• A roof over everyone’s head

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    What’s on the plate for cities? According to Laura Colini, URBACT Expert, it's due time to put ROOF’s pledge to eradicate homelessness into action.

    “Housing is a fundamental necessity and the access to housing is a fundamental right, as citizens who lack housing cannot participate fully in society of avail themselves of all their fundamental rights.”


    The report on the fundamental rights in the EU, adopted by the European Parliament in September 2022, comes at a right time when the ROOF Action Planning Network has wrapped up its activities. Through this network, for the first time in 20 years, the URBACT Programme has co-financed a project for cities to eradicate homelessness.


    The partner cities were led  to collaborate towards the same goal, building on several actions, commitments and initiatives. It’s a successful story of how local, national and European policies can be brought together by URBACT. In this case, tackling one of the most pressing issues: the right to adequate, dignified and affordable housing.


    Gathering the take-away lessons from ROOF, this article looks at the challenges lying ahead for our cities – which hopefully will inspire future Action Planning Networks’ partners.



    Encouraging cities to join forces


    Back in 2016, the EU Urban Agenda started its activities with the overall objective to create thematic and voluntary exchanges to group cities, Member States and international organisations in thematic partnerships to discuss better funding opportunities, knowledge production and regulations at EU level. At the time, none of the four pilot partnerships –  on migration, air quality , housing and poverty – officially had  the topic of homelessness in their agenda, nor did the URBACT III Programme.


    The European Federation of National Organisation Working with Homelessness (FEANTSA) – a major player at the EU level, providing studies, advocacy and annual reports on housing exclusion in Europe – was finally invited to join the EU Urban Agenda Partnership on Urban Poverty only a few months after its launch. Thanks to the knowledge and input provided by FEANTSA the partnership supported two actions: 


    • to end homelessness by 2030 through the reform of social inclusion strategies at national level; 
    • and to build capacities, so different funds – ERDF, ESF and FEAD – could be used to end homelessness. These actions were a plea for the participation of all levels of governance.


    URBACT came in in at the hinge of this call for action: the programme was timely ready to organise a lab session on the topic of housing and homelessness during the URBACT City Festival, which took place in Lisbon (PT) in September 2018; in addition to the ‘Cities fighting homelessness’ policy lab, which was co-organised by URBACT and FEANTSA in Paris (FR) later the same year, welcoming both beneficiary and new-comer cities.


    This policy lab was intended as follow up to the Urban Poverty Partnership, encouraging cities to engage and to take practical measures towards these two main partnership actions. Participants heard about the Housing First Hub, the re-use of vacant properties as temporary housing, homelessness prevention methods among vulnerable groups and the Housing Solution platform.


    The municipality of Paris shared its practices about the ‘Solidarity Night’ (“Nuit de la solidariété”) and a national representative from Finland presented the key findings of the Housing First model in Helsinki (FI), alongside national policy commitments. At last, the policy lab ended with a pitch from Patricia Vanderbauwhede, from Ghent’s city administration (BE), so other cities could join their 2019 bid to embark on the Action Planning Network journey.


    At the time, the city of Ghent had already committed to the United Nations’ pledge to #MakeTheShift and, today, it has successfully led nine EU cities in the framework of ROOF.



    It takes a village… a city, a country and the EU


    Ghent’s bid became a reality with the ROOF Action Planning Network, working at full speed to end homelessness using housing solutions. For three years, the cities of Braga (PT), Glasgow (UK), Liège (BE), Odense (DK), Pozńan (PL), Thessaloniki (EL), Toulouse Métropole (FR) and Timisoara (RO) have tested new ways of working and changing people’s mindset to change local and national policy-making, thus, putting the Housing First model in action. This is proof that it takes a city, a whole country and the EU to effectively end homelessness.


    Objective: end and prevent homelessness


    Following extensive documentation in terms of policy design, advocacy at all levels, capacity-building trainings and events – such as the network final conference and the Winter School – the ROOF Network has came up with four recommendations:


    • the EU must develop an Ending Homelessness Strategy 2024 – 2025, which must include tangible solutions to improve housing affordability and quality;
    •  the EU and the Member States should develop a joint monitoring system, with harmonized indicators and ad-hoc surveys, to inform policy decisions in regards to homelessness;
    • housing-led approaches, as the Housing First, should be promoted as key methods to tackle homelessness;
    • EU structural and investment funds should be allocated to tackle this challenge by expanding the affordable housing stock, while providing support to allow people to live and thrive independently.


    When co-developing their local Integrated Action Plans, ROOF partners were able to experiment with different practices. For example, the Greek city of Thessaloniki set up a Social Rental Agency. This is a non-profit agency that, henceforth, addresses housing related issues from poor and vulnerable groups. It also works with generating affordable housing stock, piloting measures for future larger Housing First programmes.


    The city of Ghent has taken a more holistic approach. The municipality understood that mental health, drug care clinics and social were topics which should be dealt alongside housing solutions. That’s why the city has pilot a Small Scale Action where an Assertive Community Treatment team (ACT) was put in place, so different professionals could work together – from city planners, to public health and social workers. Using common data and an open dialogue approach, the ACT team collaborates to help vulnerable individuals and households. The results from this experience will feed the Housing First system and the training of future ACT members.


    Housing First - moving away from the staircase model


    The participation of the Tolouse Métropole in the ROOF Network has brought a shift in the territorial strategies: from the “staircase” approach to the Housing First model. This has led the metropolis towards a more precise knowledge around homelessness and a better overview of what can be practically achieved in the long run. This partner worked in its whole metropolitan area to raise awareness, to increase the affordable housing stock and to consolidate a multidisciplinary support offer.



    Call for long-term measures


    During the ROOF Network lifespan, a series of radical and sudden changes hit the world. The global pandemic showed the sheer evidence that those who experience homelessness are the most vulnerable. Covid-19 indeed made the misery more visible and harsh, but regardless of the virus, the conditions driving individuals towards homelessness are systemic.


    At the closure of the ROOF Network, housing has also proved to be an urgent matter in the context in Ukraine.  Back in July, the European Commission has approved the Safe Home Initiative, to support and guide Member and Partner States, regional and local authorities to organise and facilitate private housing initiatives  to prevent the risk of homelessness for those fleeing the war


    Likewise, the consequence of the skyrocketing electricity prices has increased an energy poverty, which will most likely affect people in vulnerable situations. According to the 2021 study by FEANTSA, energy poverty already touches about 50 million households in the EU. The study sees  ‘Just Transition Mechanism and Renovation Wave’ targeted to become decisive instruments of the energy transition towards a climate-neutral – and fair – economy. Thus, addressing not exclusively training and employment opportunities, but also the eradication of extreme forms of poverty through investment in adequate housing for low-income and vulnerable groups.


    Working to end homelessness means to rethink how societies function, how the economies and finance create inequalities, how all governments engage with their welfare, energy transition, social and housing policies. Not to mention urgent crisis, which are beyond anyone’s control.  This also shows that the actions pledged by the ROOF cities are fundamental to be prepared towards any kind of unprecedented scenario, because they work on reversing the mechanism of poverty.


    That’s precisely why local, national and European governments need to be ready for unexpected societal challenges, through long-term solutions. The ROOF cities have joined, with a manifesto, the European Platform on Combatting Homelessness (EPOCH), which is an important strategy to build a common understanding and commitment for concrete actions.


    As for now, many countries are taking the extra mile to re-design national plans and emphasise the Housing First model. In 2021, the Italian government has renewed its interest in homelessness prevention policies, via the ‘National Recovery and Resilience Plan’. It allocated 450 million EUR to the provision of Housing First services and it increased 2.8 billion EUR to the construction and rehabilitation of the social housing stock.


    In France, the draft for the ESF+ national programme on social inclusion (2021 – 2027) includes actions to support maintenance and access to housing. This shall be done via multidisciplinary support, which includes people based in temporary housing to promote access to permanent options.  This creates a new scope of use for the European Social Fund for tackling homelessness and pushing for the Housing First approach.


    Czech Republic, having first-hand witnessed the success of the Housing First pilot in the city of Brno (CZ) in 2016, has launched a national call on this subject with a budget of 6 million EUR, in 2018. Today, the country is trying to up-scale the initiative by drafting new calls, following a consultation process with the civil society. Both calls envisage a total budget of 35 million EUR until 2027, with the first one being published later this year.




    Cities needed NOW!


