Europe-wide survey on housing policy

Solving the housing crisis – but how?

Affordable, dignified, and adequate housing is particularly (but not exclusively) scarce in urban centers across Europe. The affected groups are primarily those with lower incomes, such as younger generations or individuals marginalized for various reasons.

It quickly became apparent to us in the Perspectives Newsroom that the housing crisis deserves our collective attention and requires innovative solutions. That´s why we conducted a joint Europe-wide survey with experts in politics, academia, the private sector, and citizen initiatives and asked:
 
In your opinion, what specific measures should be taken to address the housing crisis in your country/city?
 
These are the responses.

Czech Tenantsʼ Initiative Czech Tenantsʼ Initiative | © Ida Taušlová | Czech Tenantsʼ Initiative

On behalf of the Czech Tenantsʼ Initiative replied Yuliya Moskvina

The only measures that can address the root causes of the housing crisis are the decommodification of housing and the promotion of different forms of ownership regimes. The Czech state and the European Union still consider housing as an individual problem that every person must solve in the free market. However, the market does not solve crises; it tends to lead to monopolization. Without state control, our cities will be dominated by corporations interested solely in extracting rent. Rents will continue to rise in the never-ending cycle of gentrification. Urban residents will become tenants, serving as a stable income source for these corporations. If we want to maintain our status as citizens, we must halt the commodification of housing.

This can be achieved by introducing legal norms that allow for various housing options: the renovation of abandoned buildings with a guarantee of low rents, the construction of state and municipality-owned apartments, and the promotion of collective forms of homeownership that utilize a combination of resources. Additionally, we must implement regulations for flats intended for investment. Protecting tenants' rights is of utmost importance, including lease agreements with indeterminate durations, and rent regulation that reflects the economic and social conditions of the tenants, the establishment of a legal basis for tenants' unions, collective agreements, and safeguarding the right to engage in rent strikes.

Denys Kozak, Ukrainian architect Denys Kozak, Ukrainian architect | Foto: © private

Denys Kozak is an architect and lecturer at the Kharkiv School of Architecture, Ukraine. Participant and winner of international architectural competitions, including the project of municipal housing in Lviv on Mykolaychuk Street, which is to become the first project of its kind built in Ukraine.

In my opinion, there are currently no effective and systematic solutions to the housing crisis in Ukraine. The main problem is a huge imbalance in the population of the east and west of the country due to the war, where the supply of housing cannot meet the demand. To solve this, the government needs to ensure security and stimulate the economy in the regions close to the frontline. These are the main factors in the decision to return home.

Another important factor is the regulation of the rental market and the construction of new housing, which is highly speculative. The state and municipalities need to gain more influence and become the market regulator, both through legislation and by increasing the ownership of rental housing. The solution is to change legislation to give local authorities more powers. For example, an audit system for rental housing, an increase in housing taxes, price fixing, subsidising rents for students and large families. Municipalities should impose many more conditions on developers, for example, for the right to long-term land lease, they should provide part of the built housing for use by the city.

Another important area is cooperation with international organisations whose goal is to build new social housing and overhaul existing housing. This practice requires several successful cases to build a good reputation in the eyes of partners, and in the country, itself is a real example of both the construction of municipal housing from scratch and the refurbishment of the old stock.

Thomas Klühspies from the #ausspekuliert initiative Thomas Klühspies from the #ausspekuliert initiative | Foto: © Thomas Klühspies

Thomas Klühspies answered on behalf of the Munich citizensʼ initiative #ausspekuliert, which stands for affordable housing and against social exclusion.

Germany is a country of tenants, and the home ownership rate is one of the lowest in Europe. Tenants in Germany are therefore particularly affected by price developments on the housing market. The privatisation of public housing and the liberalisation of the housing market in recent decades has made the problem in Germany much worse. The liberalised market has not solved the problem but has fuelled gentrification. Our demands are based on the principle that housing is a basic right for all. In the short term, we want tenantsʼ rights to be strengthened (effective rent brakes, extended protection against dismissal, etc.). In the long term, we want the public sector to exert greater influence on the housing market again (stopping privatisation, buying back residential property, re-establishing non-profit housing construction, social land rights, and even expropriation of large corporations in cities with particularly tight housing markets).

