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    European cities face higher levels of Early Leaving from Education and Training (ELET) than their national averages, meaning that some urban areas have more ELET rates, than the countryside areas - contrary to the national trends of these cities' countires. This represents a serious challenge, as ELET has significant societal and individual consequences, such as a higher risk of unemployment, poverty, marginalization and social exclusion. Tackling this issue means breaking the cycle of deprivation and the intergenerational transmission of poverty and inequality.

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  • Alternative to mass tourism? Sustainable tourism and the regulation of short-term rentals

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    A study involving URBACT cities highlights the need for local solutions that ‘Prepare, Preserve, and Platformise’ holiday rentals.

    From urbact

    Airbnb and other Short-Term Rental (STR) platforms are the phoenixes of todays economies: they beautifully thrive and when they are at the risk of disappearance, they are reborn and fly up again, says URBACT Thematic Expert Laura Colini. Here, she presents the outcomes of the EU Urban Agenda for Culture and Cultural Heritage work on better regulation of short-term rental platforms and sustainable tourism, which includes a study conducted with URBACT cities.


    In recent years, we have seen Short-Term Rental (STR) appear on the market as a social innovation for sharing domestic spaces, turning houses, public spaces, entertainment, culture and heritage into a successful tourism machine all over the world. This produces profits for different types of stakeholders, from individuals to large enterprises, thus creating troubling issues for cities. First and foremost, STR platforms such as Airbnb thrive on a shallow mechanism that allows unlicensed properties to be listed; it encourages landlords to change long-term into short-term rentals, reducing the amount of affordable housing stock for locals; it reinforces mass- and hyper- touristisation, gentrification and Disneyfication of historical cities in Europe, and ultimately monopolising the tourism economy, overshadowing traditional and alternative ethical forms of tourism such as Fairbnb and others.


    Inhabitants, social movements, and city administrations have voiced these detrimental  effects, creating measures to control the STR in their cities (for example banning illegal STR leasing in Berlin by law, capping the amount of days for STR in Amsterdam, and other cities, in France and elsewhere) while demanding better regulation of Short-Term Rental at EU level (for example the Eurocities initiative).


    The COVID emergency knocked Europe’s tourist economy hard and just when Airbnb seemed to lose ground, it reinvented itself, turning investment towards digital nomads, diversifying its offers towards leisure and assuming an ethical approach for humanitarian causes. Nevertheless, as we look beyond COVID-19, tourism has come back with new soaring prices catching up for hotels and flights, with $1.5 billion realised by Airbnb in the first quarter of 2022, equal to an increase of 70% compared to the previous year, and with the same detrimental issues for cities as we knew before 2020.



    URBACT cities supporting sustainable tourism



    The EU recognises the crucial role of tourism in the European economies, and a range of different actions, funding and initiatives are geared towards fostering sustainable tourism. In particular, following the pressures for better regulations at EU level from cities, the EU Urban Agenda took an opportunity to dedicate an action led by URBACT to this aspect. In collaboration with cities from the URBACT networks Tourism-Friendly Cities and KAIRÓS, and in exchange with the European Commission’s Directorate-Generals for Regional and Urban Policy and Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, the action for Sustainable Tourism and better regulation of Short-Term Rental is now in the Action Plan of the EU Urban Agenda Partnership on Culture and Cultural Heritage (EU UA C&CH). The scope was to outline potential perspectives for sustainable management of tourism at city level in relation to STR, respecting the definition of sustainable tourism of the UNWTO.


    The main outcomes of this EU UA C&CH are:

    1. A Memorandum 2021, a legal input analysing the bottlenecks at EU level in regulation of STR by Yolanda Martinez; Marimon Avocados ES 'Regulatory enforcement difficulties in the short-term rental accommodation sector stemming from the European legal framework on digital services’
    2. The 'Sustainable tourism – Regulating phenomena of sharing economy’ Study by Prof Ugo Rossi, GSSI IT, and Dr Laura Colini, URBACT with the collaboration of URBACT cities
    3. Peer-learning and exchange among cities, the researchers, the coordinators of the EU UA C&CH and external input from prof Claire Colomb UCL UK
    4. Collaboration with the EU UA C&CH, DG GROW, DG REGIO and URBACT for the EU COM STR initiative to strengthen links between the European Commission’s work and cities.



    Sustainable tourism – regulating phenomena of sharing economy



    The Study 'Sustainable tourism – regulating phenomena of sharing economy’ focuses on a range of towns and cities that differ in terms of population size, geographical location, and tourism offers across Europe: from top tourist destinations such as Berlin, Bordeaux, Dubrovnik and Krakow to popular small towns such as Druskininkai and Rovaniemi, to emerging destinations such as Braga, Caceres, Dun Laoghaire, Šibenik. These cities have been selected from members of the EU UA Culture and Cultural Heritage, as well as two URBACT Action Planning Networks (Tourism-Friendly Cities, which explores the potential for sustainable tourism in medium-sized cities, and KAIRÓS, which looks at cultural heritage as a driver for sustainable urban development and regeneration). 


    As the sector saw largely unregulated growth during the second half of the 2010s and a popularisation of digital platforms in the holiday rental business, cities across the world – and especially Europe – witnessed an unprecedented acceleration in the influx of tourists and the rapid expansion of the digital platforms industry, exacerbating the housing crisis in Europe and elsewhere. This expansion poses a threat to urban societies, as fast-growing numbers of homes move from standard rentals for residents to short-term rentals for platform users. This tends to drive permanent residents and indigenous businesses out of urban districts and neighbourhoods that attract large numbers of short-term rental listings, due to a shrinking supply of affordable housing.


    The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically impacted cities, and particularly their service-oriented economies. Departing from the assumption that pandemics and similar threats offer opportunities for substantive change, this unprecedented slowdown posed by the COVID-19 pandemic to the global economy may represent a unique opportunity to correct the distortions of the standard pattern of economic development, including the urban tourism industry.


    In the Northern hemisphere, the summer of 2021 saw urban tourism getting back to pre-pandemic levels, especially in environmentally attractive destinations like coastal cities, while in other cities it is still well below those levels.



    Community-led rental platforms?



    The Sustainable Tourism study is based on exploratory research into how to pursue a stronger, socially supported regulation of short-term rentals, using the debate in 2021 about the need for recovery from the pandemic slump of 2020 as an opportunity to achieve more sustainable urban tourism. In particular, the study proposes combining a prescriptive approach to regulation with a proactive strategy that considers the role of risk management and community engagement in the pursuit of sustainable urban tourism. The study emphasises the role of municipalities and local communities, stressing the importance of the local context not only as a site for policy implementation, but also in a generative sense as a breeding ground for the development of deeper institutional capacity.


    The study involved a qualitative survey based on in-depth, semi-structured interviews conducted with city officials of the selected cities on the regulation of short-term rentals from the perspective of sustainable urban tourism. It tested the interest and availabilities of these cities to experiment with locally managed, community-led rental platforms, following a multi-scalar approach with three main founding principles:


    • Prevention is better than cure: in tourism policy, an anticipatory approach seeks to avoid the reproduction of a systemic risk of over-tourism.
    • Community engagement is key to success: cultivating a sense of belonging to the local community means embracing an approach to tourism that places the needs of the local community at the centre of local policy strategies committed to economic diversification and urban sustainability.
    • Local power matters: the local scale is crucial not only from the point of view of societal impact and policy implementation, but also in terms of institutional empowerment of local communities.

    Departing from these principles, the policy approach put forth a '3Ps strategy’: Prepare, Preserve, Platformise. The goal of the study is to deal with the regulation of short-term rentals from a wider perspective, linking regulations to risk management and the experimentation with local alternatives to corporate-owned platforms. In particular, ‘Prepare’ means working side-by-side with local communities to prevent the risk of over-tourism; ‘Preserve’ means implementing regulations aimed at preserving urban areas and their communities particularly exposed to the risk of over-tourism; ‘Platformise’ means experimenting with community-led short-term rental platforms.


    The study proposes to re-think urban tourism as a process of sustainable transition where new regulations call for a socio-ecological approach that incorporates the needs of local communities, as well as their institutional capacities and that relies on three main aspects.


    First, the issue of risk awareness and preparation of communities: when not effectively regulated, tourism is no longer a resource for local communities, but becomes a threat that requires general awareness of the consequences of an unbridled tourist sector. Second, the socialisation of regulation is essential for making regulations implemented successfully to contextual constraints and demands. Third, municipal experimentation should be encouraged to further innovate on municipal-led platforms and peer learning as in the philosophy of URBACT.


    In conclusion, short-term rental platforms can be re-thought to bring inhabitants, businesses, and tourists closer, re-considering platforms as a positive potential for a more sustainable tourism.



    Visit the Cities engaging in the Right to Housing platform.


  • Greening as a pathway to resilience in urban areas

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    Leafy places in cities can greatly improve health and happiness. But here’s the thing: green isn’t always good for everyone.


    Most people now agree that green is good for health and resilience. Greening urban areas and connecting them to water, or ’blue’ areas, is high on the agenda in most towns and cities. Yet, says URBACT Programme Expert Iván Tosics, even this seemingly self-evident issue is not without contradictions. In this article, he looks beyond the general “green is good” statement and finds a more nuanced picture.


    It has been said many times, almost to the point of banality, that during Covid times, the demand for outdoor activites grew dramatically, leading to a marked increase in the use of parks and outdoor spaces. We all saw this in our cities in Europe. However, this did not necessarily happen to the same extent everywhere in the world. There is an interesting website, based on Google data, showing how the number of visitors to parks and outdoor spaces has changed compared to the selected baseline period, January 2020. Although it is not easy to interpret the data due to factors such as seasonal differences between North and South, we can hypothesise that in Europe and the global North, green areas were able to meet the increase in demand more easily, being generally more secure and better maintained than those in many parts of the global South.


    There are many good summaries about the immediate, easy-to-reach interventions by cities as a reaction to Covid – see for example my article on temporary interventions in the use of public spaces, such as closing streets and creating pop-up bike lanes, or encouraging street play. Key questions discussed in this article are: what kind of tactical interventions into greening are observable? And how can these be turned into long-term, strategic programmes, avoiding potential pitfalls?


