia Alves and Bálint Misetics, provided excellent insights on other issues related to financing, rental platforms and homelessness, which are affecting the housing market and the right to housing.

 

 

 

 

Download now the FEPS report “Concrete actions for Social and Affordable Housing in the EU

 

Did you like the presentations of this workshop? Please find here all the PowerPoints that the speakers kindly shared:

  • Laura Colini, senior policy expert at EU Urban Innovative Actions and URBACT, researcher co-founder of TSR urban social research
  • Bálint Misetics, Senior Policy Advisor at The Municipality of Budapest

 

FEPS also recently published a nice podcast with Michaela Kauer, Director of the Brussels Office of the City of Vienna and Co-coordinator of EU Urban Agenda Housing Partnership and David Rinaldi, FEPS Director of Studies & Policy. Listen to it!

 

 

 

Day 3: The Affordable EU Housing Initiative: How can we get it off the ground?

 

As one of the benchmarks for social housing in Europe, it was only natural that the City of Vienna took the lead for the third workshop, which discussed the initiative that will be the cornerstone of the Commission's renovation wave strategy. The Affordable Housing Initiative aims to revitalise 100 neighbourhoods, as flagship projects across the EU in the coming years.

 

 

Director Slawomir Tokarski, from the European Commission's Directorate-General for the Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs underlined that there is a need to create a vibrant community around homes to overcome the polarisation of society. Housing in the envisaged 100 flagship projects needs to be affordable and resilient after renovation.

Participants then heard two examples from the ground. Lucia Štasselová, vice-mayor for housing in Bratislava, explained why her city had begun a significant new effort to create affordable housing in 2018. Julia Girardi-Hoog from the City of Vienna described how the Horizon2020 project Smarter Together, which aimed to create social and technical innovations for a liveable district, had been set up.

Two European stakeholder organisations gave their first reactions to and views on the Affordable Housing Initiative. Barbara Steenbergen, head of the International Union of Tenants' Liaison Office to the EU, called for a need to combine funding issues with the existing national rent law, so that it is fair and socially balanced. 

Sorcha Edwards, secretary-general of Housing Europe, argued for the need to make the Green Deal a social Green Deal. 

Elena Szolgayová, Housing 2030 co-chair and UNECE HLM chair 2013-2019, gave the closing remarks and referred to the growing gap between the poor and the rich, which leads to a situation where the question of housing becomes ever more pressing. 

Michaela Kauer, director of the City of Vienna's Brussels Liaison Office and moderator of the discussion, closed the webinar by expressing her hope and confidence that the event has been a successful kick-off for more discussions to shape the Affordable Housing Initiative, together with a broad range of stakeholders.

 

Did you like the presentations of this workshop? Please find here all the PowerPoints that the speakers kindly shared:

 

The press release of the City of Vienna is available here.

 

Day 4: Decent housing for all

 

Our sister group in the European Parliament, the S&D Group, was  in charge of concluding the week with some remarkable comments from their MEPs and guest speakers.

 

 

Agnes Jongerius, MEP, S&D Coordinator for the European Parliament's Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, underlined in her opening remakrs that “the European Parliament has taken great steps to show the way to decent housing for all. The European Commission needs to follow now. We need binding targets for the EU and the Member States to commit to.”

Freek Spinnewijn, director of FEANTSA, warned about the homelessness situation in Europe:  “There are at least 700,000 that live on the streets or in a homeless shelter every day in Europe.  We saw a massive increase of 70 % in the last 10 years. Something is happening at the bottom-end of society that is very concerning.”

Manuel Pizarro, MEP, S&D Group, pointed to the worrying increase in the number of people living in poverty as a consequence of the pandemic, explaining that “we need to make sure that the money of the future EU budget and of NextGenerationEurope goes to tackling poverty and has a direct effect on homelessness.”

 

Barbara Steenbergen, head of the Liaison Office to the EU, International Union of Tenants, emphasised the need to provide clear rules to ensure security of tenure, which account for a third of the total EU population. She also underlined the need to revise the current EU legislation on state aid, which is blocking investment in affordable and social housing. 

Estrella Dura Ferrandis, MEP, S&D Group, agreed that “housing is a fundamental right and one of the pillars of the welfare state, and so it must be excluded from competition rules. We need a new model in the EU in which social investment and investment in housing is included in the recovery plans. ” 

Theresa Griffin, senior associate, E3G and former MEP, focused on fighting energy poverty in housing and reminded participants that “energy is not a commodity, but a basic social right.”

S&D Group President, Iratxe García Pérez, concluded the Progressive Housing Week by underlining that “Access to decent and affordable housing is an essential human right and a key priority for our political family. As inequalities are rising and millions of Europeans struggle to pay their rent or energy bills,  we must legislate and incentivise social housing. Progressive cities all over Europe are delivering initiatives to achieve housing for all, but they need the EU and Member States to cope with this major challenge. We need to guarantee public investment in housing. We need to change the European Semester to include social spending as a golden rule. As Socialists, our priority will always be to invest in people. We need a European Deal for Housing!"

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