Time to end housing crisis – an open letter

13 November 2023

More and more Europeans are feeling the sting of the housing crisis affecting much of the bloc. Now, leading European organisations have come together with one voice to encourage Europe’s leaders to take action, and demand fair and sustainable housing for Europe’s people. An open letter from CEMR, Eurocities, Housing Europe, the International Union of Tenants, and SOLIDAR to the European Union Ministers for Housing advocates for investment in affordable housing, legislative reforms, and a broader approach to social housing.

The letter, released today, comes as these ministers begin their Informal Ministerial Meeting on Housing and Urban Development (November 13-14) in Gijon, under the Spanish EU Council Presidency. Here, they are set to adopt the Gijon Declaration on sustainable, healthy, and inclusive housing. Read it in full here.

Housing at the fore

Cities, regions, and countries across the EU are contending with a severe shortage of decent, affordable, and adequate housing. The rents and house prices, outpacing income growth, are leading to a significant financial burden on households. This crisis is no longer confined to the most vulnerable groups; it now includes many middle-income families who are struggling to find affordable housing in the market. Key workers like police officers, teachers, and nurses, along with young adults and individuals facing significant life changes, such as divorce, find themselves particularly affected.

Legislative action now

The letter emphasises the need for legislative change, particularly the revision of the EU’s Services of General Economic Interest (SGEI) decision in 2012. An updated understanding who social housing is for, one that includes housing for middle-income groups, is needed to facilitate a more inclusive approach, and European state aid rules must be adjusted to accommodate this.

The signatory organisations strongly support the Housing Ministers’ recommendation to the European Commission for a renewed approach in this area, aligning with broader European perspectives, including the European Parliament’s Own-Initiative Report (2021) and opinions from the European Committee of the Regions (2017) and the European Economic and Social Committee (2019).

At home in your city

Sustainable and affordable housing has long been a core issue for Europe’s cities, which have a long history of innovative approaches. Amsterdam has been proactive in mitigating energy poverty through grants and support schemes for low-income households.

Bologna, Valencia and Valladolid are establishing local green energy communities and renovating public housing while involving universities, residents’ associations, and energy agencies for sustainable urban living. Vienna, to tackle unaffordable energy prices, has expanded its grant programme significantly, investing in energy-efficient housing and supporting vulnerable groups, including women.

Bristol, Lyon, Munich, Porto, Rotterdam and Tallinn are also among the cities spearheading initiatives for sustainable and inclusive housing. Bristol’s One City Approach brings together civic leaders to solve community issues, while Munich’s Green Social New Deal focuses on environmental protection and social cohesion.

Porto’s strategy includes affordable housing and clean mobility solutions, and Lyon offers a monthly minimum income for young people alongside psychological support. Tallinn’s investment in combating homelessness and Rotterdam’s focus on educational investments demonstrate diverse approaches to social issues tied to housing.

Cities have not only been operationalising these principles for many years, but also have long been advocating through Eurocities for these kinds of changes at European level, many of which are already embodied in this Eurocities policy paper from all the way back in 2013.

A fairer Europe

With this letter, Eurocities and its co-signatories make it clear that there is broad support for increased momentum on accessible, affordable, and sustainable housing across Europe. As the EU Ministers gather in Gijon, their decisions and subsequent actions will be crucial in shaping the housing landscape of Europe.

It is hoped that the Gijon Declaration will be a significant step toward creating more inclusive, sustainable, and healthy living environments, but the real measure of success will be in the tangible actions that follow, transforming the landscape of housing in the EU.