    Many people think that all greening efforts are good for the wellbeing of citizens in general, and their health in particular. However, it is necessary to go beyond this cliché, understanding the different ways to implement the greening of cities, highlighting the efforts made to achieve synergy with other aspects of sustainable and resilient development, and calling attention to potential unwanted externalities of greening projects – among which the most important is the potential increase in socio-spatial differentiation through gentrification.


    Types and benefits of green places


    Owen Douglas, of the Eastern and Midland Regional Assembly in Ireland, listed the benefits of green spaces in his presentation at the URBACT Health&Greenspace Academy in December 2020. These include: enabling physical activities; improving mental well-being; supporting social interactions; and reducing environmental risks of air pollution and extreme weather events.


    Green infrastructure planning can do a lot to mitigate stressful city life in compact cities, with strategically planned networks of natural and semi-natural areas, and creating new green and ‘blue’ spaces – areas of water. To achieve that, green infrastructure planning has to be multifunctional, including a diversity of green elements, such as: large natural areas as hubs; forests and parks as green parcels; smaller private gardens, playgrounds, roadside greenery, or green roofs as individual elements; corridors connecting the hubs, parcels and elements; and finally land use buffers, as transition areas, separating dense urban spaces from the suburbs.


    In another presentation at the December 2020 URBACT Health&Greenspace Academy, Eduarda Marques da Costa, of the University of London, listed different types of green space interventions, from overarching development of new neighbourhoods through regeneration of residential areas and brownfield areas, including smaller-scale improvements to public spaces and support for urban gardening.


    Innovative greening examples


    Let us see now a few examples of the different types of greening interventions and their potential consequences.

    Certain European cities have conducted large projects of strategic importance to improve sustainability and resilience.


    Barcelona, Parc de les Glories (photo by Iván Tosics, November 2021)


    Barcelona (ES) provides an excellent example, with its efforts to renaturalise the densely built-up city. One of the emblematic projects is the rebuilding of the Plaça de les Glòries Catalanes: besides the demolition of the elevated roundabout for cars and the building of a new High Speed Train station, a large new park is being erected under the motto of renaturalisation.


    Utrecht (NL) has put re-canalisation into the core of its urban development strategy. Forty years after the historic mistake of converting the canal that encircled Utrecht’s old town into a 12-lane motorway, in 2020, the city opened the canal back up again. The restoration of the waterway was the central piece of the 2002 referendum in which residents voted for a city-centre master plan with the aim to replace roads with water. With the reopening of the Catharijnesingel, Utrecht’s inner city is again surrounded by water and greenery rather than asphalt and car traffic.


    Paris (FR) has undergone large changes since the election of Mayor Anne Hidalgo in 2014. One of the key elements of the changes towards more sustainable urban development is the permanent pedestrianisation of roads along the river Seine and certain canals, which made the access to waterfront areas much easier.


    Another pathway towards more sustainability is to renovate, animate, and improve the safety of existing green areas. A prime example of this is the case of Bryant park in New York (US). This was one of the no-go areas of the city, getting the nickname 'Needle Park' in the 1970s because of the large number of drug addicts who frequented it. Changes started in 1988 with an extensive renovation of the park, including radical physical restructuring of the area, making the green space attractive, transparent and lively, clearing areas to let in light, installing many moveable chairs, and creating coffee places. The park has been transformed from an insecure to a lovely space. 



    Breda, Valkenberg Park

    A similar story is the redesign of the Valkenberg Park in Breda (NL) to improve safety, presented at the URBACT Health&Greenspace Academy in October 2021 by David Louwerse, project manager, Municipality of Tilburg.


    The most common greening interventions in European cities are smaller interventions, such as creating urban gardens, or greening streets and rooftops. An article by Tamás Kállay, Lead Expert of the URBACT Health&Greenspace network, gives a good overview of such initiatives. He mentiones Tartu (EE), where “meadow boxes were placed on the road. A beach bar was opened, and the street section accommodated also an outdoor reading room, a market, picnic tables, an outdoor cinema, and various programs”. Another example from the Health&Greenspace network is Poznań (PL), where “as part of a pilot activity natural playgrounds were created in the yards of several kindergartens providing direct contact with nature and supporting creative play”.


    Such examples demonstrate that “… small green space interventions, both physical changes and social activities can trigger a massive change and lead to larger actions promoting positive health outcomes.” This conclusion is further supported by another URBACT article, arguing for the importance of walking, not only in shopping streets, but also across all neighbourhoods – including ‘consumption-free’ areas.


    Besides punctual interventions, many cities aim to ensure fair distribution of green across the whole city and to connect green areas into networks. Poznań is good example for the latter, aiming to protect the green belt around the city from real estate development and urban sprawl, while also increasing forest cover within the city boundaries and preserving and improving existing parks and green spaces.


    Changing people's mindset and reorganising the structure of local government


    Hegyvidék, district 12 of Budapest, Lead Partner of Health&Greenspace, provides innovative examples of public spaces being improved and used more frequently thanks to new ideas, rather than concrete physical greening interventions. In order to change people's mindset, the “…municipality identified ‘green prescription’ as an appropriate tool for linking cardiac rehabilitation with the Active Hegyvidék program. Green prescription is a written advice of a health professional to a patient to participate in some sort of nature-based activity.”


    Hegyvidék is also pioneering an institutional restructuring of the the municipality, creating a so-called Green office. Changes can also be achieved without reorganising the municipality. For example, the URBACT network UrbSecurity presents an Urban Planning Game where Leiria’s municipal technicians develop step-by-step new approaches to increase the security of public spaces in the city. Cities can also use nudging techniques to influence behaviour, as many of the publications of Pieter Raymaekers (Leuven) show.


    The positive effects of greening and their link to urban planning


    Another URBACT network, Healthy Cities, focuses on including health considerations systematically into urban planning. To make this easier, a new tool has been developed, enabling users to quickly assess the health impact of their whole urban plan, and see how small adjustments could make a big difference to the lives of local people. This Healthy Cities Generator is a practical planning tool designed to give actionable indicators for anyone looking to integrate health into planning. It is based on a systematic review of scientific peer-reviewed publications linking urban determinants and their impact on health, through which the tool automatically calculates the health impact of urban planning actions.


    The integration of green considerations into planning can best be achieved by regulating the access to green areas at metropolitan level – this proved to be very useful during the Covid pandemic in those urban areas, where metropolitan coordination was strong enough.


    A word of caution: potential dangers of greening interventions


    Against all good will, greening interventions can also have negative effects, if not applied in an integrated manner, without creating synergies with other aspects of development.  


    Greening usually goes well with sustainable urban mobility interventions. When regenerating public spaces, areas taken away from cars can give place to green elements, for example changing motorways into urban boulevards with trees, pedestrianising streets, turning parking spaces into ‘parklets’ with moveable plant pots. However, if large green developments are concentrated in peripheral areas of cities that are difficult to access by public transport, they can easily result in increased car use. In a broader sense, this is a danger in all green developments that create large spatial imbalances in cities, i.e. new green areas far away from many residents who would like to use them.


    When managed in the right way, greening can have very important social advantages: it is a good tool to better involve disadvantaged groups into society. Greening can help the social involvement of the elderly and school children – see for example the OASIS project, converting schoolyards into green cooling islands in Paris. Even so, the biggest danger of greening interventions lies in their negative social externalities, through the gentrification process.


    Gentrification can take various forms. The direct form is the regeneration of socially contested areas into high-quality neighbourhoods. If no parallel efforts are made to support disadvantaged groups, the outcome will be socially unacceptable: pushing out disadvantaged social groups to other parts of the city. I described this process in an earlier article, on the case of Teleki tér, Budapest (HU), comparing this one-sided, gentrifying regeneration to the more integrated approach used in the case of Helmholtz square, Berlin (DE). The latter, through ongoing social assistance, is much closer to the URBACT-supported integrated approach, despite the fact that participative planning was also applied in the Budapest case. 


    Budapest, Teleki square with fences around, 2015.

    Berlin, Helmholtz square, 2015.
    Source: Imre Pákozdi

    A more common and less direct form of gentrification prevails through the increase of property values and rents in areas of improving quality of life, for example due to green interventions, which leads to the gradual displacement of people of lower socio-economic status. This well-known market mechanism can be kept under control with public regulations on rents, housing allowances and/or maintaining a substantial share of publicly owned housing. Unfortunately, such public interventions to control gentrification are rarely applied (or even considered) along with urban greening.


    Greening is an essential form of environmental intervention. The principle of integrated development requires a certain balance between economic, environmental and social aspects of development. This, however, is not easy to achieve, even in cases when there is strong determination to keep the balance. The comparison of two European cities, developing new ecological areas, illustrates the difficulties, showing how overly strong insistence on high environmental standards might lead to the deterioration of social goals, if public resources are limited. If greening aspects are given preference over social protection aspects, the outcome is again gentrification, against the original will of the politicians.


    Vienna, Aspern Seestadt, 2018. Source: Iván Tosics

    Stockholm, Hammarby Sjöstad, 2006. Source: Iván Tosics

    This article aimed to show that greening is usually a very advantageous aspect of urban development. However, certain dilemmas and potential pitfalls must be taken into account when planning green policies and interventions. With careful procedures, including green infrastructure planning as part of an integrated vision, and measuring the green and social outcomes of all investments, these pitfalls can be avoided.


    Come and meet us!

    This topic will be discussed at the upcoming URBACT City Festival on 15 June 2022 in a session titled ‘Greening as pathway to urban well-being and resilience’. The session will feature good practices from three URBACT Action Planning Networks, Health&Greenspace, Healthy Cities, and UrbSecurity.

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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

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    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.







  • Exploring the gendered impacts of Covid-19

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    A reflection by Sally Kneeshaw, URBACT Programme Expert and Jaimie Just, Policy Advisor CEMR


    The need for more gender equal cities was already recognised as a priority for URBACT and its stakeholders before the coronavirus crisis hit. But the current dramatic situation lends increased urgency to the call to action. In this article, we explore some of the gender impacts of the crisis so far, and what the long-term impacts could be on the push for gender equality.


    What is clear is that women are significantly overrepresented in what are now recognised as society’s essential services, be this health and care sectors, supermarkets or educational settings. This puts women firmly at the coalface in tackling the pandemic, at greater risk of exposure to the virus.


    At the same time, there are noticeably fewer women around the decision-making table concerning pandemic management and response. This is despite the observations recently highlighted by Forbes magazine of the striking success of countries led by women in tackling the pandemic effectively.


