Joining forces for a fairer housing market

6 March 2024

Housing Ministers met yesterday under the Belgian presidency of the EU Council to issue the ‘Liege Declaration’ on housing, advocating for “Affordable, decent and sustainable housing for all”. 

The declaration recommends the European Commission establish an EU platform inspired by the European Platform on Combatting Homelessness. 

“We welcome the idea of setting up this platform ‘to urgently support national, regional and local partnership to end housing exclusion’,” says Anna Iafisco, Policy Officer at Eurocities. 

The increasing cost of buying and renting

According to Eurostat, one-third of Europeans reside in rental properties. However, rent prices are frequently unmanageable. As the declaration states, the average rents in the EU were almost a quarter higher at the end of 2023 than at the start of 2010, and the average cost of a house in the EU was nearly 50% higher in mid-2023 than at the same time in 2010, according to the European Union. 

This is compounded by steep increases in energy expenses, particularly in homes with inadequate insulation. This situation impacts vulnerable and low-income households the most. 

“The housing crisis that European cities experience and the difficulties for citizens in accessing decent and affordable housing requires fast and coordinated actions across all levels of government,” says Iafisco. Ministers call for the platform not only to share best practices, but also to encourage long-term partnerships across all levels of government and support skills development of local authorities in the social and affordable housing sector. They also advocate for extending the EU support to national, regional and local authorities in the housing sector. 

This all builds on the messages from the Brussels Declaration signed by mayors last January, also under the Belgian presidency of the EU Council. The declaration presents several priorities for European municipalities, stating the need to promote the right to affordable, quality and sustainable housing.

What has the EU done so far?

Some useful movements have been made recently within the EU, such as approving the short-rental initiative. This ensures that local authorities finally get the data they need to enforce the existing rules on limiting the maximum number of rentals allowed per year in an accommodation. 

The Committee of the Regions is also working on the draft opinion on the Commission for Territorial Cohesion. Despite housing policies being out of direct competence at the European level, institutions can facilitate progress in policies to guarantee decent and affordable housing, such as competition law, the economic governance framework, and energy policy. Moreover, EU funds and the European Investment Bank (EIB)’s financing must be reinforced to provide direct support to cities. Under the InvestEU Programme, the EIB and the city of Hanover signed a €60 million loan to build 640 new rental apartments, of which 232 are social and 408 are affordable housing units. 

The housing crisis and the difficulties in accessing decent and affordable housing require fast and coordinated actions across all levels of government.
— Anna Iafisco, Policy Officer at Eurocities

Eurocities members have advocated for decent and affordable housing in previous years. The network was part of the ten-point plan that Nice launched in 2022 to guarantee better access to housing. The recommendations were based on long-term investment in social, cooperative and public housing, a fair energy transition that makes green citizenship a reality for all, and inclusive and attractive Next-Generation neighbourhoods. 

In November 2023, Eurocities signed an open letter with other stakeholders that emphasised the need for legislative change, particularly the revision of the EU’s Services of General Economic Interest decision in 2012 and stressed the need to extend social housing to middle-income groups. 

Cities tackle housing affordability differently

“The truth is housing affordability has a strong impact on cities but at the same time, local governments are uniquely placed to forge innovative solutions as circumstances require,” states Iafisco. Municipalities respond to different accessibility housing threads, such as a lack of social housing stock, deteriorating public housing stock, or empty buildings. 

For example, Dublin is creating new social housing apartments by adapting and refurbishing vacant office and commercial buildings. Via the Villaggio Gandusio project, Bologna aims to foster social innovation and fight against energy poverty by renovating building facades, installing heat meters, and better general maintenance. 

Housing affordability has a strong impact on cities but at the same time, local governments are uniquely placed to forge innovative solutions
— Anna Iafisco, Policy Officer at Eurocities

Lodz aims to revitalise many municipal apartments currently vacant and in disrepair to provide affordable housing options for residents needing accommodation. Barcelona worked in a new social housing complex for the most vulnerable elderly groups. These buildings count on a small team of caretakers and social workers who offer essential assistance. 

As part of the ‘Milan Employment Pact’, the Italian city addresses high rents and the growing difficulties for workers of essential services by helping them find accommodation in the city. Lyon Metropole acquired 87 properties to turn them into social housing to “put existing housing back into the circuit by renovating them and transforming them into social rental products for families and students”.


Marta Buces Eurocities Writer
Anna Iafisco Policy Officer