Where will we live tomorrow?

4 March 2021

You’ve been laid off, or perhaps you’re furloughed. Your monthly housing rent is more difficult to make than ever. Imagine then the added stress of being told that your rent must increase.

For around one third of Europeans, who rent, this is an all too real possibility. One reason for rent increases can be the knock-on effects of building renovations.

Affordable Housing Initiative

A cornerstone of the European Commission’s renovation wave strategy, the EU Affordable Housing Initiative aims to revitalise 100 neighbourhoods as lighthouse projects across the EU in the coming years. Given that buildings make up 40% of the EU´s energy consumption and cause 36% of greenhouse gas emissions, renovations are central to creating carbon neutral cities. Moreover, green renovation promises to create 160,000 jobs in the European construction sector, and, if done properly, could go some way to lifting 34 million Europeans out of energy poverty.

With this in mind, the question becomes: how can we manage this crucial environmental challenge of urban renewal in a socially responsible way?

The city of Vienna, which has been active in the Smarter Together project, and recently hosted an event on ‘the Affordable Housing Initiative’ as part of the Progressive Housing Week, can provide some answers, as it has been involving people from its Simmering district in urban renewal for several years.

Smarter Together

Simmering has 21,000 inhabitants with an overall lower educational level and higher unemployment-rates than the average for the Austrian capital. This was important to note from the outset of the project, because the city took a more holistic approach to the issues of housing and poverty. It did not only look at refurbishment and renovation, but also at the wider needs of the district, such as energy provision, mobility and public services.

This approach has helped to refurbish three housing complexes for around 1,300 inhabitants, while matching energy savings to the energy consumption of 700 households or 2000 tons of CO2, and creating around 900 jobs.

Renoviction level playing field

One of the successes of the Vienna example is crucial to the Affordable Housing Initiative: rent increases should be fully balanced by energy savings to achieve housing cost neutrality. Currently, 21 EU member states allow for the costs of renovation to be passed on to tenants, leading to displacement and gentrification.

Urban renewal in Vienna © Hauffgasse, Foto Bojan Schnabl

“It is crucial that we get the renovation wave right and make sure that it leaves no one behind,” argued Sorcha Edwards, Secretary-General of Housing Europe, at the event mentioned above. “The Affordable Housing Initiative should be a wave to bring, affordability and social inclusion to the ground. It should contribute to create jobs and small SMEs, help the local construction sector, focus on areas with social problems and make housing fit for the ageing population.”

“A main criterion of the initiative should be to apply strict rules to achieve housing cost neutrality,” added Barbara Steenbergen, Head of liaison office to the EU of the International Union of Tenants, who called for a ‘European Code of Conduct for Renovation’. According to Steenbergen, this would mean including tenants’ participation in renovation projects, as is the case in the Responsible Housing Initiative, and making rental laws more socially balanced by considering funding and financing issues within existing national rental laws. In this way, rent increases by renovation can be balanced by energy efficiency to avoid ‘renovictions’ and pricing out tenants through gentrification.

Find out more on Vienna’s website and on the European Commission’s website here and here

Read more on this topic from Eurocities

Main Photo credits: © IBA Wien, S. Goller


Alex Godson Eurocities Writer