    But what other risks and trends are we seeing, what does this mean for women now and in the future and what can cities do as part of the immediate and longer-term response and to deliver gender equal cities?



    Risky jobs and at-risk jobs



    We already know for certain that women make up the majority of frontline workers, often in low-paid caring jobs at high risk of exposure. Lowest-paid workers typically have the least access to flexible working. They cannot work from home whilst doing the essential jobs of caring for older people or those who are sick, or keeping supermarkets open and stocked.


    Beyond the health and care sector, the employment situation of women is often vulnerable in other ways. Research from the European Institute for Gender Equality shows that a quarter of women employees across the EU in other sectors are in precarious work, at greater risk of falling into poverty. Furthermore, the closure of nurseries and schools is likely to have an overall negative impact on women’s participation in the labour market due to the increased unpaid care burden that often falls upon their shoulders.


    Women entrepreneurs may be disproportionately affected if existing barriers to accessing support and finance are exacerbated in the current crisis.  Most countries have adopted emergency response and support packages for the private sector, but without much data yet on the take up and impact for women’s jobs and businesses, it’s hard to be sure how they will be affected. 


    Given that evidence from previous economic shocks (from UNAIDS and the World Bank) shows that women’s income recovers slower than men’s, there are real risks that, without proactive measures from government at all levels, the clock could be turned back further on economic gender equality.


    And, beyond the immediate crisis, if governments pursue additional austerity measures, women will be hit the hardest with the loss of public sector jobs, benefits and services. The public sector is a major employer of women across EU and local authorities will need to factor in ways to measure and protect women’s’ jobs.


    Additional risks


    Additional risks are most felt by those facing multiple forms of disadvantage. Gender, racial and economic disparities are being amplified by the pandemic in a way that really exposes fault lines. Most seriously, we are seeing that inequality is a key risk factor for coronavirus morbidity.


    Certain groups need additional support, such as elderly people living alone and lone parents struggling to cope – both of which are disproportionately likely to be women. Another particularly at-risk group are migrant or undocumented women who may be anxious about accessing health services, or need language support


    Linda Gustafsson, Gender Equality Officer in Umea, Sweden - Lead Partner of the new Gendered Landscape Action Planning network – is also keen to remind us that some groups of men are also at particular risk. She reports that the social services team is reaching out to the elderly population living alone and isolated, where the gendered impacts are known to the municipality. “We know that the older women tend to be better connected to their communities and more resilient, able to ask for help or be offered help than the men,” she explains. “And we factor that into our response.” From the data so far, and for as yet unknown reasons, it appears that in every country, men are more likely than women to die from Covid-19.


    According to the Gender Equal Cities report, women rely more on public transport than men - to get to work, visit a doctor or do the grocery shopping. This puts women at greater risk of coming into contact with the virus.  In many places public transport has been re

    duced or even shut down, but low-paid retail and care workers still need to travel.


    There is also a threat in some places to the availability of essential sexual and reproductive health services during the crisis due to redirected resources and clinic closures/reduced operating hours. This can be a cause of anxiety and additional health risks for pregnant women who may as a result delay seeking help.


    The greatest risk of all


    Sadly, one of the tragedies highlighted more than ever by the current situation is that, for many women, staying home does not mean staying safe. Reports of domestic abuse have spiked – by over 30% in some places - since restrictions on movement have been implemented. More light needs to be shone on this shocking situation for modern European societies and more responses found.


    One of the most urgent actions for cities to take at this time is to have adequate and hygienic facilities available for those who need to escape a dangerous situation at home, ensure that women’s organisations and refuges have the resources to make extra space, to have longer hours for helplines and tech know-how to go online.


    Thankfully, many cities are responding. Madrid was one of the first cities to launch a campaign early on in lockdown, and the French government has facilitated the use of empty rooms, in collaboration with hotel chains, and with a code word to gain access for women fleeing dangerous environments. Gendered Landscape partner Frankfurt has prepared extra space for women and children escaping violence, and created multi lingual information. Depressingly, it expects the number of incidents to rise as the crisis goes on, but at least it is trying to prepare.


    What are we learning about public space?



    At a time when various stay-at-home polices are in place all over Europe, it is probably not yet totally clear what this is meaning for women and girls in terms of their use and experience of public space. For many, the new situation may involve going out alone and feeling less safe due to the fact that there are fewer ‘eyes on the street’.


    However, for others, despite being more likely to go out alone, it may feel safer due to decreases in crime and violence in public spaces, due in part to curtailed nightlife. Without encountering groups of men that may normally be the cause of anxiety, some women may feel free to occupy spaces that they previously avoided.


    The lockdowns are also revealing how attainable more family-friendly, walkable cities are, with less congestion, better air quality - even hearing birdsong for the first time in years. Such cities have long been called for by gender mainstreaming campaigners, such as those in Vienna who developed specific guidelines for ‘fairer cities’. Cities like Kreuzberg, Berlin are already improvising in response to the new realities of movement with ‘pop-up’ bike lanes.


    What lessons are there for future urban governance?


    The crisis has seen mayors take the lead in protecting and serving their people, sometimes even offering them expanded authority which permits them to react to a constantly evolving scenario. However, this raises questions about governance, particularly in Europe where women account for less than 15% of mayors.


    Women and girls’ voices need to be heard, including in decision-making, now more than ever. We need sex-disaggregated data collection on the disease itself, economic impacts, care burden, incidents of sexual violence and abuse, and crisis recovery - and at all levels of governance.


    This need has been directly addressed by UN Women, with clear support from UN Secretary-General António Guterres who has said: “Put women and girls at the centre of efforts to recover from Covid-19.  Gender equality and women’s rights are essential to getting through this pandemic together, to recovering faster, and to building a better future for everyone.”


    Linda Gustafsson hopes that this moment triggers more discussion about power dynamic in families and a more balanced appreciation of the importance of different jobs and roles in society, including a major shift in how we recognise and support unpaid carers.


    But there is positive inspiration to take as well. Linda Gustafsson highlights that “We see that things can change fast with cross-party consensus on policies we have been proposing for a long time, like on sick pay and sustainable mobility.  I also see this as a moment of empowerment for local government. We are responding rapidly to keep our citizens safe.”


    There is a chance, therefore, to turn the experience under Covid-19 into an opportunity to change things for the better. As Jenna Norman, Women’s Budget Group, UK puts it “The Covid-19 crisis is colliding with a crisis of long-term under-investment in public health and social infrastructure, which hits women hardest. The response now is not more of the same.”


    This should be an opportunity to be more conscious of our public infrastructure, including the invisible, undervalued and often low or unpaid work that holds our communities together, and which is predominantly undertaken by women. We need a continued appreciation of what are our society’s essential services.


    Cities have a part to play in ensuring that we don’t go back to what was assumed to be ‘normal’. In addition to the issues we have raised, we urge city authorities to review their budgets and services with a gender lens, and to work with local women’s groups and other civil society organisations/community structures to reach all populations, including the most precarious.





    Share with us on Twitter – by tagging @URBACT and @CEMR_Equality – examples you have seen of cities effectively responding to any of the issues we have raised.

    Don’t forget to check out the URBACT Knowledge Hub's Gender Equal Cities initiative!





    With special thanks to:
    Linda Gustafsson and Annika Dalen, City of Umea and Lead Partner of the Gendered Landscapes network, and its Lead Expert, Mary Dellenbaugh-Losse.
    Jenna Norman: Women’s Budget Group, UK and co- author of the Gender Equal Cities report

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  • Five ways to promote an integrated approach in your city

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    Lessons from the URBACT City Lab #3 focused on the principle of integration.

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     Integration is a weasel word. Hard to pin down, it means different things to different people. The 3rd URBACT City Lab brought city practitioners and policy makers together in Warsaw to explore this tricky principle. What does it mean for cities and what do we mean by an integrated approach to sustainable urban development?


    The Lab findings will feed into the German EU presidency’s refresh of the Leipzig Charter in 2020. So, what did we learn? Here are five headlines.


    1. Re-state our values and find new ways to measure success


    The world now looks very different to 2007, when the Leipzig Charter appeared. Since then we’ve witnessed a global financial crisis, the digital revolution and increasing globalisation. We’ve also seen the rise of populism and the fragmentation of trust between the public and politicians. Many European cities struggle with widening inequalities.


    Going forward into the 2020s, do we expect our cities to adopt a ‘business as usual’ approach or, instead, are we at a fork in the road? New economic thinkers like Kate Raworth are creating an alternative economic framework that challenges the old assumptions. Her "Doughnut Economics" approach bounds our economic activity within the scope of the environment, raising questions that every city should consider.


    Kate sets out seven ways to think like a 21st century economist. The first is to change the goal. Across Europe cities including Stockholm (SE), Amsterdam (NL) and Berlin (DE) are exploring these new ideas, looking to reshape our idea of successful integrated cities.


    2. Become bilingual and free range


    Lab participants spoke about the factors driving mistrust between citizens and government. They include the use of official language which alienates people as well as the impersonalisation of services through the use of technology. The net effect is a barrier between the people and the services which their taxes fund.


    Cities are exploring ways to address these challenges. In a previous URBACT network, the Mayor of Amersfoort (NL) encouraged City Hall staff to get out from behind their desks in order to engage directly with citizens. He spoke about free range civil servants, who are comfortable out in the community. In fact they are part of the community; parents, neighbours and citizens like everyone else. But this requires a shift in mindset for some municipal officials, which requires support and encouragement.


    The city of Łodz (PL) has embraced this concept in its regeneration approach to a 6.5 hectare site characterised by residential buildings constructed in the late 19th century. As part of this sensitive work, the city recruited and trained a large team of local mediators, literally go-betweens linking the neighbourhood with the municipality. This element of their good practice is one of the components being transferred to cities in the Urban Regeneration Mix network, includes Zagreb (HR), Braga (PT) and Toulouse (FR). Too often, city authorities outsource this engagement activity to third parties, and in doing so, miss the opportunity to build capacity and experience in house.



    3. Harness the power of public spending


    Making Spend Matter is an URBACT Transfer network focused on mobilising the significant power of public spending to achieve local impact. The starting point is recognising the significant scale of public budgets, and their importance to local economies. The approach, which started in Preston (UK) has involved getting a better snapshot of what is spent, where and with whom.


