Housing requires a social green transition
Housing requires a social green transition
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  • housing . locuire . locuire sociala . social housing . transition . tranzitie .

MKBT participated in a study visit that showed us how the Brussels region is tackling the housing crisis. The visit was part of the SHAPE-EU project supported by the European Affordable Housing Consortium, which has recently organised a series of learning events on the inclusion of vulnerable people in the context of the renovations wave set to take place in all European countries.

We’re happy to have learned that there are innovative and close-to-home initiatives in countries facing similar challenges to Romania (a large stock of severely dilapidated housing and institutional bottlenecks in housing). MOBA Housing in Croatia is trying out a cooperative housing financial model which would keep affordable housing accessible on a long term – meaning that if a tenant decides to eventually sell, they will not be able to sell above the construction & maintenance costs. In Greece, Hellenic Passive House Institute and the volunteer association Passivistas are renovating a multi-family block in Athens, where tenants are facing energy poverty. They are going to transform the block into a passive house, with a 90% lower energy demand and a photovoltaic energy production which exceeds the demand (they are also testing biomass insulation). Housing and Tenants Organisation in Skopje have started a collaborative renovation project with the tenants of a previous public housing block which is now in an extremely bad condition, facing issues such as overstocking, low access to energy and energy poverty.

We learn that the priority is as follows: green transition must be social. Within the just transition, houses are both a fundamental right and a point of energy consumption. Entire Europe needs more affordable quality and energy-efficient social housing.

But back to Brussels —which by the way has a lower population than Bucharest with a nonetheless impressive number of social houses. Imagine that in the last decade, the Bucharest Municipality has only afforded 289 social houses (conform ActiveWatch), while in Brussels, 40.000 social houses have been afforded, and 4.000 are on the way. Nonetheless, this impressive number only stands for 8% of the entire housing stock; there are still 53.000 residents on the waiting list and one third of the population in the Brussels region is threatened by poverty, according to SLRB (Societé du Lodgement de la Region de Bruxelles-Capitale). Representatives of European authorities (DG REGIO, DG ENER, the Parliament and the European Commission) all said that housing must become a priority topic on the EU agenda, backed up by adequate funding.

Even Brussels is struggling with finances, since investments in social housing are dependent on ever-decreasing state subsidies. But at the same time, the investment model being developed is highly innovative, prioritizing social and ecological sustainability. As it should be, renovation is prioritized over new construction. We visited two types of office spaces and factories which had been converted into social housing; both made use of pre-existing structures and resources as much as possible, investing heavily in materials leading to energy neutrality. Each block has communal areas and receives a budget for tenant activities that build social cohesion (1.7 million euros at the regional level). This budget is usually administered by a tenants’ council at the block level and an elected association to implement the activities. Tenant mobilization is encouraged, including through an application where they can contact the housing association, pay rent, or report repair needs.

Overall, the idea of neighbourhood-wide renovations was supported so as to increase the quality of housing altogether and not risk the re-emergence of spatial inequalities. For example, social blocks should also have schools, green spaces and be close to jobs. A very pressing issue in Brussels —that we could learn from, is the risk of renovictions or when, following renovation, former tenants can no longer move back in and the poor housing situation simply moves to another part of the city. Return agreements and extensive tenant communication, consultation and assistance procedures have been used to protect tenants going through renovations.

Our conclusion upon return: besides brick and mortar, social housing investments must take quality living conditions into accounts, have an overview on functional neighbourhoods, spend more on tenant inclusion and less on constructions that put pressure on already vulnerable people. If you’d like to learn more about other case studies in “green social renovations”, please check SHAPE-EU.