In its first Committee meeting after the summer break, Members of the European Parliament’s Committee on Employment and Social Affairs debated adequate and affordable housing. Within the scope of an own initiative report, the Committee urges the Commission to dedicate more effort to the fight for affordable housing and to treat housing as a fundamental right.
According to the European Federation of National Organisations working with the Homeless (FEANTSA), each night, 700,000 people in Europe are sleeping rough or in temporary accommodation. And these figures do not even take the rise of homelessness as a result of the Coronavirus crisis into account. The problem has massively increased since the 2008/2009 financial and economic crisis. The number of homeless people has increased by 70 % from 2010 to 2020. This trend – according to the EMPL Committee – shall now be increasingly counteracted at European level. It requires an ambitious fight against homelessness to ensure that the right to housing will indeed be treated as a fundamental right. On 31 August 2020, Parliament set out and discussed a draft for an own initiative report.
Increased vulnerability due to the Coronavirus
Calls for creating affordable housing are not new. The European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) “Housing for All“ was launched in March 2018 and has also been supported by the Chamber of Labour. Even though the ECI has ended in the meantime, it has given significant momentum for the Parliamentary initiative and shown the topicality and urgency of problem solutions. Since the beginning of the Coronavirus crisis, the situation for the homeless has further deteriorated; they are particularly badly affected by the economic and social consequences of the pandemic. The pandemic has further aggravated the already existing structural problems.
Housing is a fundamental right
Members of the European Parliament’s Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL) criticise that current laws often provide more protection for investors than for residents. An integrated European housing market policy, which treats housing as a fundamental right, is urgently required. The EU’s tax and budget policy has a strong impact on the housing market policy and therefore must also be given greater recognition in the European Semester. Apart from that, the Green Deal, the fight against energy poverty and increased home renovations have to be given priority. Discrimination in the housing market, for example in respect of elderly people and people with mobility issues has to be removed. Apart from that, the Commission should ensure better availability of data and thereby better comparability between Member States. For example, the latest data from Estonia date back to 2011.
Investments urgently required
Michaela Kauer, Head of the Brussels Liaison Office of the City of Vienna and one of the chairladies within the framework of the European Housing Partnership was a guest of the EMPL Committee. She emphasised that mistakes of the past must not be repeated. A study commissioned by the EMPL Committee concludes that in respect of affordable housing the current annual public investment gap is 57 billion euro. In the meantime, according to Kauer, the housing crisis has also reached the middle class. This has not only a negative impact on the people concerned but also on consumption and the real economy.
Commission plans to present Action Plan 2021
The Commission intends to set out an action plan next year, which is to include a public consultation. Apart from that, reference was made to the future initiatives in respect of energy efficiency and renovation. Josefine Hederström, Head of Unit. DG for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, who had also been invited as a guest to the EMPL, basically agrees to the pleas of the MEPs. However, standards of adequate housing would vary from Member State to Member State; it was therefore difficult to unify them.
One can only hope that in view of the clearly existing need for action the Commission will become more active. More affordable, sustainable and inclusive housing must be urgently created to ensure that everybody does indeed benefit from the right to housing.