    During this initial phase, the city saw the proportion of its public spend with Preston based suppliers increase from 5% to 18%, and the proportion spent with regional based suppliers increase from 39% to 79%. The model starts with a local spend analysis, and seven other cities are currently transferring the approach through this network. By definition, the approach requires public partners to collaborate, through the mobilisation of anchor institutions across all sectors. This is integration in action!



    4. Revisit approaches to tackling poverty


    Although welfare models are complex and varied across Europe, there’s a general consensus that they are failing. At the same time, we see that investment in physical revitalisation can often lead to gentrification and the displacement of the most vulnerable.

    Many city authorities are looking at new and innovative ways to address this. One example is Aarhus (DK) which is successfully personalising budgets designed to support people back to work. Another is Barcelona (ES), which has an Urban Innovative Actions project, B-MINCOM aimed at breaking cycles of deprivation in Besos, one of the city’s poorest neighbourhoods. There, average household income is around 50% of the city rate.


    The approach provides a guaranteed minimum income level to 1,000 households on a trial basis. It combines the income guarantee with an active programme of employment support and enterprise development. As the pilot concludes in autumn 2019, it will have important lessons to share across Europe.


    5. Embrace the integrated approach!


    The Leipzig Charter was one of the earliest documents to promote an integrated approach to urban development. Almost 13 years later, many still struggle to understand what this means in practice. Many barriers stand in the way - including the departmental silos we find in City Hall.


    In response to this, URBACT has recently conducted detailed research exploring integrated working in practice. This identifies examples from cities working this way across Europe, and sets out practical tips to follow. Stories from Strasbourg (FR), Cluj-Napoca (RO) and Antwerp (BE) provide guidance and inspiration.


    A key message is that this isn’t as hard as it sounds, and city practitioners can break things into manageable chunks to help take them forward. The watchword is letting go of perfection. Perhaps that’s the first stage to adopting a more integrated approach.





    The key principles of the original Leipzig Charter provided the focus for each URBACT City Lab.








  • Fighting homelessness: the role of cities

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    Laura Colini, URBACT programme expert gives an overview of the URBACT City Lab for Cities Fighting Homelessness, which was done in collaboration with FEANTSA and the Mairie de Paris.


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    Inaccessible, inadequate, unaffordable, undignified, insecure or absent housing are conditions feeding the downward spiral of individual and societal deprivation. In Europe such conditions affect a growing number of people in different ways. Public authorities carry responsibility for dealing with a problem, not due to individual circumstances but rather a lack of housing, welfare failures and predatory market-oriented practices.


    Housing NOT for all


    According to Eurostat, 82mil people are affected by the housing overburden rate, meaning they spend over 40% of their disposal income on housing costs. House prices are rising throughout Europe, whereas incomes are mostly stagnating. Meanwhile homelessness is on the increase almost everywhere.


    The most comprehensive analysis on homelessness in Europe was provided by the “Third Overview of Housing Exclusion in Europe” report by the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless (Feantsa) and the French Abbe Pierre Foundation. It provides a gloomy picture of homelessness skyrocketing across Europe, with the highest rates being 169% in England, 150% in Germany and 145% in Ireland.


    In particular, in Germany, the BAG W (the umbrella organisation of non-profit homeless service providers) estimated there were 860,000 homeless in 2016 with a prognosis of 1.2 mil for 2018, a further 40% increase due to asylum seekers. In Ireland 8,897 were estimated to be in shelter accommodation, and 3,333 children were registered as homeless (end of 2017) which is 1 in 3 homeless being a child. Discrimination and fragility of certain groups are also largely under-studied and underrepresented by statistics such as women, LGBTIQ, prisoners becoming homeless after release, etc.


    Measurement and causes


    One of the main difficulties in addressing homelessness in EU, national and local public policies is the provision of accurate statistics due to the techniques used to gather them and how homelessness is defined. If accurate measurement is crucial for designing evidence-based policies, an analysis of the causes of homelessness is crucial in designing appropriate policy measures. The causes might often be hidden or misinterpreted: one of many persistent misconceptions is that homelessness is the result of individual circumstances rather than unjust inequalities in housing, welfare, public services, jobs and, above all, wealth creation and distribution.


    One of the main findings of a study by Fransham and Dorling (2018), is that one of the main causes of homelessness is the “end of private-sector tenancy”, namely the lack of affordable and adequate housing solutions. This is clearly a systemic issue depending on the housing market and its distortions.


    Along the same lines Leilani Fahra, the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, points out that the phenomenon of homelessness is dependent on how the residential real estate sector is dealt with globally.


    Indeed, homelessness has to be contextualised in a discourse on wealth production and the role of government in providing leeway to unregulated financialised residential real estate markets, meaning viewing housing not as a right but as a commodity – a financial asset to leverage more capital. Contradictions are evident, according to Leilani Fahra, when linking data to national GDP. “Germany is the 4th-largest country in the EU in terms of GDP with 420,000 homeless (excluding refugees), Italy the 8th largest GDP with roughly 50,000; France 6th with 480 people dying on the streets every year” Leilani Fahra, Housing For All, Conference (Vienna 04.12.2018). Therefore, how can housing be transformed into a guaranteed right in the context of scarce affordable housing and increasing injustice?


    Housing all homeless is possible


    Macro-economic trends are fundamental to understand why scarcity is maintained to fuel capital, and why housing is the most profitable sector worldwide. However, at micro-economic level cities must have a say. Local governments can count on many instruments and solutions to counteract housing shortages, prevent homelessness and support every citizen starting from those most in need.


    The seminar in Paris called on EU cities engaged in fighting homelessness to share their practices and experiences in designing and implementing strategies fighting homelessness.


    The seminar covered the challenges of measuring homelessness, the implementation of the Housing First programme, practices of homelessness prevention, and reuse of vacant buildings.


    Every thematic area was presented and debated through the experience of cities active within the URBACT programme and city administrations collaborating with FEANTSA. What follows is a glimpse at the topics and practices of some of the cities contributing to the success of the seminar.


    Counting homeless in Paris (FR): La Nuit Solidaire


    Although homelessness falls within the jurisdiction of the French state, moral and political responsibility for homelessness is considered part of the mandate of the City of Paris under the socialist mayor Anne Hidalgo. Since 2015 the city has built a coalition of partners around a plan to fight social exclusion (Pacte Parisien de lutte contre la grande exclusion 2015-2020) and reduce street homelessness, including the recent city-wide plan to use public buildings as emergency shelters.


    Paris has 2.1 m inhabitants (metropolis 6.7 m, urban area 11 m) and provides 16,000 shelter beds with around an additional 2,000 in winter. Homelessness has been on the rise for the last 20 years. Street homelessness is highly visible, but reliable data and research are lacking. To gain a clearer picture the “La Nuit Solidaire” initiative managed by the Mayor’s Office was launched overnight between 15th and 16th of February 2018 to count the number of street homeless in its urban area by 356 coordinated teams, comprising 1 professional and 4 or 5 volunteers – with training ahead of time for the professionals and on the spot for volunteers. Around 2,000 civil servants and volunteers participated in the nocturnal count of homeless people city wide, street by street, conducting a survey to gather information on demographics, sleeping places, use of homeless services, and needs.


    The results provide significant findings that both contradict and enrich the information gathered previously. According to Mme Benoit “In Paris homelessness is a phenomenon of concentration and dispersion, which concerns the whole city. The survey uncovered some significant data: for instance, it was estimated that around 5% of homeless were women, but in reality it turned out to be 12% due to fact that women tend to hide and thus are not as visible in public spaces. Moreover, the survey showed that approximately 64% of those in need do not call 115 (the number for Samusocial proving emergency support for people on the streets).” Moreover, the survey shows that the phenomenon of homelessness is closely related to spatial dynamics that differentiate location preferences in relation to age, short- and long-term experience of homelessness, recipients of 115 support, etc.



    As a follow-up, every year in February the survey will be repeated, possibly extending beyond the peripheral line of Paris to the metropolitan area. The Solidarity Bubble centre has been created to host a 5-point programme to provide education on the reality of homelessness, combat stereotypes and preconceived notions; promote projects aligned with municipal priorities; provide training on homelessness and skills useful when serving them; and help volunteers connect with opportunities or test their own ideas.


    Housing First: how Finland (FI) and the city of Helsinki stop homelessness


    Housing First provides unconditional accommodation for people experiencing homelessness successfully applied in the United States, Canada and several European countries. “A Housing First service is first and foremost concerned with providing housing to homeless persons immediately or very quickly, combined with support tailored to the individual. Within this framework, the immediate focus is placed on enabling a person to live in their own home.”


    In Europe Housing First has been successfully adopted in many cities and applied throughout Finland, the only country in Europe where homelessness has fallen. The particularity of this case is that Housing First has been adopted at national level with three main targets: halve long-term homelessness by 2011 and end it by 2015; reinforce the Housing First approach as a mainstream organising principle for housing and support services for the homeless; and convert all shelters and dormitory-type hostels into supported housing units.


    The Ministry decided to take action in 10 municipalities with existing homeless shelters being gradually improved and turned into serviced flats (some with 24/7 help). Many existing old buildings in poor locations were turned into flats for the homeless: a “big hostel for the homeless in Helsinki with 250 beds was run by the Salvation Army. (Around 2014) this hostel was renovated to become 80 independent apartments with on-site staff.” There are different grades of flat: serviced flats in large buildings or scattered flats with no service across the city, owned by the Municipality or housing associations, which through loans from the Municipality allow new flats to be built. Tommi Tolmunen, a Helsinki social worker, points out that “this is different to the staircase model in which escaping homelessness is the result of good behaviour. In Housing First the initial step is to hand over a key and say let’s talk when you’re ready…” An important change was the moral attitude toward the provision of support: “to stop taking drugs and get treatment for alcoholism is no longer a precondition for a flat”.


    Today all units are full and waiting time is over a year. “The problem is that people are not moving out from these units as fast as those wanting to move in…” Tommi Tolmunen. Alternative housing solutions and flexible support and services are the next challenges for a thus-far-successful method, from which other EU cities are learning (see Housing First Europe Hub).


