Highlights from Eurocities’ housing working group meeting on renovation and renewal of the neighbourhoods

4 February 2020

On 20-21 November, the cities part of the working group for housing met in Ghent to discuss on ‘the renovation and renewal of neighbourhoods: housing policy towards homeowners and the problems of relocation and gentrification’.

Ghent has presented their approach on quality of housing, especially on enforcing standards and on the quality control through ‘proof of conformity’. There have been implemented through the ‘Flemish Code of Housing’.The city has presented also ‘Housing Task Force’ which was established in 2017 to address the local housing crisis. The task force is designed to combine housing and wellbeing and the access to equal opportunities. The city has used a multi-actor governance to involve the civil society organisations, social housing actors, private sector and the local government (politicians and civil servants) for policy recommendations for the on supply of private and social housing, modular design, mobile habitats, living together, qualitative living environment.

Four other cities have presented their practices on the renovation and renewal of the neighbourhoods.

  • Barcelona highlighted buildings with socially vulnerable inhabitants that hardly participate in public renovation programs and therefore specific renovation aid program are needed to impact degraded buildings.
  • Lyon presented the “Energy Climat roadmap of Great Lyon” with emphasis on energetic refurbishment for housing.
  • Vienna explained the approach of “Gentle urban renewal in Vienna” as an ongoing method to ensure affordable living and social mix in Vienna while involving the residents, as well as enhancing the quality of life and improving the living environment.
  • Zurich presented the project of “Highway cover and renewal in Schwamendingen – Zurich”. For this project even a Guidelines/ manual of the City: “success factors for socially sustainable replacements and renovations”; was developed and communicated.

The Green Deal was one of the main topics of discussion during the meeting. During the discussions held in Ghent, the members of the working group have highlighted:

  1. The need for the renovation of existing housing stock is a major challenge for Europe in meeting the climate goals. The energy efficiency of buildings can contribute substantially to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preventing energy poverty. Buildings – including household boilers and heaters – are responsible for 40% of the EU’s total energy consumption, making them one of the biggest contributors to global warming emissions in Europe.
  2. A focus should be on increasing renovation rates of buildings and increasing the changeover of old heating technologies towards new decarbonised heating technologies.
  3. The renovation of the existing housing stuck can be effectively achieved only by considering its social impact in terms of affordability and social cohesion in line with Sustainable Development Goal 11 on Sustainable Cities and Communities.
  4. Renovations should not lead to massive increases in rent, trigger gentrification or cause excessive financial burden to the extent that security of tenure is jeopardized by making overall housing costs after renovation unaffordable. After energy-efficient modernization, the cost balance should be at least cost-neutral for the residents, meaning that rent increases are balanced by energy savings. In this approach, ‘renovictions’ (evictions by renovation) can be prevented by obligatory residents’ participation and by an active role of cities in its implementation. This recommendation is part as well of the Action plan of the EU Urban Agenda Partnership on Housing. Cities should have an active role in supporting the implementation of these measures in order to prevent negative social side effects.
  5. Cities and social housing providers cannot do it alone. Direct subsidies for energy renovation, in addition to low-interest loans, should be available. This would effectively fight ‘renovictions’ and energy poverty. Funding from the European Investment Bank (EIB), which recently overhauled its energy lending policy, should also be mobilised.