Affordable Housing Needs Europe – Europe Needs Affordable Housing

Housing campaign
Affordable Housing Needs Europe – Europe Needs Affordable Housing

Declaration of Portimão – the contribution of socialist local and regional leaders on housing of 5 April 2024

Affordable Housing Needs Europe – Europe Needs Affordable Housing

We, progressive locally and regionally elected politicians, deplore the fact that the lack of affordable, adequate, social and sustainable housing is fuelling a housing crisis all over Europe, a crisis that is exacerbated by rising living costs and energy prices at a time when climate change is accelerating. This crisis impacts everyone, but in particular young and older people, single parents, racialised communities, the LGTBQI community, people with disabilities and other disadvantaged minorities. Women are hit even harder by the lack of affordable housing due to the gender pay and gender pension gap, often leading to dependencies in violent relationships. 

We consider that housing should feature among our top political priorities for the 2024 European Elections and we call for a European Plan for affordable housing. For us, housing is a basic human need and a fundamental right that must be safeguarded for everybody. Housing policies must be designed to serve the common good and create a good quality of life for all in a sustainable future.

We acknowledge that responsibility for housing policies lies at the national, regional and local levels and that the Union has no explicit competence in the field of housing policy. However, the over-riding objectives of the Treaty include the need to further strengthen economic, social and territorial cohesion. Moreover, in the areas of financial regulation, competition law, energy efficiency, regulatory and planning norms, cohesion policy, climate action, and urban/rural and social policy, the European Union can make a difference when it comes to housing for the common good. 

The EU needs to take decisive action to make the enforceable right to housing for all a reality. We also stress that local and regional authorities are indispensable in implementing and adapting EU and national policies to the realities on the ground, in partnership with developers of public, cooperative, affordable, social and sustainable housing and tenants’ and residents’ organisations. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to the housing problem in Europe: subsidiarity is paramount to achieving decent, safe and affordable housing for all.

Today, tens of millions people of Europeans are overburdened by housing costs, according to Eurostat, demonstrating the need for affordable and social housing in Europe. In concrete terms, average rents in the EU were almost a quarter higher at the end of 2023 than at the start of 2010, and the average cost of a house in the EU was almost 50% higher in mid-2023 than at the same time in 2010. Furthermore, 17.1% of the EU population live in overcrowded houses and 10.3% spend more than 40% of their income on their rent. One third of EU citizens live in rental housing. Private rental market tenants are in a particularly precarious situation: 46% feel at risk of needing to leave their accommodation in the next three months because they can no longer afford it, and they report more problems with poor energy efficiency than those with other types of tenure. The investment gap in housing is also estimated at a minimum of EUR 57 billion per year. Furthermore, 47% of young Europeans between the ages of 18 and 34 are still forced to live at home with their parents. Only 17% of students and young people have access to student housing. Waiting lists for social housing are getting longer and longer. Housing accounts for 40% of the EU’s energy consumption and 36% of Europe’s greenhouse emissions. There are at least 900 000 homeless people sleeping rough or in emergency accommodation on any given night in the EU, and there is often a lack of legal and structural resources to prevent evictions. Moreover, the overall proportion of public, cooperative and social housing has been decreasing for years; the sell-off of publicly funded housing has increased the problem further. Financialisation and aggressive acquisition of housing by large funds are contributing to greater scarcity of affordable, adequate and quality housing and to sky-rocketing rents. 

Against this background, EU policies, legislation and funds must contribute towards decent, safe and affordable housing for all that meets the climate goals and allows for sustainable and inclusive communities. We are committed to implementing housing as a human right which must be embedded in a multi-governance model that serves the common good, thus creating better living conditions for present and future generations.

For the meeting in Portimão on 5 April 2024, we propose the following measures.

