Author: Nicholas Clark
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There is no place like home, it is where the heart is, and queue the next sentimental idiom those of us lucky enough to live in decent housing can attest to. Unfortunately, an enormous number of Europeans do not have access to decent or quality housing.
There is a shortage of affordable housing causing 25% of our population to live in overcrowded housing with low access to services and internet. As the dreaded COVID continues to rear its ugly head, the working and educational divide between the poor and better-off has only expanded, a direct consequence of their housing circumstance Not to mention the link between poor quality housing and health (both through toxic materials and those facing a bitterly cold winter). A lack of housing means being excluded from society; our home is inextricably linked to our work situations and our identity within society. Our homes on average cost 20% of our total income, but this can be as much as 40% among poorer groups. In Greece, it can be up to 70%! Homelessness is still an enormous issue, where during lockdown up to 700,000 people were left to live on the streets. This is a solvable problem, so what is being done about it?
Thankfully, the EU Parliament recognize the issue and a draft (own initiative) report on housing policy from the “EMPL” Committee (Employment and Social Affairs) was written. This draft report as well as a draft (own initiative) opinion by the EESC were discussed at a meeting on the 10th September 2020.
MEP Kim Van Sparrentak of the Greens/ EFA presented the EP draft report in which she pointed to the reasons for the report as the EU wide housing crisis, in which citizens cannot pay rent and people are losing their homes. She set the ambitions goal for the EU to eradicate homelessness by 2030. Social housing stocks and equitable access for all was high on the agenda, as it is still heavily underinvested. The EESC therefore welcomes the fact that principle 20 of the European Pillar of Social Rights reaffirms the right to access essential services. The renovation wave was commented on by most speakers, rapporteurs, and shadow rapporteurs as an important strategy to improve the housing energy costs. This will tackle both the housing market’s immense contribution to climate change and the growing issue of poor quality housing energy costs. However, Miss Van Sparrentak issued her own warning:
Referring to the enormous impact of real estate in the housing economy, driving up rent prices, worsened still by internet platforms such as “Airbnb” which are currently protected within much housing legislation.
Other promising headlines from the debate included the need to formalize housing as a human right and the need to reevaluate eviction law in Member States, where speakers advocated for a Moratorium on eviction in this current crisis or at least that no eviction should be possible without providing new housing. Moreover, within the debate a call for a cap of 25% of total income for housing is promising. It is left the be seen how this report survives the gauntlet of the commission and if it has the power to make a real change. It is certainly a encouraging start, but how can the social economy help to solve these housing issues?
Social economy organisations provide Services of General Economic Interest (SGEI), in the social and health sector including social housing for the homeless.
Social economy enterprises and organisations have a primary social objective, reinvest profits to achieve social objectives, and are run in a democratic, transparent, and participatory way. Meaning no more landlords to raise rent prices or unexpected evictions
Finally, cooperative housing in which the property is owned by an organization and then sold as shares to the residents of the community divides costs on shared housing amenities and can often enable higher quality materials for better quality housing and promote a sharing economy. Professional housing cooperatives have a potential to give residents a voice beyond the neighbourhood.
These benefits of the social economy all provide a boost toward reaching the targets of the EU Green Deal so as explained by Commission President von de Leyen at her recent State of the Union address.
 Lang, Richard & Novy, Andreas. (2014). Cooperative Housing and Social Cohesion: The Role of Linking Social Capital. European Planning Studies. 22. 1744-1764. 10.1080/09654313.2013.800025
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Keenly interested in human & social affairs and issues of sustainability. Having recently studied Human Ecology and worked in education for more than a decade, his writings revolve around how we can improve conditions and livelihoods for local communities through policy and action.