    Prevention of homelessness: Strategy against eviction in Barcelona (ES)


    The city of Barcelona is one of the best examples of public policy being implemented to combat housing speculation. From the period of booming investment in the late nineties up to the financial crisis, the real estate sector witnessed a flurry of speculation leading to mass evictions (Coq-Huelva, 2013; García‐ Lamarca and Kaika, 2016): Between 2008 and 2015 there were 35,234 evictions in Barcelona. The city has 1.7 m inhabitants (metropolitan area 3 m) and less than 1.5% social housing. Since 2017 rent has increased by 7.8%, house prices by 9.2%, and there have been an average of 30 evictions each week (81% rental).


    The Municipality aims for more social housing but its provision is the remit of the Generalitat, the Government body of Catalonia. Despite this, the Municipality of Barcelona has formulated the comprehensive Right to Housing Plan 2016-2025 Barcelona, with a 5-point strategy to improve housing affordability, adequacy and accessibility. Among the many actions to guarantee housing as a basic right to all citizens, the Municipality is creating its own housing association, which will build on land offered by the Municipality. A special service to support people affected by eviction is provided in the Right to Housing Plan called Intermediation Service for People in the Process of Evictions and Occupancies (SIPHO), which received the URBACT good practice label. Specialised lawyers work in housing offices (13 across the city) coordinating the efforts of social services in each district. With 10 m euros of funding, these offices offer help in mediation with landlords, management of debt and arrears, legal aid, alternative housing, and advice and information. “Citizens are informed via different communication channels, and shown a graph explaining the steps they need to take within 15 days to avoid eviction”.



    In 2017, this service attended 2,351 new families in residential exclusion, which represents more than 7000 people of which 2,377 were minors.


    Reuse of vacant building


    In 2014 a UK-based NGO calculated that there are 11 m vacant homes in Europe (over 3.4m in Spain, over 2m in each of France and Italy, 1.8m in Germany and over 700,000 in the UK).


    “A ‘healthy’ vacancy rate for a housing market, both in the US and Europe, is considered to be 3 to 5 %. When vacancies rise, house prices should decrease and vice versa in response to supply and demand mechanisms. However, high vacancy rates have gone hand in hand with rising house prices especially in Mediterranean countries”. In practice, high vacancy rates to not automatically lead to reductions in house prices. Most problematic are empty dwellings likely to remain so for long periods (overoptimistic pricing, unfit for habitation / reluctance to invest in refurbishment, inheritance, health, etc., holiday home, change of occupants, voluntarily off the market).


    The question of whether this housing stock can be a potential supply for the lack of affordable housing, demands different types of information and competencies regarding data about property, existing vacancy and market dynamics, expertise in urban planning, competences in legislative and fiscal conditions etc.. In particular, taxation procedures and strategic incentives can make a difference in potential use of vacant apartments: Is a discount offered if the empty apartment is rented out? Is there discount for social renting? In England, local authorities can demand a local tax increase of up to 50% for properties that have been unoccupied and unfurnished for more than two years. And in terms of incentives, some local authorities in England, suggest that owners rent their property long term (5 to 10 years) to renters chosen by the council and awards a vacant housing grant to cover 50% of the renovation costs.


    In Paris, urban planning and municipal decision making, especially though the Plan to Fight Social Exclusion, have made a difference in the reuse of vacant buildings for social purposes. There are many examples such as the reuse operated by an intermediary between the space owner and the operator of activities that will be hosted during the period before redevelopment; the reuse of former hospital Saint Vincent de Paul to host shelters and charities vacant before being redeveloped as social housing. The re-use of public buildings, known to have been empty for at least 2 years, turning them into temporary shelters like the example of public buildings for homeless women managed by NGOs. However, as Gabriel Visier, who works on a day-to-day basis with NGOs, warns “the use of vacant spaces for shelters implies some challenges: there are costs in turning them into places suitable for use as a shelter (showers, kitchens…), sometimes the period the vacant building can host a temporary shelter is too short to be financially viable for the charity that will operate it (as it must to provide the investment required to make the space fit for use as a shelter, but will have little time to pay off that investment).” The necessity to relocate the shelter once redevelopment starts is also a major challenge charities are facing.


    On a smaller urban scale, the Municipality of Villafranca del Penedes (ES) created a strategy to facilitate accessibility of affordable housing through the URBACT good practice programme, which maps empty buildings, provides rehabilitation for social purposes, uses construction work for occupational training and job promotion for the unemployed, and ultimately housing for families in need. The procedure is fairly simple and has been running successfully for 25 years: first, the owners of vacant old buildings can voluntarily request to be part of the programme; second, the city council analyses each case, if fit, makes a contract with the owner who transfers the use of the building to the city council for a period of time proportional to the size of the investment; third, construction is carried out with training monitored by Social Services; fourth, the selection of beneficiary families, preferential rent up to 5 years. Since 1992 250 flats have been renovated, with 90 still managed by the municipality. Over 500 families have been helped this way, and beneficiaries are contacted every 2nd month by social services.


    Contextual conditions for the programme’s success are crucial: In Vilafranca few banks are registered as home owners as it would be difficult to cooperate with them; the owners of old vacant buildings cannot easily sell their flats, and heritage law creates problems. Moreover, they are also unwilling to have flats remain empty due to the threat of squatters. As such, home owners, who cannot be forced to participate, see an advantage in joining the programme. The variety of cases and practices in the reuse of vacant buildings is manifold and context related. URBACT has produced an online tool of practices to showcase some of the solutions implemented across Europe.


    Special thanks go to all the city participants ( e.g., Ghent, Manchester, Newcastle, Gothenburg, Lisbon, Thessaloniki et al.) of the seminar, which contributed cases, examples and questions from local practices to be showcased in an upcoming report.


  • The housing paradox: what can local municipalities do?

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    The negative consequences of the financialisation of housing can be felt first and foremost on a local level, in the urban housing markets. Thus the crucial questions are: what are local municipalities doing? Or to what extent can the growing problem of affordable housing be handled on a local level?

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    The differences between European cities are even larger than between countries – depending on political colours, cities within the same country might have totally different answers to the same challenges.


    Here is a short overview of positive examples, i.e. cases where cities achieved success to mitigate or prevent the problems on the housing market – either through subtracting land out of the property market (i.e. limiting speculation) or through creating additional resources to make housing affordable. The sources of the information are international meetings and the very informative book of Patti-Polyák (2017).


    Community-led housing models


    According to Patti-Polyák a diversity of community-led housing (CLH) models have emerged across Europe including the Danish co-housing model focuses on shared spaces and environmental sustainability and the traditional cooperative housing model in Germany, Switzerland and France - which are undergoing a renewal with a focus on democratic governance and anti-speculation. Meanwhile, the Anglophone Community Land Trust model that aims to pull land out of the property market, is progressively gaining a foothold in continental Europe.



    Community-Led Housing projects are costly and require investments exceeding the financial capacity of most inhabitants, particularly low-income households. To be viable and to leverage sufficient economic resources, community-driven housing initiatives need to organise a wide range of actors around their project and attract external funders. For example, the organisations Stiftung Trias and Edith Maryon Stiftung are acquiring land for non-profit purposes and providing long-term leaseholds to civic actors with the aim of enabling non-speculative housing developments. Community-Led Housing projects usually start by aggregating their economic capacities and financial means in the form of savings. Resources that were put in common are then used to leverage further public and private funding. In fact, the success and adaptability of Community-Led Housing models depend largely on the capacity of inhabitants to negotiate external funding at favourable conditions (at low interest rates, for instance) and to advocate for public support mechanisms, such as public guarantees or enabling public policies.


    Since 2015 Barcelona (ES) introduced new models for affordable housing. One form of this is based on giving public land to cooperatives. Javier Buron Cuadrado, Housing Manager of Barcelona city council described this model in the Smart City Expo World Congress in Barcelona (November 2018), starting from the point that in Spain cities do not have power in housing policy, as this is regulated on regional level. Even so, Barcelona has set up the Right to Housing Plan 2016-2025 with the aim to create more than 18 000 affordable housing units, mainly on rental basis. New ideas are used, such as building temporary places and using rooftops. Barcelona also tries to negotiate with the settlements of the metropolitan area, where at least 75 000 affordable units are missing. All types of financial and technological ideas are discussed, especially how to build faster and cheaper. Barcelona is open to all solutions existing in other cities, coming from residents and the academia, to find answers to the affordable housing challenge.


    The Community Land Trust (Patti-Polyák) is an interesting Anglophone model. This is an organisational form in which communities come together to address housing issues. Perceiving a need, a group starts to look for land. This can be in the form of raising capital from an ethical lender for buying land, asking for municipally owned land or through private negotiations with a farmer. The next step is building new houses or redeveloping existing houses into affordable homes. When the community achieves ownership of the land, they can make housing on it affordable. They can sell homes or properties, at about half the market rate. It can be a shared ownership model, or be a socially rented model.


    In the book, the case of the Granby Four street Community Land Trust is described in details. In a poor area of Liverpool (UK), a former residents association was re-created as Community Land Trust in 2011. They met up with a few partners and began to draw plans together for an urban regeneration process with very small incremental stages. In 2012, the association won a small urban garden competition, the result of which got noticed by the Steinbeck Studio social investment organisation. They saw what was happening in the neighbourhood, liked the idea of citizens being active in the community and offered a £ 500 000 loan. From that moment, Liverpool City Council also began to take notice and started discussions with the Community Land Trust, finally deciding to transfer 10 properties over to the Granby 4 Streets Community Land Trust. The Community Land Trust holds the land in trust, separating its value from the building on it, and it fixes the price the buildings can be sold for later. Any value increase is locked in by the Community Land Trust for community benefit, so the profit motive has been cut out.


    Using public land in new way


    Berlin (DE) is well known as a city of pioneering attempts to change the usual market oriented models. During a long period of experimentation with temporary use projects, and initiatives mobilising protests against large-scale development projects like the Media Spree, the idea emerged to develop economically sound and secure models of tenancy, based on long-term rental contracts or cooperative ownership arrangements. An example for that is the StadtNeuDenken initiative with a new concept for privatisation (Patti-Polyák). The basic idea is to change the privatisation mechanisms from the highest bid to fixed prices and the best concept.