As an organisation, we create public awareness of the problem and support those acutely affected in organising themselves into tenant communities and networking. Only the combination of strong tenantsʼ associations and strategic public relations work has led to success so far: Flats have been bought by local authorities, exposed investors have changed their plans (speculation with housing in Germany is often handled discreetly via letterbox companies), tenants have been able to stay in their flats at acceptable prices. Even if these are often only small successes, for those affected, such as pensioners, low earners and students, these successes mean a lot, as does the solidarity of a larger community.

Raimondas Reginis, Head of Market Research at a real estate agency Raimondas Reginis, Head of Market Research at a real estate agency | Foto: © Raimondas Reginis | Ober-Haus

Raimondas Reginis, Head of Market Research for the Baltics at real estate agency Ober-Haus

Raimondas Reginis, Head of Market Research for the Baltics at Ober-Haus, says that the biggest housing affordability challenges in Lithuania are faced by residents of the major cities, and the ratio of housing affordability to salary is not in favour of the buyer.

“According to our 2022 data, a statistical Vilnius resident could buy a 6.6 sqm mid-range apartment for his/her average net annual salary, a Kaunas resident - 8.8 sqm, a Klaipėda resident – 8.9 sqm, a Šiauliai resident – 11.8 sqm, and a Panevėžys resident – 12.3 sqm,” he says.

According to Reginis, the rental market in the capital is the most developed, but the price is also high. The challenges in renting housing are faced by younger people and young families. The availability of housing in the country's largest cities could be boosted by the expansion of the social housing programme by the government and municipalities, and by developers' investment in housing projects to meet the growing demand.

According to Eurostat, Lithuania has one of the highest rates of home ownership in Europe. In 2022, almost 89 per cent of the population in Lithuania owned their own home, while the remaining 11 per cent – rented.

Lýdia Grešáková, sociologist Lýdia Grešáková, sociologist | Foto: © Roman Oravec

Lýdia Grešáková is a sociologist and a member of Spolka, a Košice-based collective of women experts in the field of caring place-making.

To understand the context of the housing crisis in Slovakia, data is needed - there is a lack of specific numbers of dwellings available for housing, we do not have a well-mapped situation of existing rental and social housing. We only have experience, based on the effect after the outbreak of war in Ukraine, when it was possible to find housing for those fleeing relatively quickly. We also do not know what different groups need housing and what their needs are. In Košice, for example, the shelters are mainly for single mothers with children, whereas during the first months of the war numerous families came. Young people often share housing. What are the housing options for them?
 
Rental housing must also be a priority. The housing crisis is a crisis for everyone because housing is generally not affordable. In Slovakia, it takes an average of 13 yearsʼ salary to secure a flat. By comparison, in Belgium or Norway it is 5 gross annual salaries. We need government support in this. Housing, and the ontological security it brings, is a basic human right and a cornerstone that enables individuals to be full members of society. 
 
Supporting the work of the third sector and the emergence of new groupings - Baugruppe and others - would also be a good measure. The city of Košice does not address or open up the issue of housing in any way. It is the DEDO Foundation that is behind the Housing first project in this city. DEDO communicates not with stories but with data, which helps to neutralize the position in political negotiations – over 300 families live in shacks, another 6,000 or so are in segregated locations, often without potable water and heating. Amnesty International has been mapping the social housing situation at a national level. There are more actors in the field of housing, and the crisis does not need to be solved between the city and developers, nor is it necessary to advocate for the needs of only one group.

Dariusz Standerski, Doctor of Economics Dariusz Standerski, Doctor of Economics | Foto: © Dariusz Standerski

Dariusz Standerski, Doctor of Economics, lawyer, lecturer at the Faculty of Economic Sciences at the University of Warsaw, from 2019 to 2023 Director of Legislation at the Left Parliamentary Club.

According to estimates, Poland is short of 1.5 - 2 million apartments. So far, government policies have mostly tried to solve the problem from the demand side – subsidizing housing loans. As a result, housing prices rose, and the housing gap remained high.