    It’s important to grasp what cities can actually do in terms of housing and homelessness – the ROOF Network represents an incredible experience in this regard, yet a lot more remains to be done. Climate adaptation growing concerns related to aspects as the staggering energy prices or the “renoviction” – landlords who evict their tenants, on the grounds of planned renovations in the building.


    The 2019 EU Green Deal aims to make the EU climate-neutral by 2050, which includes a “renovation wave” to improve energy performance in buildings. This inaugurated an investment in energy efficiency renewal in the housing sector. Although overall all well intended, if proper measures are not put in place to protect the vulnerable from the adverse effects of the “greening”, we might witness a steep increase of urban poverty.


    There’s definitely no time to waste. There are plenty of actions cities can take to seize opportunities at EU level to find socially, environmentally and just responses. That’s why the upcoming call for URBACT Action Planning Networks – the first one for this programming period – is a great occasion for cities to explore ideas and experiment with new solutions.




    Find you next network partners


    Do you have an idea for a Action Planning Network on this subject? Submit it to the URBACT Partner Search Tool and find other cities and peers who are interested in tackling this challenge!
    From urbact
  • Adequate and Affordable Housing



    Over the past 1.5 years, Urban Innovative Actions (UIA) and URBACT have explored how cities can design housing policies and practical solutions to implement the right to housing. There have also been positive collaborations with other stakeholders including but not limited to, Housing Europe, FEANTSA, Fondation Abbé Pierre, EUROCITIES and the International Union of Tenants (IUT). 


    We have collected city experiences and concrete practices from various European cities at the municipal level already implementing the right to housing that others can take inspiration from and exchange between other stakeholders, all gathered in one web platform.


    Most recently URBACT has also contributed with the Urban Agenda for the EU  - Culture and Cultural Heritage Partnership, notably on the first action: regulating short-term rentals. The findings from this work are available on the policy paper Towards a Sustainable Transition in Urban Tourism (here). 



    Visit right2housing.eu




    Right to Housing


    The URBACT Knowledge Hub brings together good practices from across the EU, with the latest urban trends, to fill the gaps and ensure the learning is widely accessible. Today, more European cities and social movements are calling on governments at all levels to take responsibility and reaffirm housing as a fundamental right rather than as a commodity. Cities are leading this movement and designing together effective solutions through concrete practices in order to implement the right to housing.

    Street art in Budapest (photo by Stefanie Weber)
    Cities engaging in the RIGHT to HOUSING



    The ‘Cities engaging in the right to housing’ initiative was successful in achieving a large and diverse outreach of the audience for each event, web conference and output delivered. The initial list of contacts interested in the topic of housing rose from 200+ people to more than 1500 towards the end of the activity at the final event. For the web conferences, there were more than 1200 attendees from 38 different countries. Most of the participants were city authorities, institutional organisations, NGOs and academics. They ranged from city policy officers, administrators, elected representatives to members of staff from UN Habitat, Housing Europe, FEANTSA, social housing agencies and the European Commission. What is even more positively striking is that the majority of the participants had not previously been involved in URBACT or UIA. Overall, the majority, around 92% of the respondents, found the web conferences to be very useful.


    Watch the webinar recordings



    Right2Housing URBACT - UIA timeline of activities



    ALT/BAU on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ALT_BAU
    The YouTube channel of the ALT/BAU network: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC9cnqLy5ZLM9vBTrve1bvFw


    Phase 1 Kick-off meeting, Rybnik (PL). Phase 1 Final Meeting, Chemnitz (DE).
    Phase 2: Kick-off meeting, Seraing (BE), 1st Transnational Thematic Meeting, Vilafranca del Penedès (ES), 2nd Transnational Thematic Meeting, Riga (LV), 3rd Transsnational Thematic Meeting, Constanta (RO)
    Phase 2 Mid-Term Review Meeting, Chemnitz (DE)
    Phase 2 Network Final Meeting, Turin (IT)
    Capacity Building Webinar "How to Reactivate vacant residential Buildings"

    Municipality of Athienou
    2, Archbishop Makarios III Ave.
    7600 Athienou Cyprus


    Municipality of Santiago de Compostela


    Municipality of Udine (Italy)


    For any enquires into Tech Revolution, email: DMC@Barnsley.gov.uk

    Keep following our social media channels as we develop Tech Revolution 2.0 as part of the second wave of URBACT ||| Programme. 

    Follow our Twitter: @Tech_RevEu
    Follow our Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/company/urbact-techrevolution/




    Av. Movimento das Forças Armadas

    2700-595 Amadora



    +351 21 436 9000

    Ext. 1801


    City of Rome


    Department of European Funds and Innovation

    Via Palazzo di Città, 1 - 10121 Turin (Italy)



    Câmara Municipal de Lisboa

    Departamento de Desenvolvimento Local

    Edifício Municipal, Campo Grande nº25, 6ºE | 1749 -099 Lisboa




    Laura González Méndez. Project coordinator.

    Gijón City Council


    Municipality of Piraeus


    City of Ljubljana

    Mestni trg 1

    1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia


    Project Coordinator Martin Neubert

    +49 371 355 7029



    The ALT/BAU Transfer Network focuses on alternative strategies in central and historic districts of European cities to activate unused and decaying housing stock resulting from demographic, economic and social change. Based on the experiences from Chemnitz’ URBACT Good Practice “Housing Agency for Shrinking Cities” (Agentur StadtWohnen Chemnitz), the network transfers experiences that proved successful to proactively connect administrations, owners, investors and users to initiate sustainable and resource saving development.

    Alternative Building Activation Units
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  • ROOF

    Lead Partner : Ghent - Belgium
    • Braga - Portugal
    • Glasgow
    • Liège - Belgium
    • ODENSE - Denmark
    • Poznań - Poland
    • Thessaloniki - Greece
    • Timisoara - Romania
    • Toulouse Métropole - France


    Housing Department, City of Ghent +32 9 266 76 40




    • Phase 1: Kick-Off Meeting in Paris (FR)

    • Final meeting phase 1 in Ghent (BE)
    • Phase 2: Kick-Off Meeting in Glasgow (UK) - online
    • ROOF workshop on storytelling - online
    • ROOF workshop on advocacy - online
    • Transnational meeting in Odense on data - online
    • Winter School Braga - online
    • Transnational meeting in Timisoara & Poznan - online
    • Advocacy network meeting discussing proposal of housing first/funding key messages for Europe - online
    • Advocacy network meeting discussing proposal of data key messages - online
    • Transnational meeting in Thessaloniki - online
    • Transnational meeting in Toulouse - online
    • Final event in Liège
    • Final event in Ghent



    • ROOF Methodology - Why arts?

      The ROOF Call for Artists project - how did we do it?

      The fields of arts/creativity and homelessness don’t immediately seem to fit together – one is about celebration, joy, expression; the other about poverty, trauma, isolation. And yet, these worlds are colliding together more and more in powerful and unexpected ways. 

    • Gent OCMW

      Housing First in Ghent: why tailor-made guidance is so important

      Housing First in Ghent: why tailor-made guidance is so important

    Integrated Action Plans

    ROOF Integrated Action Plan - City of Ghent

    Through the ROOF project, Ghent takes the ambition to end homelessness for legal residents by 2040. The Integrated Action Plan is a long term policy plan that describes the vision, the model and the necessary actions to reach the goal of Functional Zero. Read more here!

    Ghent - Belgium
    Toulouse Metropole (FR)
    ROOF Integrated Action Plan - Toulouse Métropole

    Toulouse Metropole benefits of an institutional commitment in policies contributing to the eradication of homelessness, at national, regional and local level making it easier to mobilise stakeholders. Read more here!

    Toulouse Métropole - France
    Ending Homelessness Across Europe - ROOF Integrated Action Plan Glasgow (UK)
    Co-design, collaboration and storytelling to prevent homelessness

    In recent years, Glasgow has made significant progress in addressing homelessness. The Glasgow Rapid Rehousing Transition Plan (RRTP) runs until 2024. Read more here!

    Glasgow - UK
    ROOF Pozńan Integrated Action Plan
    ROOF Integrated Action Plan - City of Pozńan

    As part of the project, the Housing Affairs Office created a Local URBACT Group to co-design an integrated strategy. Read more here!

    Pozńan - Poland
    Towards ending homelessness in Timisoara - ROOF Integrated Action Plan
    ROOF Integrated Action Plan - City of Timisoara

    High costs of living in Timisoara makes it very difficult for one person receiving minimum wage, disabilities benefits, social benefits, minimum pension or working half time. Read more here!