    This idea was soon adopted by the municipality of Paris (FR) and shortly after the victory of Anne Hidalgo in 2014 their own top-down version of concept-based privatisation was launched in a series of competitions. Besides defining affordable housing goals, Hidalgo and deputy mayor Missika launched the urban development competition: Reinventing Paris. 23 municipally owned sites were selected in Paris – some in quite deprived and remote areas to sell public land, linking sales price to its future use. In an attempt to foster innovation in real estate and extending the scope of urban commons only multi-disciplinary teams could win, and the final users had to be included from the beginning. The competition was very successful and since then two new rounds were launched, on a similar basis.


    Municipal regulation against housing speculation


    Vienna (AT) is known worldwide for sustainable and inclusive urban development, of which housing policy is one of the corner-stones. The city is probably the biggest public landlord in the world with 220 000 public rental units. A particular challenge recently was the quick growth of the city, having in the last years 12-20 000 people moving yearly to Vienna. This means a need for building at least an additional 6 000 housing units yearly. There is, thus, a growing interest for land, suitable for new housing.


    Vienna recognised quickly, that in the case of open competition the interest of international investors would lead to the increase of prices of the scarce land reserves for housing. One of the leading principles of urban development in Vienna is the inclusivity of the city, avoiding changes in the housing market that would push certain strata out. In order to avoid price increases as consequence of speculative capital investments, making housing in the longer term unaffordable, Vienna reacted quickly. A new regulation is about to be introduced, limiting access of investors to real estate that is potentially suitable for affordable housing. The regulation aims to maximize the purchase price for the land, introducing a rule so flats cannot be sold for 40 years to maximise the rent of new units. Moreover, another new decision requires that half (later 2/3) of any new housing projects should qualify for the affordable housing model, determined by the city. These are important initiatives by the public sector to regulate the market, to avoid price increases - as a consequence of financialisation of housing.

    Need for cross-country agreement on the social understanding of housing


    For the moment, the efforts to handle the negative consequences of the financialisation of housing lead only to limited results on a national level and the local attempts face even more challenges.
    For example, Sorcha Edwards from Housing Europe reported on a Dublin (IE) case, where a local group was bidding for an empty standing building to turn it into social housing, but their position was hopeless as their competitor was the largest US pension fund.


    It is clear that international cooperation and joint efforts are needed to strengthen the social aspect of housing, as opposed to the market commodity understanding of it. In the Vienna Housing for All conference a range of ideas were raised on how such an international effort could be initiated.


    EU or national government intervention


    Barbara Steenbergen, International Union of Tenants, emphasized that mergers between real estate funds are going on in order to avoid national taxation. The EU and national governments should find out ways to keep housing affordable: real estate investors should be limited or stopped at all to buy up the existing affordable housing stock.


    A European housing forum


    Kieran McCarthy, Member of the EU Committee of the Regions, Councillor of the City of Cork (IE), suggested organizing a European Housing Forum. In the Committee of the Regions housing, it should be taken more seriously, it cannot remain one of the last priorities.


    A set rate of income share, a basic right and the end of VAT


    Evelyn Regner, Member of the European Parliament (S&D), pointed to the European Semester as one of the possibilities, where housing could be included without making huge changes in the basic documents of the EU. She suggested including the principle that people should not spend more than a given share of their incomes for housing costs. Housing should be acknowledged as a basic right. The EU should take steps to achieve housing-related expenses without or with little VAT, which would bring a real decrease of housing costs to normal people.


    The European Semester


    Jörg Wojahn, Representative of the European Commission in Austria, also mentioned the importance of the European Semester, turning soft law into a harder tool. Already today large sums of EU money, some EUR 1,5 billion is invested into housing. Also, loans from EIB and some parts of the Juncker fund (for the energy efficiency in buildings), should be taken into account. However it is clear, that e.g. energy efficiency investments make housing more expensive, thus such investments have to be acknowledged as long term financial commitments, and should be made exempt from the deficit rules. The European elections are a good moment to vote for candidates who agree in the importance of urban and housing issues against the dominance of agriculture and other investment goals.


    EU and municipal responsibility


    Lea Ortiz, deputy mayor Barcelona complained about dozens of evictions weekly in the city (against all efforts of the municipality), and about the fact that investors are buying up growing parts of the city. She also suggested turning to Europe, influencing the upcoming EP elections. The view that “housing is not responsibility of the EU” should be changed. Sustainable and just cities cannot be achieved without a growing public influence on the housing markets and the EU has a large responsibility to achieve that. The movement of cities - the emerging municipal cooperation - should push housing to become part of the discussions in Europe.


    Banning private equity fund investments and airtime at the G20   


    Leilani Farha, UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing suggested putting the financialisation of housing on the agenda of G20, as the finance ministers of this group are of crucial importance. After food security, housing should be on their agenda. Private equity funds should be banned from investing into residential housing just as investments into harmful environmental investments is already prohibited.


    A basic human right


    In her passionate speech at the Housing for All conference Leilani Farha emphasized that gold is a commodity, but housing not – it is a human right. Seizmic, paradigmatic shift is needed, as the present problems are not only market failures, but so is the lack of viewing housing as a human right. All levels of government have to show up and adopt comprehensive, human rights based housing policies. Housing must be based on laws protecting basic rights, and strategies must be based on the rights of people. She announced the establishment of a new movement: SHIFT, which already has 25 signatory cities, including Barcelona, Paris, Amsterdam (NL), Seoul (KR).

    Housing is a human right which should not be sold to the highest bidder.


    Progress in the EU on housing


    Compared to the situation a decade ago, there is some progress in the handling of housing in the European Union. Within the EU Governance (European Semester, Macroeconomic conditionality, Reform Support Instrument, Rule of Law) housing is not considered exclusively from a competition policy perspective, but also as a matter of the Rule of Law in which basic human rights are slowly gaining some importance. There is a chance that fundamental rights will become one of the horizontal enabling conditions in the post-2020 Cohesion Policy regulation.

    On the other hand, according to reports of the Corporate Europe Observatory, there are discussions going on between the lobby groups of the sharing economy sectors (including Airbnb, Uber, etc.) and the Commission departments responsible for competition and free market regulation. The outcome of these negotiations is not yet known, but the EU approach may unilaterally support the forms of collaborative economy against the will of national and local governments to constrain the platforms in order to protect affordable housing. In practice, the regulations on Airbnb introduced in Barcelona, Amsterdam, Paris, Lisbon (PT), etc. might be annulled by the Commission as hurting the competition law.

    Housing is one of the sectors where the fight between the competition and solidarity aspects is the sharpest. There seems to be a long way to go to achieve socially justified limitations on international capital investors, i.e. regulating the financialisation of housing – without limiting private actors in their will to invest along non-speculative principles into social/affordable housing.



    "The housing paradox: more financing - less affordability?" - previous part of this article by Ivan Tosics can be read here.

  • EU Urban Agenda: The challenge of “affordable housing” in Europe

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    In 2014 the Guardian published an article titled “Affordable housing does not mean what you think it means”. The article shows the limits of what can be considered “affordable housing” in London, where housing has become among the most worrisome and alarming issue of socio-economic inequality. The catchy and provoking title invites to reflect beyond the assumption that “affordable housing” means the same for all. What is affordable, under which criteria and for whom, which are the tricks and scams that can be hidden in catch-all policy terms? 


    Measured against context-sensitive indicators, affordability is usually calculated according to a ratio between household income and housing costs. Eurostat defined the housing cost overburden rate the percentage of the population living in households where the total housing costs ('net' of housing allowances) represent more than 40 % of disposable income (See EU statistics on income and living condition EU-SILC). This proportion is however very dependent on life cycles, employment, welfare support, escalating land prices, utilities, etc. (Paris, 2007).


    The typology of affordable housing is also quite broad. The UK government defines affordable housing as “social rented, affordable rented and intermediate housing, provided to eligible households whose needs are not met by the market”. Across Europe the term of “affordable housing” is also stretched as much as the akin definition of social housing, the latter responding to several connotations in different member states, which involve a variety of landlords such as local governments, NGO’s, housing associations and/or private housing companies (Whitehead and Scanlon, 2007).


    an alarming concern: a large share of European population especially low and lower income households, cannot access adequate housing


    As a matter of fact, the range of flexibilities affiliated with the concept of affordability allows to include different housing tenures and different measurements of household costs. These can turn “affordable housing” accessible only to certain groups already better off than the average e.g. certain models of shared ownership, promoted as affordable, but eventually only for upper middle class, rather than people on modest income (read more here). If affordable housing simply means that adequate housing should be accessible and affordable to all, -and primarily to those at risk of becoming or already less well off- its meaning remains not universally shared in public policies all over Europe. In common housing policies have to respond to an alarming concern: a large share of European population especially low and lower income households, cannot access adequate housing. Housing costs, utility prices, and number of homeless people are rising from London to Bucharest, together with a growing shortage of social housing. 


    Statistics on (not) affordable housing in Europe


    Extant analysis and research show that there is a fair amount of information on the state of housing in Europe (Scanlon, Fernández Arrigoitia and Whitehead 2015, Housing Europe 2015). However, the available statistics do not cover everything that would be useful to know about the lack of affordable housing and its consequences. Considering that the relation between income and the burden of housing costs is profoundly interlinked with poverties and material deprivation, and that poverty is growing in Europe (Europe 2020 indicators - poverty and social exclusion, EUROSTAT 2014), the data available for an international analysis at EU level on housing may bear inconsistencies and gaps (see Haffner, 2015 debating the limits of the pan-European dataset EU-SILC).



    One of the most up-to-date source is the statistics on Affordability of housing by Eurostat from November 2015 reporting for 2014 that 11.4 % share of the EU-28 population lived in households that spent 40% or more of their “equivalised disposable income” on housing [1]. The EU-28 average masks significant differences between Member States (DATA EUROSTAT Nov. 2015).


    The latest report by Housing Europe 2015 identifies major gaps and shortfalls summarised here in five points:


    • The highest share of population affected by housing overburden is to be found among tenants in the private sector, among which the most vulnerable, are people living alone, followed by single with dependent children;
    • Young population encounter more difficulties compared to past generation to start their housing path not only in southern Europe as it has been mostly the case until now;
    • The dropping of investments between 2008-2012 in providing social housing (except for France), despite the demand of households in waiting lists has increased;
    • High level of debts linked to housing, esp. in relation to mortgage indebtedness, triggering a high number of foreclosures  (e.g. Spain), not surprisingly with a high number of mortgages arrears among those on low income.
    • Despite the quality conditions of housing has generally improved in the last years, lack of basic amenities and overcrowding dwellings are a burden for some new MS and southern countries such Italy and Greece. These are related to issues of refurbishing poor housing following energy efficiency measures.


