Call for affordable housing echoes through Vienna

29 April 2024

“Our cities are grappling with a housing crisis that threatens the very fabric of our society,” warned Heidi Hesske, Director of International Affairs at Leipzig City Council, speaking on behalf of Eurocities at last Friday’s high-level stakeholder dialogue on social and affordable housing hosted by the Mayor of Vienna, Michael Ludwig.

Hesske went on to hammer home the severity of the housing crisis that European citizens face.

“Families are being priced out of neighbourhoods they have called home for generations. Essential workers, the backbone of our economy, are forced to commute long distances simply to find a place to live that they can afford. It’s also our young people who bear the brunt of this crisis, as they struggle to find stable housing and build their futures in an increasingly unaffordable market,” she said.

Mayor Ludwig, along with EU Social Commissioner Nicolas Schmit and representatives from EU institutions and interest groups, emphasised the need for collaboration.

“Strong alliances are necessary for the major challenges at the EU level. This includes the cities as well as the various European institutions and interest groups,” said Ludwig.

What helps cities with housing?

Bratislava, Dublin, Milan, and Amsterdam are just a few European cities facing severe shortages of affordable rental stock.

Hesske reminded the audience of the Housing Ministers´ recommendation in the Gijon Declaration to “discuss and assess an extension of the definition of social housing developments to facilitate the application of state aid regulations in housing policies.”

There are also studies showing how, in a city like Vienna, affordable housing provided by limited-profit housing associations has positively impacted their tenants and the economy and influences prices on the housing market more widely.

However, for those municipalities with limited funding options, some EU financing opportunities are currently available. For instance, in Vienna, under Horizon2020, the Smarter Together project located in the Simmering district resulted in the renovation of three housing complexes for 1,300 residents with thermal-energetic measures, photovoltaics and solar thermal energy, as well as e-car sharing in housing complexes, and the systematic involvement of citizens in the SIMmobil mobile hands-on laboratory.

But cities need more support from European institutions and a willingness to include them in the decision-making processes to tackle the housing crisis. The EU institutions must make the issue of social and affordable housing for all a priority in the coming mandate period. “This affects [the EU] Parliament, the Commission, and the Council. It is crucial to institutionally involve cities and regions in the assessment and development of EU policy and not just talk about individual measures,” Ludwig added.

All these demands were gathered in an open letter, ‘A new governance framework for housing for the common good in Europe,’ urging greater integration of cities and regions in European housing policy.

Affordable housing for all

Ensuring everyone has a place to call their own is about “investing in our communities, in the future of our children, and in the very idea of solidarity and compassion that lies at the heart of the European project,” added Hesske.

“I understand that change of this magnitude will not happen overnight. There will be challenges and obstacles along the way. But together, we can overcome them. Together, we can build a future where housing is not an asset but a common good. Together, we can create a Europe where no one is left behind,” she concluded.

The meeting highlighted the significance of affordable housing ahead of the European elections, emphasising that it is a fundamental right for all EU citizens. Participants, including key players in social and affordable housing like the International Tenants’ Association and Housing Europe, formulated the open letter urging greater integration of cities and regions in European housing policy.

Copyright: Stadt Wien/Votava

The dialogue saw involvement from the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions, the European Investment Bank, Eurocities, and the Council of European Municipalities and Regions united in their support for the cause.