    Timisoara - Romania
    ROOF Liège Integrated Action Plan
    ROOF Integrated Action Plan - City of Liège

    The City of Liège has a long experience in the field of homelessness. Until the 2000s, the approach was mainly emergency oriented: low threshold reception, street work and accommodation. Read more here!

    Liège - Belgium
    ROOF Odense Integrated Action Plan
    ROOF Integrated Action Plan - City of Odense

    At the start of 2009, there were 4 998 homeless people in Denmark and at the last count in 2019, there were 6 431 homeless people. Read more here!

    Odense - Denmark
    ROOF Thessaloniki Integrated Action Plan
    Social and Affordable Housing and Combating Housing Exclusion and Homelessness in Thessaloniki

    Housing in Greece has been dealt with primarily as an individual matter with sporadic and defunct interventions in the field of social housing. Currently, Greece has 0% social housing stock, an exception among all EU countries. Read more here!

    Thessaloniki - Greece
    Braga House of Skills - ROOF Integrated Action Plan
    Braga House of Skills

    The House of Skills project aims to create an innovative permanent housing solution to gather people who are homeless or at risk of housing and social vulnerability. Read more here!

    Braga - Portugal

    To end homelessness through innovative housing solutions at city level is the main driver from the Action Planning network. It is not about managing homelessness, but rather putting an end to it using the Housing First model and gathering accurate data. ROOF aims to achieve the strategic goal of Functional Zero (no structural homelessness).

    ROOF - Ending homelessness
    Ending homelessness
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  • Connecting owners of empty properties with private investors

    Vilafranca del Penedes

    Revitalising decaying historic apartment buildings by connecting owners, investors/users and public authorities

    Carme Ribes Porta
    Head of Department International Relations
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    In Vilafranca, a city of 40 thousand residents, there are 951 (6,5 % of the stock) vacant apartments and five vacant residential buildings are listed. Ownership: 1% public authority, 74% Individual owners, and 25% commercial housing enterprises.

    In the context of high poverty, exclusion and the increasing number of empty housing units, accentuated by the crisis, the city developed the “From empty housing to social inclusion” programme. The aim for this inclusion programme is the renovation and rehabilitation of vacant housing while reusing them for social purposes. In this programme the council does the construction work with public investment, and in return for the public investment, the owner transfers the use of the building to the council for a period of time proportional to the investment. When the constructions work finishes the Social Services select beneficiary families. This programme required 300.000 € per year in the city budget. So far, more than 250 houses have been renovated (appr. 10 flats per year) and offered on preferential lease to poor or homeless families, and 500 persons have gained professional skills through the training programmes. More renovation could be done if there would be more public money.

    This GP of Vilafranca: https://urbact.eu/empty-housing-social-inclusion

    Vilafranca was very satisfied with its project which was considered a Good Practice by the Diputació de Barcelona first and then by URBACT in 2017 because it not only affected the recovery of empty housing but also improved the social level of the unemployed workers who participated in the rehabilitation, considering to close the circle. This practice, despite the good results obtained, proved to be insufficient when large homeowners got out of their properties in anticipation of future price increases. This abandonment of entire buildings has led to the disorganized and mafia occupation of housing throughout the country and also in Vilafranca.

    Facing this new situation, and also due to financial limits (the city budget cannot afford big investments) the search for a more wholesale intervention has become more evident. This is why the city decided for the transfer of the Chemnitz good-practice case, aiming for connecting owners with private investors instead of making the renovation from public budget.

    The Good Practice of Chemnitz has important advantages: a public project carried out by a private company, offering a flexible and proactive approach for the revitalisation of the historic housing stock of the city, and over time becoming the central collector and distributer of information on the buildings.

    Solutions offered by the good practice

    The specific objectives the city would like to achieve with transferring Chemnitz good-practice case are:

    • To connect owners with private investors as the city budget cannot afford big investments.
    • To connect and coordinate the different stakeholders for the reactivation of the vacant buildings in a right and efficient way.
    • Setting up a body/institution to support reactivation of vacant/derelict building/flats.
    • Contacting, activating and supporting owners.
    • Identifying, contacting and supporting potential buyers and investors
    • Connecting & coordinating public & private stakeholders

    The challenge is how to achieve this funding without compromising the budget and municipal action, so that the collaboration between the administration (the ‘Housing Agency’, the Urban Planning Office and building Control Department) and the private initiative should be normal practice in a 21st century society.

    To approach the problem from this perspective, it became necessary to expand the original social orientation and start looking for private partners with enough technical capacity and sufficient financial solvency. In this sense an agreement has been signed with Habitat3 (housing for social inclusion) foundation and 10 housing units have been recovered so far.

    The Habitat3 Foundation is a social rental housing manager whose main objective is to search for and to obtain rental housing at prices below market prices. Habitat3 is a benchmark in Catalonia in the housing sector, being recognized in 2019 with the Gold World Habitat Awards by UN Habitat.

    The relation between the City Council and HABITAT3 is a win-win relation: the City council searches the building and the tenants, and once a building has been found, HABITAT3 is contacted for its assessment. Usually HABITAT3 spends around 2 weeks to see the state of the building, the rehabilitation that should be carried out and the investment that would be necessary. Then HABITAT3 decides to invest part of their budget for social housing in Vilafranca. HABITAT3 isn’t paid for this collaboration.

    Sustainable and integrated urban approach

    The project helps to mitigate effects of urban processes that are unsustainable. By strengthening the inner city through the concentration and support of developments in the existing central neighbourhoods, the urban structures are valorised. This way, the reuse of historic housing stock helps to save resources instead of promoting suburban sprawl. Dense and mixed-use urban structures reduce distances and encourage alternative means of transport. What is more, the successful outcomes of the project help to preserve the intrinsic qualities of those quarters and help to overcome the negative image of neighbourhoods. The provision with moderately priced and appropriately equipped housing for families, elderly people or marginalised population groups strengthens social coherence and reduces the ground for conflicts of different sorts.

    Participatory approach

    The scope of the project is to activate owners, private and public stakeholders to save, restore and reanimate buildings. It can be described as a networking hub between persons, groups and authorities that have an interest in this goal. Starting and keeping communication going around the objects is the core of the project’s activities.

    According to the experiences of Chemnitz, the agency is the only instance that connects the threads from all different sides:

    • the relevant departments in the city government (e.g. urban planning, fund management, building control, preservation, finance and tax, public relations),

    • the different owner constellations (private owners or ownership groups of different sizes and local/national /international backgrounds, public housing company, unappropriated),

    • the potential investors and users (professional real estate developers, grass-roots housing initiatives),

    • additional stakeholders in the neighbourhoods and civil society.

    It was important to bring relevant stakeholders in the field of housing together through the ULG. Before, the housing commission was responsible for this issue. It consisted only of representatives from each political party. Based on the work of the ULG work has been done to convert the housing commission into a housing council in which not only political parties will participate, but also agents and entities of the housing sector (such as real estate agents or tenant unions).

    What difference has it made

    The Municipal Housing Agency has been relaunched, as a one-stop destination for all issues related to housing with the desire to provide comprehensive services and local housing policies: https://urbanisme.vilafranca.cat/oficina-local-dhabitatge It is located in an office in the city centre and will be the referent point to attend all matters concerning vacant buildings in Vilafranca.

    The relaunching of the Municipal Housing Agency allows to improve the capacities

    • to identify buildings in need of refurbishment in the future and
    • to establish a steady collaboration framework for their refurbishment, beyond the micro work the City Council already does
    • to have a unique access point for citizens, where they can meet experts to help them solve their housing problem / find a solution.

    After having the database updated, the agency will contact owners proactively and will connect them with investors, explaining the advantages to participate in the public program “From empty buildings to social housing” that deals with the renovation and rehabilitation of vacant housing while reusing them for social purposes. To achieve a better collaboration the town hall has created a round table about housing policies, bringing public and private stakeholders together.

    VISION - Through the new housing agency and the grown cooperation among public and private stakeholders through the round table, the outcome will be a decrease the number of empty flats and buildings and there will be new spaces for social purposes like affordable rental flats. Expectations are: increase the number of rental flats in the city center, improve flats and buildings increasing their energy efficiency and reducing the CO2 footprint.

