One out of every four Europeans has serious trouble paying for housing

Diplocat and the Table of Entities of the Third Social Sector of Catalonia organize the first online event of the series Social Europe Debates

This morning, the Bureau of Third Social Sector of Catalonia and DIPLOCAT, in conjunction with the Faculty of Social Education and Social Work of the Pere Tarrés Foundation - Universitat Ramon Llull,  have launched the new Europa Social series with the debate 'Right to social housing, a European perspective'.

This first debate in this series discussed the situation of social housing based on the experiences of different European territories: Catalonia, Finland, Scotland and Austria, specifically its capital, Vienna. The participants in the round table were Carme Trilla, president of the Hàbitat3 Foundation (Catalonia), a social rental housing manager that seeks to guarantee vulnerable persons' access to this right; Juha Kaakinen, CEO of the Y-Foundation (Finland), an entity that works to increase the affordable stock of rental social housing to make it available to the homeless, Susan Aktemel, executive director of Homes for Good (Scotland), a manager of social housing that helps low-income residents with difficulties accessing affordable housing near Glasgow and western Scotland; and Georg Niedermühlbichler, member of the State Parliament for Vienna and the Vienna Town Hall (Austria). The capital of Austria is a European referent because its town hall has been promoting social housing for more than 100 years.

According to the latest Eurostat report, "one out of every four Europeans has serious trouble paying housing costs and earmarks more than 40% of their income to pay it", said Javier Burón, Housing Manager at the Barcelona Town Hall, who offered an X-ray of the social housing situation in Europe and stressed that Spain is one of the five countries where housing problems are the most pressing, along with Greece, Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary. Burón warned that "decades will be needed" to bring housing policies in line with those in other European countries: "Going from less than 2% [the social housing stock in Catalonia and Spain] to 10% or over 20% is impossible in 2, or 3, or 10 or even 20 years; it's a real challenge for the country".  He also predicts that after COVID-19, there will be a steep rise in the rental demand, especially in urban areas; a "spike" in the demand for affordable social housing, especially when extraordinary measures like moratoria on rental and mortgage payments are lifted; and in consequence, "very high" growth in evictions and unpaid rent.

The debate also shed light on the differences in the social housing stock. "It is very difficult not to be on the tail end if we compare what is happening in Catalonia with other European territories. Here 0.1% of the GDP is earmarked to housing policies, compared to the European average of 0.6%", noted Francina Alsina, president of the Bureau of Third Sector. This major challenge is being addressed in very different ways. "The right to housing enables other fundamental rights of persons to be ensured, such as the right to healthcare and education. However, the public administrations' housing policies are extraordinarily diverse among the European Union members", said Laura Foraster, secretary general of DIPLOCAT.

These differences become clear in the social housing stock, for example. In Catalonia, it accounts for 1.6% of the entire stock (47,000 homes, including publicly owned, those owned by social entities and those lent by private owners), while in Finland this figure is 13%, in Scotland it is 23% (600,000 homes managed by towns and housing management associations) and in Austria it's 24%. Specifically in Vienna, more than 60% of the city's residents live in public or social housing, which is equivalent to 220,000 households.

Eight recommendations

Based on the experiences of the different territories. The Europa Social debate enabled the participants to further explore the key factors and measures of success to improve housing policies and ensure citizens this right, especially the most vulnerable among us:

  1. Having clear, specific regulations: clearly defining who can access social housing, encouraging construction of social housing while focusing on and prioritising quality, regulating public support for people to pay housing expenses, etc.
  2. Stringently regulating social housing to achieve outstanding management.
  3. Creating policies in conjunction with private stakeholders.
  4. Providing tax incentives to private building owners and support for housing remodels in order to keep rental prices low.
  5. Investing in land purchases to build social housing and thus lower the dependence on the private sector.
  6. Promoting tenants' participation in designing and developing local housing policies.
  7. Investing in a significant professional infrastructure: getting universities involved, creating programmes to get youths involved, etc.
  8. Creating robust networks to foster social housing among all the stakeholders involved.