    In addition, there are new and old pressures in relation to the demographic changes and migrations trends that pushes toward new waves of reinvestments in many countries and in particular in large cities and metropolitan areas. What can Europe and European cities do?


    The EU urban agenda on Affordable housing


    The EU does not have an official mandate on housing and the provision of affordable and social housing is primarily a concern of national and local policies. However the Commission has an important role on housing through different means (Cziscke 2014), such as the regulation of competition policies related to the concept of “Services of General Economic Interest” (SGEI)[2] and controversial application of state aid rules in different contexts (Tasan-Kok, T., et al, 2013; Kadi and Musterd 2015), the regulatory provisions allowing to use European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) on energy efficiency improvement on housing for marginal groups, and more.


    Moreover, among the main goals of Horizon 2020, is the fight against poverty through social inclusion, which cannot avoid tackling housing. Beside that, housing is a major issues shared beyond the walls of the EU institutions: citizens, non profit organisations, social movements, independent activist groups demand a fairer commitment of public institutions, denouncing national and European policies directly or indirectly supporting the unregulated and unbridled housing markets and their dramatic consequences on people’s life.


    One opportunity to reinforce the debate on housing affordability within the EU Commission, has been offered by the frame of the EU Urban Agenda. Despite discussed for almost 20 years, the Urban Agenda is today a more explicit endeavour of the Commission (Geppert and Colini 2015).  Under the guidance of the Dutch Ministry during its EU presidency, 4 pilots partnerships including representatives from European, national and local authorities, international organisations and NGO’s have been established, covering 4 of the 11 themes currently selected as relevant for the EU Urban Agenda .[3] All pilots share the same task, namely to provide through an action plan concrete guidance in the topic covered. One of these topics is affordable housing, and some of the salient aspects under debate (not to be considered a shared outcome of the partnership at this stage) are:


    • The revision of the existing knowledge on affordable housing through: a) better data collection at EU level, b) the provision of coordinated information on knowledge resources, c) the coordination with organizations and institutions able to provide ad hoc public events, research and policy papers on concrete case studies from the policy practice.
    • The sharing of partners’ proposals around the opportunities for: a) revising of State Aid rules, and 
      the REFIT agenda[4] to tackle the barriers of investments on social housing[5]; b) considering a new definition of the SGEI narrow target group in social housing, based instead on housing needs and markets failure, c) study the match and mismatch between EU and national policies on housing also in relation to energy efficiency measures.
    • The better use of funding, considering that (European Funds for Strategic Investments) EFSI and other EU funds can be used on housing. Housing Europe reports that 77% of Operational Programmes (OP) allow investment in housing. But also the issues of combining public and private funding considering where the risks are and who will bear them, and the criteria for the allocation of public guarantees.


    The above mentioned points are only a handful of first hints of a problematic that needs to be further unpacked towards concrete proposals. The commitment of the partners is on a voluntarily basis, and all the partners are not confirmed.[6] Moreover, the pilot on affordable housing is at its first steps and due to the complexity of the theme, it is naturally interlinked with other pilots. Future steps are the participation of some members of the partnership to the Regional event of Habitat III  in Prague, a seminar on affordable housing organized by Eurocities in April and the Urban Agenda Pact of Amsterdam end of May. The work of the pilots is planned to go on for a period of 1 to 3 years, relating to a series of relevant EU urban policies and initiatives.


    Some conclusions


    There is much too much to say, on housing and its affordability in Europe. One or two points should be remembered. First that the condition of housing in Europe is at dare moment, and there is a need and responsibility from public institutions to counteract the spiral of speculation of real estate and housing sector in (re-)producing the issues of social inequalities. Second, that the major causes producing the lack of affordable and decent housing do not happen by nature, and are not incontrovertible. Aside from the perilous debate about the different models for providing and financing affordable housing solutions, the reasons for this crisis lies in series of factors that need to be interlinked. They include inefficient public and planning policies, regulations on housing investments and legislative measures not protecting enough the rights of the most vulnerable groups, inappropriate taxation systems on ownerships, weakened national welfare mechanisms and the deregulation of the rental markets. In addition particularly  important is the role of international finance with capital intense investments reducing bricks and mortar into financial assets. This is a gambling mechanism that involves banks, agencies, private companies, and public authorities creatively mastering new strategies for speculation on the housing sector (Aalbers 2008). 


    Europe can definitely do more on tackling these issues at macro and micro level, so can do cities. There are examples and experiments which can inspire other cities, as those participating in URBACT. They regard combined measures to control the staggering of house and land prices, imposing land value taxation, to promote rental regulation, to avoid wild privatization of large housing stocks, to prevent evictions while experimenting new forms of collective ownership (e.g. community land trust) et al. The State of Berlin introduced in 2015 a new national law called the mietpreisbremse or “rental price brake”, considered to be among the most innovative policy promoting rental regulation. The law has the purpose to hinder the staggering rental costs.  Berlin is the first German City enforcing the law, considering that Berlin has seen an unprecedented shrinkage of affordable rents in inner city areas with great differences between rents paid in old and new contracts. The law introduces a body that fixes a standard median rent per square meter for each city district, using figures based a biennial state census of rents. Landlords are barred from increasing rents by more than 10% above the local average. However, newly built properties and those that have undergone wholesale renovations are excluded from the rental cap. The law is also the results of intense citizens initiatives, and organisations campaigning for the recognition of housing rights in the city. It alone is not enough to solve the housing question, but can be seen as a step forward.


    The Pilot on Affordable housing promises to look for better knowledge, funding and regulation for innovative and more adequate housing solutions, consulting potential new partners on specific areas of interest and reaching out actors who are not directly involved yet.  The Urban Agenda is an important commitment for cities and Member States in Europe, and its legitimacy will be also publicly tested in relation to the democratic process of drafting it. So far, in this as much as the other European Urban agenda pilots, there is a glaring lack of voices from independent non-profit organisations, social movements and academic sector, which can bring valuable experience and critical knowledge to be harnessed in this context. By its part, URBACT has pluriennial experience in dealing with housing through dedicated networks  of cities and research such as HOUS-es (Management and Renewal of Large Housing Areas), SUITE (Optimization of a sustainable, and affordable supply of housing assuring social cohesion through social mix), HOPUS (Housing Praxis for Urban Sustainability ), CASH (cities action for sustainable housing), ReBLOCK (REviving high-rise Blocks for cohesive and green neighborhoods) and other initiatives sucha s the workstream “ Against divided cities” which touched upon the topic of housing.

    URBACT is strongly committed to contribute to the EU URBAN Agenda with knowledge, expertise on multistakehoder action planning and practices from cities involved in the programme.

    This article is part of a series that URBACT will publish in relation to the topics that are being debated within the EU Urban Agenda process. 


    Photo credits: Ivan Tosics, Re-Block network, Alex Proimos on Flickr (creative commons)  


    [1] Equivalised disposable income is the total income of a household, after tax and other deductions, that is available for spending or saving, divided by the number of household members converted into equalised adults. (EUROSTAT).

    [2] Services of general economic interest (SGEI) are economic activities that public authorities identify as being of particular importance to citizens and that would not be supplied (or would be supplied under different conditions) if there were no public intervention. Examples are transport networks, postal services and social services.

    [3] URBACT is partner of three of the pilots on “Migrants and refugees”, “Urban poverty” and “Affordable housing”.

    [4] REFIT is the European Commission's Regulatory Fitness and Performance programme. Action is taken to make EU law simpler and to reduce regulatory costs, thus contributing to a clear, stable and predictable regulatory framework supporting growth and jobs.

    [5]The issues on whether social and private housing providers have the same market access when constructing social housing have not been tackled yet

    [6]. Urban Areas: Riga (LV), Scottish Cities Alliance (UK), Vienna (AT); Member States Latvia, Luxemburg, The Netherlands, Slovakia, Slovenia, Others: EU COM (DG regio, DG energy, DG employment), AEDES, Eurocities, EIB, Housing Europe, URBACT, IUT.



    Aalbers, M.B., 2008. The financialization of home and the mortgage market crisis. competition & change12(2), pp.148-166.

    Czischke D., 2014, Social Housing and European Community Competition Law in Scanlon, K., Fernández Arrigoitia, M. and Whitehead, C.M., 2014. Social housing in Europe. John Wiley & Sons.

    Dullroy, J., 2016 “How Berlin is fending off property developers”, The Guardian , (accessed 19 March 2016)

    Geppert, A. and Colini, L., 2015. The EU Urban Agenda: Why, How and for Whom? Report from the Prague Roundtable at the AESOP Congress, 16 July 2015. disP-The Planning Review51(4), pp.93-96.

    Haffner, M.E., 2015. EU-SILC: Should We Make Do with What We Have?.Critical Housing Analysis, 2 (2) 2015.

    Kadi, J. and Musterd, S., 2015. Housing for the poor in a neo‐liberalising just city: Still affordable, but increasingly inaccessible. Tijdschrift voor economische en sociale geografie106(3), pp.246-262.

    Paris, C., 2007. International perspectives on planning and affordable housing. Housing Studies22(1), pp.1-9.

    Russel, R. 2016 “Berlin becomes first German city to make rent cap a reality” The Guardian (accessed 18 March 2016)

    Scanlon, K., Fernández Arrigoitia, M. and Whitehead, C.M., 2015. Social housing in Europe. European Policy Analysis, (17), pp.1-12.

    Scanlon, K., Fernández Arrigoitia, M. and Whitehead, C.M., 2014. Social housing in Europe. John Wiley & Sons

    Tasan-Kok, T., Groetelaers, D.A., Haffner, M.E., Van Der Heijden, H.M. and Korthals Altes, W.K., 2013. Providing cheap land for social housing: Breaching the state aid regulations of the single European market?. Regional Studies, 47(4), pp.628-642.

    Whitehead, C. and Scanlon, K.J., 2007. Social housing in Europe. London School of Economics and Political Science.

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  • Participation or Inclusion?