    Transferring the practice

    A strong demographic decline and thus numerous vacancies in the old neighbourhoods are typical for former industrial hubs and towns distant from the economic centres in their countries. The lack of communication between the public authorities, often unavailable or unable owners, and the very diverse group of potential investors and users, is a problem that is visible to different extents in almost any city.

    The ALT/BAU Transfer Network focused on alternative strategies in central and historic districts of European cities to activate unused and decaying housing stock resulting from demographic, economic and social change. Based on the experiences from Chemnitz’ URBACT Good Practice “Housing Agency for Shrinking Cities” (Agentur StadtWohnen Chemnitz), the network transferred experiences that proved successful to proactively connect administrations, owners, investors and users to initiate sustainable and resource saving development.

    Under the leadership of Chemnitz the following partner cities were involved in the ALT/BAU Transfer Network: Riga Latvia, Constanta Romania, Vilafranca del Penedes Spain, Turin Italy, Seraing Belgium, Rybnik Poland.

    Is a transfer practice
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  • ‘Housing First’: how two URBACT cities in Belgium implement the right to housing

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    Find out how two Belgian cities are fighting homelessness as part of the URBACT ROOF network.


    Partners in ROOF – and other related URBACT networks – have been contributing their experiences to the UIA-URBACT initiative ‘Cities engaging in the right to housing’ since early 2020. In this article, Zoé Lejeune of the Belgian National URBACT Point, tells us about how the right to housing has been implemented in Liège and Ghent.

    The situation on the ground

    On the streets of Liège and Ghent (BE), field and social workers, volunteers and other first-line teams walked around the city on the night of 27 October 2020, visiting the main spots where homeless people usually rest, sleep or wait for the daylight to come… In order to carry out an accurate count of homeless people, the King Baudouin Foundation had financed a census as well as a questionnaire designed to get to know the public better so as to be better able to support them.

    This counting of homeless people is a first step towards designing the most suitable public responses. All in line with the #HousingFirst objective adopted by these two Belgian cities in the URBACT ROOF network: to provide a solution for long-term homelessness, usually combined with drug addictions and mental health problems.

    The objective is that in order to build coherent local policies, we need to know our homeless as well as possible. More than an enumeration, it’s a census. We went looking for information to have multiple profiles. And we want to do it every two years,” says Arnaud Jacquinet, coordinator of the Relais social du Pays de Liège (RSPL), the organisation in charge of projects aiming at helping homeless people in the city.

    Experimentation with ‘Housing First’ in Belgium

    The ‘Housing First’ concept was first formalised in the early 1990s in New York by an American psychology scholar who was convinced that the right to housing is a fundamental right, but also a key first step for ending structural homelessness. This concept ran counter to the prevailing view that other socio-personal challenges needed to be overcome first before someone would be ‘ready’ for their own house.

    The ‘Housing First’ paradigm is not just about providing housing, but about providing key services and respecting core principles alongside the housing. The ‘Housing First’ concept in Europe identifies eight core principles, which are the drivers of the system in Belgium, including choice, person-centred planning and flexible support for as long as is required.

    Eight core principles of the ‘Housing First’ Concept in Europe. Source: https://housingfirsteurope.eu

    For almost a decade now, the Federal Ministry in charge of the fight against poverty has financed a ‘Housing First’ experiment in Belgium. Launched in 2013, the initiative was originally piloted in Belgium’s five largest cities: Antwerp, Ghent, Brussels, Liège and Charleroi.

    Housing is provided first, but alongside additional support – firstly by social and health workers, then by integration coaches for professional purposes, which is key. “The HF project induces a paradigm change at the level of social action and this is not easily accepted by all stakeholders,” comments Arnaud Jacquinet.

    ‘Housing First’ in Belgium: It works!

    Within the set of long-term solutions to end homelessness, ‘Housing First’ has proven to be a key component in supporting the most vulnerable groups in Belgium and, since 2013, 18 projects have adopted the approach in different Belgian cities, including four in Brussels.

    Renaud De Backer, Coordinator of the national ‘Housing First’ Lab provides further details: “Concerning the experimental phase, we have consolidated data for 378 people in three different controlled trial groups. In the ‘Housing First’ target group, after two years, 93% of them are still in housing. In comparison, only 48% of people in the classic help system are in housing. Since this experiment, more than 855 people are rehoused by ‘Housing First’ Belgium and 86% of them are still in housing”.

    ‘Housing First’ in Belgium: it works! Source: ‘Housing First’ Lab Belgium

    Many local stakeholders believe that we’ve reached a real political momentum in Belgium with great opportunities for ‘Housing First’ to become more mainstream: “HF is mentioned in all regional and federal policy statements. It is the first time that four Belgian governments have cited the same programme, the same ambition, which is not yet common but which identifies a horizon in the fight against homelessness,” continues Renaud De Backer.

    Ongoing barriers to roll-out

    Unfortunately, local experts and social workers identify several substantial barriers to further rolling out of ‘Housing First’ implementation in Belgium. These include:

    • a lack of resources;
    • potential competition between vulnerable groups in accessing housing solutions in a context of inadequate supply – social companies have insufficient resources to renovate or build new housing, while more and more households are added to waiting lists;
    • insufficient development or recognition of complementary solutions in the private sector; and
    • insufficient housing sector knowledge about the ‘Housing First’ mechanism.

    Stress on the housing market forces precarious groups to compete at the bottom of the market. Financialisation and policies that favour the market create and perpetuate this situation. Exclusionary policies that favour owners and investors should be turned towards more inclusive policies that guarantee affordable housing for all” argues Steven Vanden Broucke, URBACT Local Group coordinator in Ghent.

    Advocating for ‘Housing First’: the URBACT ROOF network

    These and other challenges are at the heart of the work of the ROOF network – an URBACT Action Planning Network set up in 2019 by the city of Ghent. At the local level, each of the nine EU partner cities is designing an integrated action plan: this means working in a transversal and multidisciplinary way. All stakeholders come together around the table, with the goal to eradicate homelessness in the long term by making the shift to long-term housing. Today, the ROOF network partners are Braga, Ghent, Glasgow, Liège, Odense, Poznan, Timisoara, Thessaloniki and Toulouse Métropole.

    We hope that, together with Liège, we will be able to move the national policies in Belgium, because we have the French-speaking and the Flemish-speaking parts together,” says Patricia Vanderbauwhede, coordinator of the URBACT ROOF network. But the goal is of course to contribute to ending homelessness in all ROOF network and European cities. To do so, ROOF also advocates on the right to housing for all at the EU level . And ‘Housing First’ is one of the key solutions to be advocated!

    Cornerstones of the work and advocacy undertaken by ROOF are:

    • The need for a multilevel approach to expand the ‘Housing First’ model

    Cities play a central role, but key opportunities in terms of housing – both public and private – need to be supported by regional, national and even EU policies and funding opportunities. Having a national strategy to support ‘Housing First’ has proven key to the success of the projects in countries where it has spread widely. Sensitising MEPs and building partnerships and coalitions of urban stakeholders are key objectives of ROOF’s partners.

    • Identifying the right stakeholders, especially in the housing sector

    Setting up partnerships and reaching a better collaboration between services (housing, social action, emergency, professional support, etc.) depends on the local context and opportunities, looking for strengths in the partners and having privileged access to the services concerned. URBACT provides cities with a method and tools – such as co-creation and participatory approaches – to set up global solutions, with the right political support.

    • Numbers: quantifying homelessness and knowing the target audience of the programme

    There is a need for leveraging ‘Housing First’ at different levels to show first what the problem is and know it better, and then to show that the ‘Housing First’ solutions actually work better than social emergencies, which need to focus on their very own tasks and target audience. The counting, or census, is a first step to evidence the issue as a key component of the housing strategy for cities. For this, the ROOF city partners have worked a lot around the ethos light methodology, developed by FEANTSA – the European Federation of National Organisations working with the homeless.

    • Local, national and European advocacy: implementing the right to housing

    The strength of URBACT is to have cities from different countries, in different parts of Europe, all supporting the same model and promoting the need for further funding of these solutions. “There was not a lot of political framework around ‘Housing First’ so that’s what we’re trying to do with ROOF, to put it on the political agenda… to make sure that all levels work on homelessness, in a way that benefits the cities,” says Patricia Vanderbauwhede.

    I think it’s the role of cities to translate the local reality to the upper levels. Because in practice, it’s us working with the people who are on the streets. It’s us who can feel what is working and not, what is needed and not. There, we have a very important role to play: to be a constructive partner of the upper governmental levels,” continues Steven Vanden Broucke.

