The second meeting of the Barcelona Housing and Renovation Forum commenced with a focus on formulas of collaboration to increase affordable housing. The Honorary Associate Professor in Housing Studies and member of the Urban Research Centre of the RMIT University of Australia, Julie Lawson, opened the first session by speaking about the ‘Housing 2030’ initiative in Europe, published on 6 October with the aim of forming a more positive approach for achieving a more effective housing system that will also have a useful impact on the planet. This study, which affects 26 countries, contains observations relating to four themes which affect various European regions, of the Mediterranean zone and Eastern and Western Europe, and it is complemented with various workshops and tools like illustrations, podcasts and interviews.
The first theme examined by the report is that of the tools of governance. Lawson explained that any form of governance has to have a strategic framework, which may be global, regional or local. “Leadership and political commitment are fundamental for reaching the local community and working collectively with the resources, the legislation and everything that can form a better market,” she said. “There is nothing more potent than having housing standards that are established, announced and followed in order to have a long-term impact on housing,” she added.
In the second place, finances and funding. The ‘Housing 2030’ initiative analysed the rules and regulation on investments in housing and the importance of having a control of certification in regard to investments and their management. “We have to learn from what is done in social housing and its impact in terms of the affordability and prices of homes,” said the professor, one of the leaders of the project.
In the third place, land policy, a key element for projecting the development of the city, where we find examples in Paris and Vienna. In this respect, Lawson pointed out that attention must be paid not only to the assignment of the land, but also other aspects like the recovery of its value by reinvesting in a single objective, the use of means of planning, the analysis of the requirements of various zones in the housing market and the agreements between investors and planners to unify all the interested parties and guarantee that the intended result is achieved in the relevant districts.
And in the fourth place, the neutral impact of the climate on housing. Lawson spoke about the cases of the Netherlands and Estonia and gave examples of what these countries have done to defossilise the construction systems of homes within a national strategy. In this respect, she highlighted subsidising actions in relation with the elimination of fossil fuels, acquisitions to provide support for a greener and more circular economy, and the regulation and certification of construction and industry to improve their practices in the use of materials. “We are aware that many of the things we can improve in terms of energy efficiency are also linked to our own behaviour. The education of family units is also very important,” she said. “We have to pay attention not only to the costs of homes but also to the danger of renovation costs to prevent houses from reaching unaffordable prices. The short-term costs are passed on to the tenants,” she added.
Professor Lawson finished by sharing a positive message about the future of housing. “We have to have an attitude of confidence. Rather than thinking of a concept of crisis, we have to think of a possible change of the system. Housing is a human need, and therefore it is fundamental for human life and sustainable communities,” she concluded.
European collaboration, a key factor in housing policies
It was then the turn of the Manager of London CLT, Hannah Emery-Wright; the Deputy Mayor of Bologna, Emily Marion Clancy; and the CEO of Aedes in the Netherlands, Robin Van Leiken, to take part in the round table ‘Models of European Collaboration,’ moderated by the Secretary General of Housing Europe, Sorcha Edwards.
Edwards introduced the session by paying tribute to the Barcelona model, emphasising that the current administration is aware of the urgency existing in the housing sector. “We are inspired by Barcelona’s team because they are taking this issue seriously and are doing what is in their power to mobilise it,” she said. She also spoke about the International Social Housing Festival, which will hold its third edition in Helsinki in 2022 and the fourth in Barcelona in 2023.The Manager of London CLT, Hannah Emery-Wright, described the experience of London, a city that is increasingly expensive and with less affordable housing. Emery-Wright said that most people who rent homes in London have to allocate more than a half of their income to the rent payment. “Prices are going up while incomes remain unchanged, so homes are becoming more and more expensive,” she said. “In the late 1980s a lot of homes were bought and now a large part of the housing stock has gone off the market, and the only option many citizens have is to move out.” Emery-Wright presented the lines of CLT, an initiative that grew out of the social movements of the 1970s and 1980s. In the case of London, where it has 3,000 members, its mission is to create communities to construct affordable housing and transform the neighbourhoods. “It’s not only a question of building houses and creating a new street block within a city, but also of guaranteeing that the existing communities are protected and maintain their unity,” she explained. One example of CLT London’s actions is that of 23 homes in the east of the city, in Saint Clement’s, and 11 more in construction with the help of funding and by way of local partnerships and European partners, as is the case of Sustainable Housing for Inclusive and Cohesive Cities. “We can’t solve the crisis by ourselves. We try to innovate, to have an impact and establish a precedent for working on the concept of affordability,” she said.
From an Italian perspective, the Deputy Mayor of Bologna, Emily Marion Clancy, also praised Barcelona’s housing policies. “We want to do a lot of work on the issue of housing, and Barcelona has taught us a lot about how to do it,” she said, adding that in the last decade Bologna has become one of Italy’s most expensive cities, particularly because of an excess of tourism and the increase of rent prices. Consequently, the youngest residents have difficulties in emancipating themselves. In this respect, while in Europe the average age of emancipation is 26 years, in Italy it is 30. Marion Clancy also pointed out that in Italy the most habitual system is home ownership. “80% of Italians are home owners: of these, only 6% are under 35 years of age.” To tackle this problem, the City Council is carrying out various actions with the aim of increasing the existing housing stock and also making these homes more energy-efficient. One of these actions is the implementation of collaborative models to promote subsidies for people under 35. The Deputy Mayor drew attention to co-housing, a model which is proving very successful in the city, and accentuated how the inhabitants coexist and share the common spaces. To these initiatives she also added collaboration with the private sector to develop other experiences in the zone. “The buildings have to be designed in accordance with criteria of sustainability, and at least 20% of the housing has to be common-use space,” she said. Clancy added that another of the actions directed to the private sector is addressed to homeowning families to rent their homes to young people and students.
The CEO of Aedes, Robin Van Leijen, then described the case of the Netherlands, which registers an average of 27% of social housing, making it one of Europe’s countries with the highest rates. Through Aedes, 2.3 million homes are managed, representing 32% of the country’s housing stock, offering homes to vulnerable family units. Van Leijen said that since 1995 the organisation has not received any direct subsidies from the government: its funding originates from private organisations and the principal sources of income are self-generated. “The idea is that when one of our members cannot repay their loan, the other members give their support and contribute a part,” he said. He then explained that an important part of the Aedes model is the tenants’ participation in decision-making, being represented in the Steering Council. One example of this is the renovation of a housing block, where before the start of the project “70% of all the tenants agreed to it,” he said. He also pointed to the tripartite agreements and the negotiating board, where all the partners take part in equality of conditions to discuss matters like affordability, new construction, the units to be built, inhabitability and renovation.