A new Eurocities report on housing and homelessness shows that a lack of access to affordable and social housing was already putting new groups of Europeans at risk of poverty and social exclusion before the COVID-19 pandemic. Recent trends, such as mass and unregulated tourism, increasing rents and precarious work contracts mean that housing is increasingly becoming a concern for middle-income earners, as well as lower-income earners and other vulnerable groups.
Eradicating homelessness is flagged by the network as another crucial urban challenge where new profiles of vulnerable people are emerging, with upwards trends in unemployment and urban poverty cited among other factors.
Cities already play a big role in social housing policies, although this is most often a shared competence with other levels of government. As indicated in the study, some of the key roles currently carried out by city authorities include measures to prevent evictions and homelessness, and targeted measures to help vulnerable people access social housing. Bilbao has created a housing support scheme for young people, while Riga has a dedicated programme for individuals with specific needs such as disabilities or for those who are at retirement age.
Across Europe there is a severe lack of affordable rental housing, and rents are increasing. This is partly due to factors such as population growth in cities and the privatisation of social housing stock, but the end result is oftentimes a long wait list for people trying to access social housing. With this in mind, the cities’ network makes several policy recommendations for European decision makers. These include facilitating cities’ access to EU financial programmes, including the recovery funds, to improve investment in social housing stock in cities; and to ensure a fair transition by supporting energy efficiency in the existing housing stock.
Almost all cities implement actions to reintegrate homeless people into independent living. A shift from homelessness management to a ‘Housing First’ approach is mentioned by the great majority of cities, whereby housing is provided upfront to homeless people without the need to go through other emergency measures first. In Ghent, for example, transit housing units are available for groups at risk of homelessness, including refugees.
The report is the third in a series of surveys conducted by Eurocities collecting evidence from cities on the implementation of the principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights.
It coincides with Eurocities political campaign ‘Inclusive cities for all: social rights in my city’ in which, so far, more than 60 major European cities have made concrete commitments to social rights over the coming years. With over one third of these commitments made in the field of housing and homelessness, and representing over €2.5bn of investments over the next five years, it demonstrates a major issue facing Europe.