    Further information

    ‘Housing First’ is but one of the key solutions for ending long-term homelessness and many other innovative solutions and collaborations will emerge in the coming months and years. Building on their joint ‘Cities engaging in the right to housing’ initiative over the course of 2020, UIA and URBACT are set to launch a new platform in spring 2021 featuring inspiring city case studies on collaborative housing, fair finance and other housing issues. Keep an eye out for updates!

    Recent URBACT articles:

    See also several other inspiring projects on cities engaging in the right to housing in Belgium:

    Cover photo credit: Jeroen Adriansens & Bruno van herck ©

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  • Financing the Urban Commons. Part II

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    How can urban commons be financed? Civic eState investigates opportunities in EU structural funds and financial investment tools with the European Investment Bank


    Following the first meeting on possible financing instruments for the urban commons, the seven cities of the Civic eState project explored additional tools for social finance in a subsequent meeting, especially from European Structural and Investment Funds. They also discussed tools to measure the social value of initiatives thanks to the experience of the partner cities of Barcelona and Amsterdam. They were joined by financing experts Desmond Gardner, Financial Instruments Advisor at the European Investment Bank (EIB) and by Jelena Emde, Investment Platform Advisor at the EIB.

    A second meeting with the EIB

    Gardner presents to Civic eState the work of fi-compass, a platform for advisory services on financial instruments under the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF), as well as two initiatives particularly relevant for the urban commons: the Mutual Reliance Initiative (MRI), a mechanism by which, when co-financing projects, one of the three partners takes the role of lead financier, relying on its standards and procedures as long as the minimum requirements of the other partners are met, and the case study of the Financial instruments for urban development in Portugal (IFRRU 2020, Instrumento Financeiro para a Reabilitação e Revitalização Urbanas), a financial instrument that has been established to support urban renewal across the entire Portuguese territory. Jelena Emde presents social outcome contracting (SOC) options for urban commons projects, an innovative form of procuring services based on outcomes, whose main feature is that improved social and health outcomes lead to a financial return for the involved parties and the saving of public finances.

    It is important to note that the EIB resources are raised on the international money market. It is a powerful tool, but it is also why the EIB cannot take more risks with investments. It raises finance by borrowing money. The EIB needs to adopt a commercially based funding policy and be complemented by programmes like the European structural and investment funds (ESIF) to make it work.

    The EIB group finances at a very large scale and lends heavily to national and regional governments to support infrastructure: a large amount is invested in the environment to try to tackle the climate challenge.

    European Structural and Investment Funds Financial Instruments: what are they?

    Desmond Gardner explained that part of the resources under the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) are turned into financial products (so-called 'financial instruments') such as loans, guarantees, equity and other risk-bearing mechanisms, which can then be used to support economically viable projects which promote EU policy objectives. Financial Instruments (FIs) therefore are different from grants because they need to be repaid. The EU Member States receive ESIF funding and then they appoint a national body known as the Managing Authority (MA) which oversees the use of the available resources and of FIs.

    While grants still have a crucial role to play, FIs can offer significant advantages. Amongst the most important of them, there are: the revolving effect, meaning investments of structural funds through financial instruments are repaid and therefore can be invested again and again, providing more outputs for every euro that is committed in that way; and the leverage effect meaning the capacity to attract additional public and private resources, implying that actors can use relatively small amounts of structural funds to mobilize other resources, both public and private.

    Moreover, financial instruments can also contribute to improved impact, because they are managed by independent fund subjects, who make the same judgements about the risk that you might expect a bank to do in terms of the viability and the success of the project.

    Finally, FIs lead to what are often called ‘bankable’ projects – projects that generate revenue, cost savings, or growth in value for equity investments. The rule in the future for member states to choose the tools to use to invest their structural funds should be when a project is bankable and which financial instruments should be used, allowing grants to be used where there is no commercial market. It is important to understand how these tools can apply to urban commons projects, identify the bankable projects. and characterize them to develop possible financing models in the future.

    A case study of a city-led fund: the MRA-RICE Blueprint City Fund

    Desmond Gardner brought forwards the example of an independently-managed city-led financial instrument, developed in 2018 following a pilot with the cities of London, The Hague, and Milan.

    In 2015, the EU Commission issued a call for proposals under the Multi-Regional Assistance programme (MRA). The MRA offers EU funding for co-operation projects involving at least two managing authorities from the different EU Member States selected through competitive calls for proposals. The assessment of the possible use of ESIF financial instruments in specific thematic areas of common interest is the objective of the MRA projects. The cities of Manchester and The Hague brought London and then Milan to apply this call.

    Inside the MRA, the Revolving Instruments for Cities in Europe (RICE) project started to developing the Blueprint city fund to look at experiences and key features, aiming to toat further new financial instruments to increase private sector investment in urban development projects. Cities needed to go through this process:

    City strategy → Project pipeline → Assessment of financing needs → New city fund (RICE)

    First, everything being strategy-driven, they need to define a strategy and identify where financial instruments could play. Then, having an existing project pipeline that can be nurtured and grow is an important contribution that cities can make in developing this fund. Thirdly, they must recognize what the financing needs are, what projects are bankable, when is a grant or financial instrument the right tool, and what type of products is needed from that financial instrument. Finally, this leads to the creation of a platform, the basis to establish the new fund.

    With the EIB’s help, the MRA-RICE Blueprint City Fund’s project promoters, the four cities, came up with five elements for effective city-led funds going forward: capacity, independent fund manager, structured design, products and investment-friendly.

    A case study of pooling diverse investments: IFFRU 2020 in Portugal

    Desmond Gardner also presented the example of Instrumento Financeiro para a Reabilitação e Revitalização Urbanas (IFFRU) 2020 in Portugal, a national scheme where the government managed to take a relatively small amount of structural funds and raise a large amount of public and private investments. Three banks are supporting the implementation of this scheme: Santander, BPI, Millenium, and SPGM, the national guarantee institution.

    The IFFRU is an urban development fund that pooled resources from the European Regional Development Fund, EIB, Council of Europe Development Bank (CEDB), and from their own resources. After having gathered 702 million in public money, the government reached out to commercial banks, which agreed to match that funding.

    The IFFRU is a robust model for urban development schemes in European cities because it successfully attracts both EIB and private sector finance. This financial scheme sets an example of how European investment structural funds can be used to support assets-based urban development such as urban commons.

    Another option for financing the commons: Social outcome contracting

    Following the conversation on financial instruments, Jelena Emde discussed social impact investing in cities, and specifically Social Outcome Contracting (SOC).

    SOC is an innovative form of procuring social services, in which the service provider’s compensation is linked to outcomes rather than specified tasks (rather than outputs).

    Often known as a payment-by-results scheme, it has many sub-categories, one of which is Social Impact Bonds (SIBs). SOCs are a partnership between a public authority, which defines desired outcomes and pays for those outcomes, and a service provider, who in turn works to get the beneficiaries to achieve those outcomes. In some cases, investors also play a role by providing the funding, and they are mostly involved in social impact bonds. Finally, in the structure of the SOC there is often an external evaluator who verifies the achievement of the outcomes.

    SOCs are growing in importance because of their focus on prevention. It is widely known that investing in prevention pays off and that the State can save millions, but the available resources are already tied to dealing with emergencies. So this is why investors can step in. They can invest in building fences (for example for the prevention of diabetes, foster care, homelessness, etc.) and help governments save millions in the future. When the results are achieved, the savings can be used to pay back investors. While if they are not achieved, no repayment is necessary.
    For SOCs to work, there has to be a solid business case behind both social impact and quantifiable savings for the government that can be achieved and generated. This is why we turned next to ways of measuring social value, with Amsterdam’s MAEX and Barcelona’s Community Balance.

    The Koto-SIB Programme is a payment-by-results programme implemented by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment in Finland in collaboration with the EIF. It is the first social impact bond scheme dedicated to migrants and refugees in Europe, supporting the integration of migrants in Finland.

    EIB Advisory support

    Desmond Gardner and Jelena Emde are both working at the EIB Advisory department in which three financial instruments can be relevant to Civic eState.

    • fi-compass: an advisory platform settled by the European Commission in partnership with the EIB. It is designed to strenghten the capacity of managing authorities and other stakeholders to work with ESIF financial instruments.
    • European Investment Advisory Hub: a centre to support the identification and feasibility of using investment platforms and financial instruments, combining the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) with ESIF funds.
    • Bilateral advisory, client funded assignments to Managing authorities and the National promotional banks and institutions (NPBIs) for bespoke financial instrument advice.