In my opinion, the problem should be solved from the supply side. A Housing Program providing for the construction of 300,000 modern apartments for affordable rent should be created. The program will cost about 4.5 billion euros a year, part of which will be covered by European funds. Apartments built under the Housing Program will permanently remain in the public stock. The program will be implemented in partnership with local governments – a feature missing in previous attempts to build apartments with public money. The public housing estates will include families with the lowest incomes as well as the middle class. Social integration will be ensured by a segmentation into several rent categories. As in Western European countries, rents will be regulated and adjusted to financial capacity.

The housing program should be supplemented by a Housing Renovation Fund. In Poland there are about 1.8 million vacant apartments in need of general renovation. The fund will finance up to 20,000 apartments a year to return to the municipal stock. With these programs, two types of housing will be available - public housing to rent and private housing to purchase or rent. An increase in supply will help fill the housing gap and reduce the bubble in this market.

The housing policy activist Kalle Gerigk The housing policy activist Kalle Gerigk | Foto: © Kalle Gerigk

Kalle Gerigk is a housing policy activist for the Right to the City – Cologne initiative (Recht auf Stadt – Köln).

The housing problem in Germany must be solved nationwide. We need five measures.

Firstly, municipal housing construction must be strengthened in order to build many affordable rental flats. This involves municipal housing associations democratically supported by tenant councils. We need significantly improved funding for the municipalities. Local authorities must make substantial investments in their housing companies so that they can build new homes and modernise existing ones to make them more energy-efficient.

Secondly, non-profit housing companies must be subsidised through grants, low-interest loans and tax relief so that they can guarantee permanent occupancy and rent commitments: once a social housing unit, always a social housing unit! Non-profit housing companies include municipal, cooperative and private housing companies that do not maximise profits.

Thirdly, the public sector must allocate ecological subsidies to housing companies so that climate-friendly new builds and energy-efficient modernisation do not lead to unaffordable rents. In return for the mandatory utilisation of subsidies, housing companies must no longer increase rents for energy-related reasons.

Fourthly, public ground must increasingly remain in public hands. Authorisation for the construction of privately owned buildings should then be granted on public land through heritable building rights.

Fifthly, we need three important improvements to tenancy law: The possibility of terminating tenancies for personal use must be abolished. The usual rent increase must not exceed a cap of 10 per cent in three years. The exceptions to the rent cap for new lettings must be abolished.

The Czech investigative journalist Gaby Khazalová The Czech investigative journalist Gaby Khazalová | Foto: © Gaby Khazalová

Gaby Khazalová is an investigative journalist contributing to the Czech online media outlet Deník Referendum, with a primary focus on the housing crisis.

The housing market in the Czech Republic is considered one of the most overvalued among all OECD countries. In order to purchase an apartment in Prague, one must allocate the equivalent of 19 gross annual salaries. Rent prices in Prague consistently rank as the least affordable in the European Union. These are fundamental statistics that have dominated Czech media headlines in recent years. Is there any solution to this issue?

At the European level, we now have ample evidence to argue that the housing crisis will not be resolved through unregulated construction, as some continue to suggest. Whether it's luxurious apartments, micro-living housing, or offices, none of the real estate market's activities promising the highest returns has brought us any closer to addressing the issue of housing unaffordability. Likewise, policies encouraging people to take out mortgages have proven ineffective.

We are witnessing the emergence of generational and class divisions in society. Young people are finding it increasingly challenging to afford homes, unlike their parents' generation. Owning property, or multiple properties, has become a significant socio-economic factor.

Therefore, as a starting point, we need to shift the focus from ownership to the provision of affordable rentals. This entails maintaining robust public housing funds —whether through the renovation of existing flats or the construction of new ones—halting privatizations, discouraging the purchase of apartments as investments, and addressing the issue of empty buildings.

Perspectives_Logo The publication of this article is part of PERSPECTIVES - the new label for independent, constructive, multi-perspective journalism. JÁDU is realising this EU co-financed project with six other editorial offices from Central Eastern Europe under the leadership of the Goethe-Institut. >>> More about PERSPECTIVES

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