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    According to planning guidelines the more participative urban planning is, the better the outcomes are. However, in reality the link between more/deeper participation of residents and more positive social and environmental outcomes is not at all straightforward – public participation has many pitfalls, as shown on examples of public square planning in Budapest and Berlin.


    In this article the potential problems of public participation will be illustrated by examples of public square planning in Budapest and Berlin. The analysis is partly based on results achieved in the Green Surge project funded by the European Commission Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). Another source of inspiration is the USER network of URBACT.


    Participation in planning

    Arnstein’s “Ladder of citizen participation” (Arnstein, 1969) is probably the most cited piece of the planning literature. According to Arnstein there are 8 rungs on the ladder of citizen participation, from manipulation up till citizen control. Leaving the first two (manipulation and therapy) out of consideration, as these are solely about spreading information without allowing any feedback, real interaction between the partners starts with the next three rungs. Informing, consultation, placation refer to cases where the citizens have the right to express ideas, but the decision is still up to the public actor. The most developed stages of citizens’ participation are those upper rungs (partnership, delegated power, citizen control) where co-planning results in co-decision and co-implementation. 

    One of the main critiques in the planning literature against the (otherwise very useful) Arnstein ladder is that it refers only to top-down planning, not dealing with other ways how citizens may influence planning. Another important critique is that it does not consider the content of participation – which can easily turn into the exclusion of others who would also have the right to participate but are weaker or less interested in the planning process.

    Social inclusion in planning

    Social inclusion in general refers to the involvement of wide range of social groups (also the vulnerable ones that can easily be excluded) to different spheres of life by improving the accessibility to public and private services. Accordingly, socially inclusive planning puts the emphasis on the residents and their groupings and on the inclusion of the socially weaker parts of them.

    On the basis of an analysis of 40 European cities, it has been shown that to enhance the social aspect of sustainable development the role of the local authorities is crucial. It is not enough that the municipality has high capacity of policy-making for sustainable development. To achieve the best results the local government has also to work “…together with a civil society that is not only permitted to participate but which also has a fairly high level of capacity to act.“ (Baker-Eckerberg, 2008:91) Thus both the leadership and commitment of local government and the active involvement of local civil society are crucial (ibid, 92). The latter is not at all existing automatically everywhere, thus public interventions might be needed to develop it.


    How can planning and planners influence participation towards inclusion?

    Can there be any problem in planning if participation, i.e. the cooperation between the local government and the civil society seems to work well? Yes, „… extending participation can mean more power for those already in advantaged positions. The relationship between social capital and democracy is therefore shaped by the capacity of governing institutions to listen to, and channel the range of interests.“ (Baker-Eckerberg, 2008:77) The strong participation of some of the actors as opposed to no participation of others usually leads to the dominance of pressure groups. Lobbying “... might lead to bottom-up resistance against planned public policies or to pushing through some changes against the will of politicians and planning procedures.“ (Tosics, 2013:399) This aspect became even more important after the break out of the financial crisis, as less public money remained for distribution – therefore more attention has to be paid to socially oriented approaches of participation/inclusion.

    In all cities of Europe there are certain aspects of planning that are object to public consultation dictated by laws or regulations. However, Green Surge research has shown that these forms of consultation are very often formal, more output oriented (aiming to approach the different stakeholder groups) than result oriented (to ensure that the different groups have really been contacted and their ideas have really been taken into account). In most countries of Europe the guidelines imposed by the state only encourage consultation and the involvement of stakeholder groups into the planning process in the weaker, output oriented form.

    Allowing for bottom-up ideas in the participation process might be a step towards more socially inclusive planning, especially if these ideas are taken into consideration in decision-making. In the last decades even more radical new approaches have been formulated to enhance the inclusive/social character of planning through citizen participation. On the basis of Bratt-Reardon (2013:359) these can be summarized in the following way:

    • Advocacy planning, an idea raised by Paul Davidoff (1965), aims to provide disadvantaged residents with opportunities to enter into negotiations with public officials and private developers. In this case the planner acts as “advocate” of the socially disadvantaged, gives them expert advice in planning matters, assists and represents them before official bodies. This might be a first step for a planner to give up the position of a value-neutral technocrat whose role is to carry out the plans of those in power. Instead, an advocacy planner assists multiple interests, with a particular focus on the poor and minority concerns, to argue their alternative proposals.
    • Empowerment planning goes a step further insofar it seeks to enhance the capacity of community organizations to influence the investment decisions.  The planner applies the planning skills so that people can make informed decisions for themselves, both regarding organizing and political strategies, as well as more traditional planning outcomes–programs, buildings, businesses ... the approach integrates participatory action research, direct action organizing, and popular education into a powerful social change process (Reardon, 2000; Kennedy, 1996)
    • Equity planning aims for changing the planning process itself towards more equitable outcomes, based on planners who work inside government and actively influence opinion, mobilize underrepresented constituencies, and develope, advance and perhaps implement policies and programs that redistribute public and private resources to the poor and working class (Metzger, 1996).

    The above mentioned planning approaches are – in an increasing order – more radical towards social inclusion insofar they are giving up the ‚neutrality‘ of planning, aiming at active support to be given to those population groups which would not be represented sufficiently in the participation process. The essence of these radical approaches is the understanding and empowerment of the disadvantaged groups, either through the planner or with the help of social workers and the aim to influence planning towards more equitable outcomes.

    The difference between the usual approach to provide opportunities for participation to all and the additional efforts to empower the less motivated groups can be explained on two examples of planning public squares in European cities.


    A case from Budapest: Teleki tér

    In Budapest one of the ‚hot topics‘ of urban development is the discussion about the involvement of affected groups into planning. In the case of Teleki square an innovative participative planning procedure has been launched by a group of young planners called “Újirány” (“New direction”). With the consent of the district 8 local government the group of planners initiated a public planning procedure about the new layout of a large square in one of the most deprived neighbourhoods of Budapest. The result was very positive: many of the residents became active and finally their ideas were implemented with the help of EU money. Moreover, the active residents formed an association which takes responsibility in the protection of the renewed square.

    This participatory planning procedure was a pioneer attempt in Budapest. However, acknowledging the achieved results, some sociologists raised critical voices, emphasizing that in reality the process did not include all groups, as the most marginalized social groups living in large numbers in the area (the Roma, the homeless) were left out. In the Teleki square example the participation process stopped before entering the phase of empowerment or equity planning – there were no attempts to actively look for those residents who did not show up by themselves in the course of the (otherwise open for all) participatory planning procedure. The Roma, the homeless, the alcoholics did not participate and this can clearly be seen in the result of the planning procedure: the new furnitures of the park are carefully designed not to allow sleeping; drinking and smoking has been strictly forbidden in the new park area; the green areas are not allowed for longer-term use. Besides having the park fenced and closed between 8 pm and 8 am, there are guards employed to kick out immediately those people who hurt these rules.

    The result, as the pictures show, is a nice green area for different age groups, developed in a participative planning process which, however, excluded all groups which were considered as deviant by the majority population. This has led in practice to a new exclusion: the hated groups have even less access to green space as they had before the improvement of the public square started.







    A case from Berlin

    The Helmholtz square participative planning project in Berlin has a long history. Some 15 years ago the square has been regenerated in a district government initiated participative process. The officials and planners made huge efforts to involve into the discussions all the different users of the square. As a result all the different user groups got their separated place in the square, even the alcoholics, who were always present and belonged since long to the area.

    The square was part of one of the formally designated urban regeneration areas of Berlin. However, with the improvement of the indicator values reflecting the social position of the local residents, this area was the first which in 2007 has been phased-out of the Neighbourhood Management programme. As a result the special budget to deal with the problems of Helmholtzplatz has been eliminated, the social outreach work and the clerk's office were closed down.

    The socially weaker groups continue to be present also nowadays in the square. As a most visible sign of that a heterogeneous group of people is drinking in the central area (not in the corner which was originally designed for them). They are sometimes noisy, and have large dogs. Their presence is recently less and less tolerated by the residents around – not independently of the gentrification process which has speeded up in this centrally located neighbourhood of Berlin. As the middle class groups become dominant among the residents, more and more people would like to kick out the “problematic elements”. On the other hand the association of long-term residents shows strong social sensitivity and would like to keep the diversified structure of the square.

    For the time being the district government would avoid the displacement of the poorer people and would like to keep the place open for all. In order to achieve this, amidst the growing protests of the middle-class residents, the government wants to put again more resources into the management of the square, aiming for better care of the place, and creating a less centrally located place for the alcoholics, where they would be required to keep the rules that apply to all. Huge importance is given to start again continuous social outreach work – despite the financing problems, as the subsidies are only available for physical interventions. Equally high importance is given to measures to keep the social mix of the residents, to prevent the conversion of rental housing into condominiums and apartments and keep some type of rent control.

    In the last year the district government made huge efforts to discuss the problems with all groups of residents and users of the square. If the negotiated interventions can be carried out and the financial means for ongoing social care will be found, the mixture of uses of Helmholtz square can be saved, including also the lowest strata of society – the alcoholics and homeless would get again their (less centrally located) place. 







    Conclusions and lessons learnt 

    The comparison of the two public square planning processes in Budapest and Berlin shows remarkable differences. The Budapest case can be considered as much less successful to include the socially disadvantaged groups into the planning process and into the use of the square. It is important to recognize that this is not only (and not even mainly) the fault of the young and enthusiastic planning team which coordinated the participatory process. To a much larger extent it shows the lack of open attitude towards social inclusion of the local residents in Budapest. Furthermore, there are huge differences in the attitudes of the local governments of the two cities: in Berlin both the Senate and the district government commit themselves to follow inclusive policies with active support to the disadvantaged strata of the society. Unfortunately in Budapest currently just the opposite tendencies dominate from the side of ruling politicians at all level.

    The lesson to be learnt from these cases is that participation (even on the higher rungs of Arnsteins ladder) is in itself not enough to ensure socially inclusive outcomes of the planning processes. In order to achieve more social justice in planning the participation mechanisms have to be extended with active work of planners and public officials towards the most disadvantaged population groups, to ensure that their interests are sufficiently taken into account during the planning process, leading to a new development which is really open to all strata of society. 



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    USER. An URBACT network (2012-2015) exploring the link between the design of urban public spaces and the main goals of urban planning. New trends in how public spaces are used, what the new users’ needs are, increasing malfunctions and conflicts among uses, etc. are discussed.



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