    The opportunity for support from the EIB group includes the possibility to invest in those schemes through the European Investment Fund, which can contribute upfront funding to finance such programmes. The EIB also supports the development of SOC through advisory services. To support these projects and public authorities across Europe, they have launched in 2019 the Advisory Platform for Social Outcomes Contracting, funded under the European Investment Advisory Hub (which is itself part of the Investment Plan for Europe, the so-called Juncker Plan).

    The MAEX: a foundation that calculates the social value of initiatives

    Given the importance of quantifying the value of projects, both for FIs and for SOCs, the Civic e State network turned next to a discussion about how to measure impact. Nathalie van Loon, project coordinator of Amsterdam’s URBACT Local Group, talked about MAEX, a Dutch foundation that calculates the value to society of initiatives.

    MAEX charts their impact and offers them easy access to public administrations, privates, and individuals by considering how they contribute to a vibrant society and sustainable economy. One tool used in the evaluation is the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This framework forms a sound basis for impact measurement because of the SDG’s broad scope and international recognition.

    The MAEX assessment makes the activities and impact of social initiatives visible and measurable and. organizations can also use a self-assessment tool to evaluate their own impact. This makes initiatives aware of their own ‘Social Handprint’, which can help target the search for the right type of funding. MAEX has assessed the impact of an urban common – Stadslandbouwproject NordOogs – a large piece of land in North of Amsterdam, which has turned into a commons project involving beekeeping and city farming.

    Barcelona and the Community Balance tool

    Another example of measuring the impact of social initiatives is the Community Balance tool, which Elena Martìn, Barcelona’s project coordinator for the Civic e State Network presented.

    As part of the city’s Citizen Assets programme, Barcelona has developed a series of criteria or principles of what ‘community management and use’ means, as well as a self-evaluation tool for the value created called or mechanism that is called Community Balance.

    The criteria for the Community Balance tool have been developed and agreed upon with communities involved in the community management experience including – the social solidarity economy network (XES), Barcelona city council, and the community spaces network (XEC) – all part of Barcelona’s URBACT Local Group. The tool assesses factors such as ties to the territory, social impact and return, democratic, transparent and participation-based internal management, environmental and economic sustainability, and the care of people and processes. The tool was piloted with ten initiatives and it will be further reviewed by the City following the pilot results.


    Here you can read the first part of "Financing the commons"

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  • EU cities explore fair finance to boost adequate and affordable housing

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    Local government actions to regulate housing markets and combat exclusion are showcased in a joint URBACT-UIA initiative.


    Adequate housing is a right enshrined in international human rights law. But when property speculation and other factors inflate rental and real estate prices, what can cites do to ensure adequate and affordable homes for all? Measures to de-financialise housing were among the responses explored by urban researchers, campaigners and city representatives in the online ‘Fair finance’ conference, jointly run by URBACT and Urban Innovative Actions (UIA) in November 2020.

    Any local efforts to provide fair access to housing are set in a complex context of international investment, fluctuating markets, and multiple levels of policy. With this in mind, the URBACT-UIA Fair finance webinar debated the roles, responsibilities and actions of local administrations in controlling their housing markets to fight exclusion, showcasing examples from partner cities.

    What is the financialisation of housing?

    “Housing is a RIGHT, not a commodity”, says the United Nations Special Rapporteur for adequate housing. The trouble is, housing has become a vehicle for global wealth and investment, rather than a ‘social good’. This shift is known as the financialisation of housing. The term covers a variety of strategies used worldwide to extract value from cities’ built stock.

    One key factor is the buying up of low-price homes by private equity and investment firms who then raise rents, pricing the tenants out. “Almost overnight multinational private equity and asset management firms like Blackstone have become the biggest landlords in the world, purchasing thousands and thousands of units in North America, Europe, Asia and Latin America,” announced UN housing and human rights experts Leilani Farha and Surha Deva, back in March 2019. “They have changed the global housing landscape.”

    While speculation creates large profits for investors, average citizens suffer from lack of adequate housing. In Europe, 80 million people faced overburdening housing costs just before Covid-19, and the number of people sleeping rough increased by 70% over the previous 10 years, reported FEANTSA, the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless.

    The Covid-19 effect

    During the coronavirus pandemic, house prices and rents have continued to rise in many areas, according to data presented at the recent European Conference on Housing Policy – despite measures such as temporary rents freeze or moratoria on evictions to protect the most vulnerable.

    Manuel Aalbers, expert on financialisation of housing at Leuven University, foresaw in spring 2020: “when transactions and prices drop, private equity and hedge funds will be able to buy up large housing portfolios ‘on the cheap’.”

    The long-term impact of Covid-19 is expected to intensify investment trends, reinforcing the gap between those who make profits from housing and those who need it for their life. As EU Urban Agenda Housing Partnership coordinator Michaela Kauer says,“…housing is at the heart of the coronavirus crisis; we need resilient housing systems more than ever”.

    City experiments in regulating local housing markets

    In the complex web of global, EU, national and local factors influencing housing finance, city governments have their responsibilities and roles to play. Public measures can have adverse effects, for example by supporting so-called ‘vulture’ investors, bailing out banks and (now) homeowners, or promoting the privatisation of public housing stocks without providing housing security for the most vulnerable. For these reasons, to ensure access to housing for all, government bodies at all levels have to work together to re-orient public policies against speculative mechanisms.

    Although cities alone do not hold the power either to deconstruct or control financial markets, a set of legal and political measures – including the exercise of pre-emption rights, planning decisions towards commoning rather than privatisation, and eviction protection, as well as political and civil society pressures – can help revert the hyper-commodification of housing and the detrimental effects on inhabitants.

    The URBACT-UIA Fair finance conference showcased two approaches to regulating local housing markets: in the city of Mataró, near Barcelona, with the UIA project ‘Yes we rent!’; and in Riga, partner in the URBACT Alt/Bau network.

    Mataró: tenant cooperatives

    In Mataró (ES), despite rocketing rents and sparse affordable housing, more than 3 000 flats still stand empty. So the city’s ‘Yes we rent!’ project encourages the creation of tenant cooperatives to re-use empty properties and increase rental supply. This municipality-led model provides benefits for homeowners to renovate flats (according to energy efficiency parameters), securing rental payment and tax exemptions.

    In September 2020, the first owner signed to make his empty flat available to the 'Yes, we rent!' housing scheme.

    The initial aim is to mobilise 220 units in order to constitute a stock of affordable flats for the city. Hence, owners will sign a contract with this new agent in the rental market, the housing cooperative, which will transfer the right to use (or ‘cession’) the apartment to one of its members according to its allocation rules. The hope is to change mindsets among residential property owners taking part in a project that goes beyond lucrative interest, and to encourage the solidarity of tenants through the city-wide cooperative.

    Riga: taxing deteriorating buildings

    The city of Riga (LV) has a shrinking population, thus speculative practices are less evident than in dynamically growing cities. The city introduced a regulation to increase property tax – by up to 10-15 times – on buildings that are classified as degraded, to encourage their rehabilitation. To do so, they established the Commission for the Inspection of Degraded Buildings. The threat of tax increases has led to substantial renovation activities. A similar measure could be applied to encourage the rehabilitation of empty residential properties to boost the provision of affordable housing in cities with tighter housing markets.

    These examples are just two of the many wide-ranging actions and measures local administrations can adopt to control and de-financialise their housing markets. Vienna (AT), for example, has long-standing public social housing policies, with two instruments to regulate relations with institutional investors: 1) urban development contracts; and 2) a law, passed in November 2018, requiring that all new buildings larger than 5000 m² include at least two-thirds subsidised housing, for which rents may not exceed € 5 per m2, said Michaela Kauer during the URBACT-UIA web conference.

    Meanwhile, Berlin has set up a rental freeze and exercises the rights of first refusal, and other instruments to prevent the exploitation of tenants. Citizens are also active, campaigning, for example, to expropriate Deutsche Wohnen, one of the largest investors in Berlin.

    No city is immune

    European Commission Joint Research Centre’s Sjoerdje van Heerden warned conference participants that European capital cities are not immune to the financialisation of their housing markets. Van Heerden, who co-authored the 2020 report ‘Who owns the city?’, said: “There is a need for researchers to further understand how the capital speculation unfolds in different territories, whether through touristification, golden visa programmes or investments by large corporate investors”.

