Housing rights before market interests, for a socially just recovery

Greens/EFA MEP Kim van Sparrentak is leading a report to tackle the housing crisis, putting forward solutions that are needed now, more than ever, in the face of the current pandemic and the European recovery.  

Our housing system is not working for people. Across Europe, from Paris to Warsaw, Dublin to Athens, an increasing number of people in the EU are struggling to afford the rising costs of housing. Over 80 million people in the EU are overburdened by housing costs, while some 10% of the EU population spend at least 40% of their income on housing. 

This is in large part down to the lack of investment in affordable housing that amounts to an investment gap of EUR 57 billion per year. Another important factor is the financialization of the housing market, especially in cities, where investors treat housing as a tradeable asset rather than a place to live. But housing is a fundamental rights issue. When people are no longer able to cope with their living expenses, they risk ending up on the streets. 

Many Europeans have been evicted from their houses since the financial crisis of 2008 and we must avoid that happening again with the economic downturn that is taking place as a result of the pandemic. In the last decade, the number of homeless people in Europe has risen by 70%. Any night 700.000 people are sleeping rough in Europe. 

The COVID-19 crisis and the need to go into lockdown has shown that we can shelter and house homeless people if we really want to. Emergency measures taken by governments to protect homeless people in the context of COVID-19 must be maintained as long as needed and be followed up with adequate, permanent solutions.

The current pandemic has also aggravated housing insecurity, household over indebtedness, and the risk of eviction and homelessness. As we emerge from the crisis, it’s paramount that we focus on building back with better solutions and resilience in the face of future crises. We must treat access to housing as a fundamental rightEvery person should have the ability to live a life in security, with shelter for themselves and their family.

Greens/EFA MEP Kim van Sparrentak is rapporteur for the European Parliament in the Employment and Social Affairs Committee on the report: ‘Access to Decent and Affordable Housing for All’. The report outlines proposals to tackle the housing crisis in Europe. It sets out the concrete policy and legislative measures Europe should take to transform the situation and ensure that housing is decent, affordable, and accessible for all. #Right2Housing#affordablehousing  

Row of houses/ toa-heftiba Unsplash
Row of houses/ toa-heftiba Unsplash

7 measures to make the shift at European level

1. Set a European goal of eradicating homelessness by 2030.

Everyone has the right to a home. We call on the EU Commission to take stronger action to support Member States in reducing and eradicating homelessness by committing to end it by 2030. The European Pillar of Social Rights addresses in its Principle 19 housing assistance and homelessness; it needs to be fully implemented by EU countries and become a legally binding instrument. 

We are calling on the European Commission to propose an EU Framework for National Homelessness Strategies, within which Member States need to prioritise the provision of permanent housing to homeless people and put an end to the criminalization of homelessness. 

2. Fight evictions and create inclusive housing markets.

Member States and regional and local authorities need to put in place legal provisions to protect renters and mortgage payers from eviction, by favouring long-term rental contracts as the default option, rent transparency and rent control measures. 

The European Commission must assess and propose, where appropriate, new laws to counter the financialization of housing markets by mid 2021. We call on Member States and local authorities to put in place tax measures to counter speculative investment. 

3. Increase Europe’s affordable housing stock. 

There is a shortage of social housing in Europe, which is the main housing-related cause of homelessness. Providing affordable, energy-efficient housing for low- and middle-income groups is an important measure to avoid people becoming homeless or living in inadequate housing. Changes to the EU’s state aid rules would enable regions and local authorities to build more social housing. Member States should also be allowed to invest more in affordable housing under the EU’s fiscal rules. We need to see this reflected in the reform of the European Stability and Growth Pact. Funding for social, affordable, and energy-efficient housing and for tackling homelessness and housing exclusion should also be provided through the EU budget.   

4Devise an integrated European strategy on housing 

The European Union can no longer hide behind the fact that it has no competence on housing policy. The macro-economic and fiscal policy of the EU has a huge impact on housing affordability and exclusion. The EU needs to step up its game and come with an integrated strategy on housing using different policy fields that are not always the first in our mind when we think of housing policy. Housing affordability needs to be better reflected in the European Semester. We want to see Principle 19 of the European Pillar of Social Rights on homelessness and housing assistance turned into action.

5. Prioritise the European Green Deal. 

The Renovation Wave can play a big role in providing healthy, adequate and accessible housing, tackling climate change, reducing energy costs and helping alleviate energy poverty. To achieve this, the Commission should focus its efforts on social housing and the least energy-efficient homes. We should avoid that renovation leads to higher housing costs and gentrification. Social investments in this field provide for new local Green jobs and energy savings. We call on Member States to prioritise renovation in their recovery and resilience plans to achieve deep renovation of 3% of the European building stock, per year.

6. Adapt European rules for digital platforms.

The expansive growth of short-term holiday rental in cities and popular tourist destinations is extracting housing from the market, driving up prices and has a negative impact on liveability We want to give cities more control over rentals via platforms such as Airbnb and Booking.com and ensure that these platforms share information with the cities, respecting data protection rules. 

7. Combat housing discrimination. 

It is high time to ensure equal treatment for all and non-discrimination in the search for affordable housing. Housing is a basic right for everyone. The European Commission must enforce it by using infringement procedures against member states that are discriminating against population groups, such as Roma. European standards and investment should contribute to accessible housing for people with disabilities. In addition, the Commission must work to unblock the anti-discrimination directive that has been blocked in the European Council for 10 years. 

About the author

Kim van Sparrentak is an MEP with the Greens/EFA Group in the European Parliament. She is leading a report to tackle the housing crisis in the Employment and Social Affairs Committee.

Greens/EFA MEP Kim van Sparrentak
Greens/EFA MEP Kim van Sparrentak

More information:
Francesca Jenner – Social Justice Campaigner