The Affordable Housing initiative and the New European Bauhaus: EU policy implications at national and local levels

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In connection to the Renovation Wave, the European Commission’s strategy to foster renovation and promote climate neutrality and economic growth, the New European Bauhaus and the Affordable Housing Initiative appear as drivers for recovery and boosters of sustainable and affordable housing in Europe.

This plenary gathers experts and members of the European Commission to discuss what are the effective implications of these initiatives at national and local levels in Europe, and what impacts can be expected for the supply of social housing in the COVID-19 aftermath.

Moderator: Michaela Kauer – Director Brussels Liaison Office at City of Vienna

Speakers:

  • Karel Vanderpoorten, Policy Officer – Social Economy, Directorate-General for Interal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, European Commission
  • Alessandro Rancati – Member of the New Bauhaus Unit at the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre
  • Laura Colini – Co-founder of Tesserae, Expert at URBACT
  • Gerhard Koch – Head of Public Affairs, Wienerberger Building Solutions / Wienerberger AG

Interested in learning more? Watch other sessions here.

Panel summary

A lot of people have been working on improving the housing situation in Europe.

Two examples are new initiatives that target affordable housing and neighborhood-based urban development.

The Affordable Housing initiative was announced as part of a recovery package that includes seven programs within it. The main objective and ambition are to renovate housing districts. Despite several projects focusing on regional developments, this program tackles challenges existing in communities. It incorporates multi-apartment buildings and blocks as well as opens up a broader discussion on urban development.

Meanwhile, the New European Bauhaus is described as a cultural arm of the Affordable Housing initiative. It was announced in conjunction with the Green Deal, takes a neighborhood-based approach, and features the tagline of beautiful, sustainable, together.

The Affordable Housing initiative

One of the key flagships of the recovery package is the Affordable Housing initiative. Perhaps the most important component of the program relates to the renovation of existing buildings.

The need for renovation has reached a critical point. The Green Deal, which is a longer-term policy, has revealed that 40% of our energy consumption comes from buildings, as does the majority of greenhouse gas emissions.

One of the positives of focusing on deep renovation is the huge potential for job creation. It’s not seen as a cost. It is viewed as an opportunity in terms of ecology and wellbeing.

In addition to job creation, the renovation program can also help tackle energy poverty. Upgrading the worse performing buildings and decarbonizing heating and cooling are significant components of the Affordable Housing initiative. Approximately 34 million people today are in energy poverty, and forecasts show that this number will continue to grow.

Addressing this issue coincides with the focus on livability. Social housing facilities are under pressure in terms of psychological health. The pandemic has uncovered that these buildings don’t address the modern standards in terms of access to leisure, green spaces, or areas for co-working. This is why there is a significant focus on renovation within the Affordable Housing initiative.

The New European Bauhaus

While renovating properties and addressing energy poverty is essential, there also needs to be a discussion about the social components. Public housing needs to have a specific level of quality and a certain number of services attached to it. It’s not just a technical solution.

This is reflected in the approach of the New European Bauhaus. It began with asking Europeans to define the kind of experiences they would associate with the words beautiful, sustainable, and inclusivity. It helped collect overarching principles and topics as well as the impacts it hopes to achieve.

Some examples of this include regaining a sense of belonging and the need for a long-term life cycle. There is a requirement to reconnect with the idea of a place having an identity. There needs to be a story with the local culture. It also must have a transformational path with an impact on the ground. This doesn’t necessarily mean associating innovation with cutting-edge technology. It could be revisiting methods and approaches that are more sustainable, provide a different aesthetic, or feature ergonomic qualities.

Understanding the housing situation from the perspective of cities

A regulatory framework is either impossible or very difficult to create in some cities. There aren’t fair land policies. Taxation is an issue. There are also the ecological problems and energy issues. All of these areas need to get exposed.

The Affordable Housing initiative and New European Bauhaus create a cultivation of hope. There is a positive attitude as what is happening has never occurred before. There is a lot of potential, which translates into pragmatic innovation.

One of the many questions that remain is the absorption capacity of the funding. At the moment, the money is reaching the member states before getting allocated to the cities. In some cases, there is dialogue at a national and local level. In other instances, it’s getting dropped on top of them with very little notice or discussion.

How can industries contribute to the goals?

Industries agree that a holistic approach is required. It’s not just about the construction or materials production phase. It’s the entire life cycle. This includes maintenance, repair works, and potentially the demolition or end of life as the materials could be recycled.

All phases have an impact on sustainability and affordability. For example, the energy consumption of a building has a substantial environmental and economic impact. There is also an effect on affordability for the tenants. That’s why it’s vital to have a structure that can serve to live.

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