    Manuel Gabarre de Sus, from the Spanish ‘Observatory Against Economical Crime’, pointed out that while the effects of financialisation become evident at the city level, the threads of speculative investments have to be searched beyond, touching European and global markets. A simple but powerful diagram shows that all levels of governments are implicated and bear responsibilities, including the EU banking system, lending to opportunistic funds such as Cerberus with a 0% interest rate.

    The EU banking system contributes to the financialisation of local housing markets in the way it provides loans.

    Recipe for curbing financialisation

    International Union of Tenants representative Barbara Steenbergen set out a customisable recipe of instruments cities can adopt to regulate the private rental market and curb financialisation. First, she said, cities should start with the transparency of data, especially with local comparative rents to “know what your neighbour pays”. Second, when there are housing bubbles, adopt rental caps. Third, in the midst of massive speculation, rental freeze is fundamental. Fourth, cities should foster fair urban planning and putting a halt on sale of publicly owned stocks and land. And, finally, old and new legal measures should be deployed, while counting on the monetary support of the EU to build more affordable public social housing.

    Pushing for adequate and affordable  housing at EU level

    Concluding the Fair finance conference, MEP Kim von Sparrentak, European Parliament rapporteur on affordable housing in the EU, presented her 2019 report ‘Access to decent and affordable housing for all’.

    The report, linked to the work of the EU UA on housing, was adopted by the European Parliament Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL) with an overwhelming majority on 1 December 2020. Its proposals include increasing Europe’s affordable housing stock, having an integrated strategy on housing, fighting evictions and eradicating homelessness by 2030. The European Parliament plenary scheduled for 18 January 2021 will hopefully open up a new scenario for housing policies in Europe.

    More to come

    Though Fair finance is the final event in the series, URBACT and UIA’s joint work on the right to housing continues. Look out for upcoming podcasts, videos and more on the new online platform on housing in 2021.

    More information:

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  • Community-led housing – a key ingredient of urban housing policy

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    An article written by URBACT's experts Laura Colini and Levente Polyak


    Collaborative housing models that put residents' needs before private profit are raising standards in affordable and adequate housing. They are part of a broader portfolio of housing solutions for ‘cities engaging in the right to housing’ – the theme of a series of three webinars jointly organised by URBACT and Urban Innovative Actions (UIA).
    Typically based on forms of governance that balance individual desires with collective needs and ensure diversity among tenants, community-led housing can also generate ways of living that are better adapted to meeting the complex socio-economic, health and environmental needs of individuals, communities and cities in the 21st Century.


    “There is no doubt that collaborative housing will become more and more important as it includes also the element of support and solidarity that many people will be looking for.”

    Michalis Goudis, Communication Director at Housing Europe


    In this article, we present and explore the main types of collaborative and community-oriented housing schemes discussed at the webinar and reflect on the contribution they can make to meeting modern societal needs. We end by asking what more can be done at European level to support such solutions as part of a broader rights-based approach to housing.


    Understanding the diversity of community-led housing


    A variety of interrelated terms are used to describe aspects or forms of community-led housing. These include terms such as ‘collective, ‘collaborative, ‘resident-led’, ‘participative’ and ‘self-organised’ housing, as well as concepts of ‘cohousing’, ‘social production of housing’ and ‘self-construction’. End-user participation and collective decision-making are common threads, along with visions of housing and land as common goods.

    These models are widely seen as an approach to complement state- or municipality-led public housing schemes, going beyond the simple provision of primary housing needs. They have typically been driven by motivations including affordability, a longing for community life, and social inclusion as well as progressive agendas around gender equality, environmental sustainability and demographic transition.

    Collaborative housing models can thus be important sources of social cohesion in European cities, overcoming various forms of social isolation and material deprivation. The variety of approaches explored by activists has also turned housing into an important field of innovation on aspects including community engagement, social inclusion, solidarity economy, ethical finance and participatory design.

    Dr Darinka Czischke,  a researcher at TU Delft speaking at the webinar, highlighted that collaborative housing has gone through a variety of mutations in the past century. One of the most established forms of collaborative housing is cooperative housing, which emerged in the early 1900s as part of the broader cooperative movement.

    Collaborative housing in the Global North, Dr Darinka Czischke


    Different social and technological trends later added their marks to the quest for alternatives to public and free market-led housing. These include the civil rights movement of the 1960s, which influenced the creation of the first Community Land Trusts (CLTs), and the emancipatory movements of the 1970s which led to new forms of collective living.

    More recently, the global housing crisis of the new millennium has given a re-birth to a new generation of housing activists who helped create resident-led cooperatives, self-managed collective housing and CLTs.

    In our webinar, we focused on three models – the cooperative, Community Land Trusts and co-housing models – through UIA and URBACT city examples. It was an opportunity to hear from elected members, civil servants, activists and other active voices in the field. In the following sections, we take a more detailed look at some of these forms.


    Cooperative housing: a relevant approach


    Andreas Wirz, board member of the Swiss Housing Cooperative Association, explained that his country has a long tradition of cooperative housing. This tradition was given an important boost in the 1980s as new enthusiasm grew for alternative ways of living together. Today, in Zurich, there are about 35 000 cooperative housing units and 25% of all rented flats are not-for-profit.

    Housing cooperatives offer a great diversity of sizes and floorplans of individual dwellings, combined with shared facilities. Such models can thus respond effectively to the needs of the community, as well as those of diverse families and individuals, in ways that are not only the most affordable way to live in Switzerland but also use less space than alternative forms of housing.



    Mixed diversity with different types and sizes of flats in Cooperative Kalkbreite Zurich, Kalkbreite, 2014


    The Swiss model, with its established ecosystem of cooperative housing, relies on strong cooperation with public actors. In Zurich, for instance, local and regional housing subsidies are complemented by federal mortgage guarantees and a central office for non-profit housing construction. In addition, the Swiss Housing Cooperatives Association helps new housing projects with revolving funds, solidarity funds and equity participation.

    Housing cooperatives are not limited to areas with long cooperative traditions. In Chemnitz, lead partner city of the URBACT transfer network ALT/BAU focused on activating unused and decaying housing stock, the first housing co-ops were built from scratch.

    Volker Tzschucke, one of the founders of a pioneering housing cooperative in Chemnitz explained at the webinar how an organically growing group of friends and acquaintances opened a new housing paradigm in the city with the help of a local cooperative bank that fully embraced the initiative. In a shrinking city like Chemnitz, the cooperative model can be an important instrument for community-led regeneration of empty buildings and flats.


    Community Land Trust – a valuable alternative to real estate speculation


    A key feature of Community Land Trust (CLT), as Arthur Cady of CLT Brussels (CLTB) explained at the webinar, is that they protect land and housing from real estate speculation. They do it by “acquiring land and leasing it with a long-term ground-lease to homeowners of the building sitting on the same land.” With this mechanism, land is kept in a trust and only the buildings are sold at fixed prices that are kept permanently affordable.

    Unlike other affordable home ownership programmes where public subsidies have to complete the price to be paid to buy or rent housing units, CLTs require only one initial investment to buy land and erect or refurbish the buildings. This is the innovative approach currently being tested in the UIA project CALICO, where public funding was crucial to buy the land, and enable the price of units to be kept affordable to the most vulnerable groups.

    Being a model primarily based on home-ownership, participants at the webinar asked what would happen if owners of the CLT units wanted to sell. The owners are allowed to sell at the same price of the purchase plus 25% of the added value, no matter how long they have lived there, thus keeping the price for the transaction below the market price.

    CLTB’s inhabitants are all eligible for social housing, making CLTB an officially recognised social housing provider with regular subsidies from the Brussels Capital Region. CALICO includes a scheme for single-women and intergenerational residents, with care facilities and services integrated in the housing project.

    CLTB has a democratic governance system that includes not only public authorities and residents but also neighbours and civil society representatives. This allows the broader urban community to have a stake and a say in the development process. Community involvement efforts of the CLTB also include training people to manage co-ownership, creating community spaces to be used by local associations as well as making land available for local initiatives.


    Latest trends and efforts in collective housing


    Today, Europe counts 109 CLTs in England and Wales, 22 in France, 4 in Belgium and many others under creation in Ireland, the Netherlands and Germany, including with support from an INTERREG project ‘Sustainable Housing for Inclusive and Cohesive Cities’ (SHICC), which seeks to support the establishment of more successful CLTs in cities across the North-West Europe (NWE) region, 2017-2020.

