The quest for affordable and adequate housing for all in the middle of global pandemic disruptions and associated widespread prosperity losses has never been so important as it is now.
The timing of the Europe Housing Forum is perfect. Building foundations for the future of affordable housing is a key theme that everyone around the world should think about and act on. The forum provides an opportunity for open and honest dialogue about how to make housing a cornerstone of rebuilding societies better than ever.
But what is the role of public authorities and governments in relation to housing? Have there been any policies or measures that have been successful during the pandemic that could help provide direction? What are the most significant gaps and failures we can all learn from? We also need to look at what needs to change, create new ideas, and present agendas that can make a difference and provide affordable and adequate housing for all.
What Issues Were Identified During the Pandemic?
One of the most critical lessons learned from the pandemic is how important a safe, healthy, and comfortable home really is.
Citizens around the world were asked to isolate, work, and educate from their homes. As such, it put a spotlight on how significant the housing crisis across the globe really is. No matter what city or regional area you look at, more and more people are struggling to afford a decent property.
Throughout Europe, housing prices have risen 7% in the last year. This is during a time when many people have seen their income decrease. In particular, those on casual or flexible contracts. For these individuals, owning a house is unrealistic, especially as rent is also rising faster than wages.
In Africa, before the pandemic, the focus has been on providing food to residents. However, there is a push to change the priority to housing. Governments want citizens to work and educate from home. But not everyone has quality surroundings to be able to do so. In some areas, families will keep food inside the house during the day and outside at night, which comes with a range of issues.
The housing affordability crisis has also identified issues with the quality of properties. Damp homes with poor insulation have a severe impact on health, particularly for children. There are also properties that are too small for families to live in. With education going online, overcrowding has become even more problematic. These concerns will have long-lasting effects even after the pandemic has ended.
What Initiatives Were Put in Place?
There is also the issue of those without homes. While it was previously ignored, it became essential to shelter the homeless due to the public health risk. The situation demonstrated that the existing solutions are just not working. There were some initiatives to build temporary housing and place individuals in hotels, which hopefully can be used to launch a housing-based approach for the homeless in the future. However, some of these emergency measures have already been cut back.
There were even fiscal measures put in place. Some examples included tax relief and wage subsidies. While they saved jobs and stopped forced evictions, they weren’t sustainable for the long term.
A moratorium on evictions was put in place in many cities and regional areas around the globe. However, suspension of rent and mortgage payments created additional debts that caused more difficulties for their repayments. What the pandemic has made clear is that for any level of government, it’s extremely difficult to make an impact on housing because the rules of the market prevail.
Many governments have stopped investing in affordable housing solutions and are actively inviting financial investors into their markets. More money flows into these markets than what people can actually afford, which proves that something isn’t right.
What is the Role of Governments Now?
Housing is a human right.
This should be the starting point of any housing policy. Existing legislations need to be reviewed in the wake of the pandemic. They need to be streamlined to accommodate the challenges that COVID-19 has caused.
To progressively realize the right to housing, officials need to reign in the market forces and have the government take back control.
It needs to be established that houses are for people. Not for profit.
Working from home can save time and money for commuting. But it needs a home to make it possible. Governments also need to ensure they don’t segregate those who don’t have access to technologies. It can deprive low-income families of education due to online learning requirements.
The good news is that the conversation has begun. The future is looking bright, and provided lessons are learned from the pandemic, significant change can occur.
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Moderator: Steffen Wetzstein – University of Western Australia / European Network for Housing Research / URBACT
Kim van Sparrentak – Member of the European Parliament, Netherlands
Sanya Wilson – Mayor of Koboko, Uganda
Doris Andoni – Chair of the UNECE Committee on Urban Development, Housing and Land Management; and Head of Housing, Ministry of Finance and Economy of Albania
Jaana Nevalainen – Senior Ministerial Adviser, Ministry of the Environment, Finland
Štěpán Ripka – Housing Advisor for the City of Prague, Czechia
Tobia Zevi – Councilor for Heritage and Housing Policies for the City of Rome