  1.  Support housing for the common good: increase the EU’s supporting competences, EU legislation, funding and knowledge to maintain and enhance good housing policies across EU states, regions and cities.
  2. Implement housing as a human right: continue translating the European Pillar of Social Rights (in particular principle 19) and the initiatives of the associated action plan into programmes and schemes, including funding, to prevent homelessness as far as possible and solve it rapidly whenever it does occur. Ending homelessness sustainably is more humane and cost-effective than managing it.
  3. Increase public investment in housing by including, in the European Semester and fiscal-structural plans, revised housing cost overburden and energy poverty indicators, especially with regard to gender inequalities, and a quantitative national public investment target for public, social and affordable housing in all EU Member States, with financial sanctions if this goal is not reached. The long-term social return on investment from the housing sector should be fully taken into account in the public debt and deficit rules. We also call for the introduction of a social taxonomy to increase private investment in affordable, social and sustainable housing.
  4. Use the next funding period of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) to build new social housing units in all European regions, and ensure that any housing project involving EU funds earmarks 30% of funds for social and affordable housing for the middle- and low-income households. We also propose increasing ERDF investment in public transportation, health services, high- and middle-school education, and green spaces in peripheral residential neighbourhoods that are affected by segregation.
  5. Call for housing-related investment under cohesion policy to be complemented as of 2026 by a European Investment tool succeeding Next Generation EU that earmarks at least 10% of investment for affordable housing.
  6. Develop innovation in housing at European level. To solve the housing crisis, including its gender, ageing and environmental dimensions, exchanging good practices by setting up a dedicated EU housing platform is crucial in collecting data, in adapting regulatory norms and in developing innovative ways of managing housing, for example through co-ownership, community-led and cooperative housing.
  7. Recognise social and affordable housing for all – and not only for disadvantaged people or socially less privileged groups – as a service of general economic interest (SGEI) and call upon the next European Commission to amend the SGEI exemption decision so that Member States, regions and cities have the option of setting up State-aid schemes under the SGEI exemption decision, including schemes that benefit middle-income households.
  8. Develop a ‘housing affordability check’ at Member State level, in particular to address homelessness and establish a common set of indicators measuring housing affordability at European level.
  9. Devise an EU Strategy for Combating Homelessness by building on the European Platform on Combating Homelessness, with an operational budget and work programme for the period 2024 to 2030 and a Council Recommendation on Ending Homelessness.
  10. Establish an EU plan for tackling the student housing crisis to acknowledge that students across Europe are confronted by a substantial lack of available and affordable accommodation.
  11. Acknowledge that short-term rental housing jeopardises tenant rights and disrupts local communities, causing displacement and gentrification. Request the full implementation of the new EU framework to regulate short-term rentals and mitigate the impact of short-term rental digital platforms on housing markets, particularly as regards platforms’ obligations to comply with local and regional regulations and to inform local and regional authorities about housing units used for short-term rentals.
  12. Establish, with European cities and regions and with the support of tenants’ unions, a common framework for local rental price control and rent stabilisation systems. The European Union should encourage Member States and local and regional authorities to put caps on rents and link rents to the energy performance of buildings, implementing the principle of housing cost neutrality after renovation.
  13. Increase the European Commission’s vigilance in terms of market regulation in the housing sector, by taking action to counter speculation and money laundering in the housing market at EU level through an EU-wide real estate transaction transparency registry including the beneficial owner of the respective property, thus ensuring that every tenant knows the owner’s identity. By counteracting financialisation and by regulating the housing market, we will avoid predatory trends set by large for-profit real estate investors and prevent the phenomenon of empty, unused buildings.
  14. Create a European housing shield modelled on the Youth and the Child Guarantees to ensure that Europeans of all ages have an enforceable right to decent housing, and call for a universal right to shelter with minimum requirements set at European level.
  15. Broaden the approach to renovation and circularity to foster local supply chains, quality job creation, social enterprises and biodiversity; phase out fossil-fuel-powered heating systems in housing by 2050, encourage the installation of environmentally friendly heating systems and insulation, and establish financial support programmes, especially for vulnerable households, to achieve energy performance goals, in combination with fixed performance obligations for the housing sector in order to reduce its emissions and implement measurable energy savings for residents.
  16. Use the revenues of the EU emissions trading system (ETS) and the Social Climate Fund to finance grants to help vulnerable EU citizens renovate their homes and to finance climate housing allowances for those in need – jointly managing this scheme with regions – and establish a comprehensive policy to overcome energy poverty and to ensure that the Renovation Wave and the Affordable Housing Initiative make housing more affordable across the EU.
  17. Promote new aesthetic and comfort standards for housing in general and social and public housing in particular through the New European Bauhaus initiative or the European Responsible Housing Initiative, in order to make the densification of cities more acceptable, limit urban sprawl and increase co-design and resident participation.
  18. Develop intergenerational housing, especially where older people and students, apprentices and trainees can be mixed together and thus benefit from exchanges between generations and preferential housing costs, and promote these experiences under projects co-financed by the EU to reinforce cohesionand universal design in Europe.
  19. Raise awareness of the gender dimension in housing policies: gender pay and pension gaps make it harder for women to find affordable housing. In the criteria for allocating social and affordable housing, priority consideration should be given to the situation of single-parent families, most of which are women-led, and the discrimination they suffer when seeking housing.
  20. Request that the European Commission, in partnership with the European Economic and Social Committee and the European Committee of the Regions, organise an annual EU summit on social and affordable housing, bringing together all the stakeholders involved in coordinating the Member States’ actions on social and affordable housing, based on a multi-level approach and respect for the principle of subsidiarity.