    The first German CLT is currently in conception in Berlin, a city that is already home to over 500 cohousing projects, but where land has been virtually inaccessible in the past years. As Michael LaFond, founder of the Institute of Creative Sustainability and the cohousing berlin database explained at the webinar, CLTs here offer a learning process that brings the experience of cohousing and cooperative housing projects to another level.

    The Berlin CLT – called Stadt Boden Stiftung – will be a “citizen’s foundation”, a democratically controlled local organisation with the direct participation of residents, the neighbourhood, donors, public bodies as well as experts. More than single housing projects, the Berlin CLT will thus allow housing activists to build a more coherent policy framework, closer cooperation with the local government, broader democratic decision-making structures and a more solid, long-term perspective for collaborative housing in the city.

    Other forms of collaborative housing have also been tested in less favourable institutional settings. In a context with little tradition of public-civic cooperation and a rapidly shrinking public housing sector, the Budapest district of Zugló has been engaged in developing the UIA-funded E-Co-Housing project to create a new, environmentally sustainable community.

    Rebeka Szabó, the district’s deputy mayor, explained that Zugló's ambition is to create a prototype for an economically feasible and environmentally sustainable social housing scheme that can be replicated at the local level without the need for state-level support. In cooperation with green technology companies, environmental and social NGOs and a university, the district municipality has engaged a focus group to co-design a housing block with community spaces, shared facilities and smart technology solutions, which will, for example, allow future residents to monitor their energy consumption.


    Collaborative housing – what role for EU support?


    While collaborative housing cannot solve all the housing challenges of Europe, different non-speculative forms of tenure can be part of the solution. They can play a key role in meeting some of Europe’s most pressing needs – exacerbated by the impact of Covid-19 - around housing inequalities, social exclusion, sustainability, and more. It puts residents and the community first, places governance at the heart of its initiatives and provides models for affordable and environmentally sustainable housing.

    Cities bear the most important responsibility in making sure that its citizens benefit from access to adequate and affordable housing.  At the same time, the National and indeed the European level can play an important role in supporting such endeavours through the European Regional Development Fund, European Social Fund+, European Investment Bank, Invest EU and others. This also includes networking of cities supported by URBACT, the piloting of innovative schemes through UIA and other exchange initiatives such as housing2030.

    Already, the Urban Agenda for the EU (UAEU) has played a key role by supporting a specific Partnership on affordable housing - bringing together representatives of cities, member states and various European institutions and initiatives – which agreed a shared Action Plan in December 2018 focused on ‘better regulation’, ‘better knowledge and governance’ and ‘better funding’.

    The joint learning activity of URBACT and UIA around ‘cities engaging on the right to housing’ builds directly on this and other EU UA partnerships’ work. In particular, this first URBACT-UIA webinar on community-led housing models aligned and supported the recommendations in the Partnership Action Plan on good housing policy and governance at local, regional, national and EU levels.

    Michalis Goudis concluded the webinar by saying that reinforcing this type of learning exchanges is a clear contribution for the future ahead, turning the EU Charter of Social Rights and the European Pillar of Social Rights into a lens for all EU policies.


    Look out for future URBACT-UIA webinars covering the European journey of cities towards the right to housing

    Register now for our next webinar dedicated to housing exclusion.

    Missed the webinar? Watch it in full here on the URBACT channel on Youtube.






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  • Cities implementing the right to housing

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    The EU Cities Forum 2020, held in Porto, provided the perfect time and location to launch a new URBACT and UIA (Urban Innovative Actions) joint initiative on implementing the right to housing across urban areas in Europe.


    Blossoming cities, blooming rents!


    A visit to Porto as little as 15 years ago would show a fascinating city centre with little shops, abandoned buildings and facades eaten up by time. Today, this UNESCO world heritage site shows much of the attractiveness of urban renewal done well: refurbished apartments, new facades and well preserved narrow streets every tourist would be eager to explore. The flourishing urban centre hasn’t gone unnoticed: the Guardian newspaper recently named Porto in its 10 cities with the coolest neighbourhoods in Europe.

    However, such developments have also created many challenges and come at a cost. The city is blossoming, but the rental sector is booming too: from 2013 to 2018, rents went up by as much as 88%. This is not without consequence on the lives of the city’s inhabitants: according to official data, 1348 evictions were carried out in the same five-year period.

    Like Porto, many EU cities are struggling to keep the balance between competing tensions, such as between the economic thirst for tourism and increased mobility, and between the need for renewal of historic urban centres and the demand of citizens to access adequate and affordable housing. As cities successfully regenerate, they risk becoming the next frontier for residential real estate investments.


    A joint housing initiative, launched at the Cities Forum


    URBACT and UIA timely launched their new initiative on the right to housing during the Cities Forum in Porto (30-31 January 2020). Housing affordability was a recurring theme throughout the sessions of the Forum. From the Mayor’s debate to UIA and URBACT joint session on the right to housing, a sense of urgency emerged from the discussions.

    Throughout 2020, URBACT and UIA’s initiative will provide a platform for city administrations, civil society, research and practitioners to debate and exchange around key topics, strategies and practices for implementing the right to housing in cities.

    Participants at the launch event heard about a number of inspiring practices already in place across Europe (see examples below) as well as from other actors who will be valuable contributors to the joint initiative over the year to come, including the EU Urban Agenda partnership on housingHousing Europe and the European Investment Bank.

    The well-attended launch event generated lots of interest in how cities can act at local level to ensure that everyone – especially the most disadvantaged – can have access to safe, adequate and affordable housing. Presentations and the discussions that followed helped to reconfirm some of the core issues that the joint initiative will need to explore in more detail, in particular:

    1. Experimenting with new housing models and governance structures

    While the public provision of low income, adequate and affordable housing is still to be pursued, people have been experimenting with ‘alternative’ housing models such as limited equity cooperatives, community land trust (CLT) and co-housing.

    Brussels can serve as an inspiration in this respect with the Care and Living in Community (CALICO) project supported by UIA. This involves the creation of a community land trust among inhabitants and using public funds from local and EU levels to support citizen initiatives in the provision of socially mixed, low-income housing.

    1. Designing strategies for those locked out of the housing market

    There is a need to experiment with new affordable housing solutions in social and private housing specifically for homeless people and others locked out of the existing housing market. The new URBACT Action Planning Network ROOF, led by the city of Ghent, will be exploring just such ideas. It has the ambition to support city authorities to eradicate structural homelessness - making the shift from ‘managing homelessness’ through different services towards efficient implementation of the ‘housing first’ model.

    Aother interesting practice includes the city of Athens’ Curing the Limbo project (supported by UIA), which empowers recipients of asylum to transition towards long-term housing, taking on the role of intermediary between renters and landlords.

    1. Establishing effective anti-speculation measures

    A healthy housing market that meets the needs of ordinary people needs to address excessive speculation that unfairly distorts local housing markets to the exclusion of many groups in society. The City of Barcelona which developed an anti-eviction service (recognised as URBACT approved good practice in 2017) introduced a forward-looking Right to Housing Plan 2016-2025, through which it pursues place-based anti-speculation housing policies, including selective acquisition of privately owned housing units and mobilisation of vacant housing into the affordable rental market with the collaboration of non-for-profit entities.


    Get involved in the right to housing!


    Participants at the Cities Forum confirmed the urgency of implementing the right to housing, with land seen as the ‘turnkey’ of housing projects. More engagement from cities was called for to leverage and address land as a public good, encouraging community control and measures to regulate residential land price inflation. Effective engagement of the private sector was also seen as crucial, but challenging for many local authorities.

    However, it is also clear that cities cannot be expected to deal with these challenges by themselves. Housing exclusion is a systemic issue that requires not only local solutions, but also a national enabling environment. Cross-sectoral and multi-level solutions will be essential, since there are clear links with land-use, welfare and other policies designed and implemented at different levels.

    At European level, participants called for effective implementation of the Urban Agenda for the EU’s Housing Partnership Action Plan as well as specific additional investment into the EU Pillar on Social Rights. They also highlighted the emerging European Green Deal as a potential opportunity for moving forward with an effective cross-sectoral response to the topic of housing across the EU. It was clearly argued that we need commitment, strong wording and adequate funding from the top.


    This kicks off a one year learning activity. Want to get involved? Click here to find out more on UIA and URBACT’s action.

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