Home » НОВОСТИ » ЖИЛЬЦЫ ЕВРОПЫ » European platform on the Right to Housing (2009)

Mostra/Nascondi il menu

European platform on the Right to Housing (2009)

In light of the failure of the neo-liberal approach, the social organizations that work in the housing field would urge their respective governments and the European Union to take up the following proposals in order to promote coordinated policies among the EU member states, accompanied by the strengthening of the related competencies of the EU bodies.

It doesn’t make sense to have a Europe based on the market; rather, it should be based on its people and their rights, as it is upon their acceptance that the adhesion to the process of European unification will depend.

Basing housing policies and European directives on the Right to Housing

Updated platform presented by the International Alliance of Inhabitants in the final informal meeting of the European Ministries on Housing issues (Marsiglia, novembre 2008).

The housing issue is (g)local 

All of the countries of the European Union have ratified international treaties and conventions that recognise and protect the right to housing: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 25), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Article 11), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 27), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Articles 14 and 15), the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (Article 8), the European Social Charter (Articles 15, 16, 19, 23, 30, 31) and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (Article 2, clause 94).

Nevertheless, despite this legal recognition by the EU member states, often reinforced by national constitutions and legislation, and in spite of the additional commitment of states towards achieving Millennium Development Goal 7, Target 11 – which aims to improve the housing conditions of 100 million slum dwellers by 2020 – and the Lisbon Strategy for social inclusion at the European level, housing rights are increasingly violated.

In other words, the member states of the European Union as well as the EU itself are contributing to the failure of these minimal objectives, since it is predicted that the global housing crisis will only get worse. At global level, there are in fact over 1 billion people who are either homeless or living in inadequate housing conditions, a figure that is expected to reach 1.7 billion by the year 2020.

In Europe the housing crisis affects 70 million people living in inadequate housing conditions, of which approximately 18 million are under threat of eviction and 3 million are homeless. This figure is increasing further as a result of the global financial crisis, which is causing approximately 2 million families in Europe to lose their homes as they are forced to default on their mortgage payments.

These people find themselves excluded from the housing market and there is a lack of adequate social policies. Neither the member states nor the local authorities are able to offer satisfactory solutions to the problem.

The crisis is aggravated by the free circulation of speculative investments within the EU (including Private Equity Funds, investment banks, newly introduced REITs and mortgage securitisation); the privatisation of public and social housing sectors; the commercialisation of the housing market in general, even in the majority of the new member states; migration and unbalanced agglomeration; gentrification, tourism and pro-business orientated urban development projects; middle class orientated urban sprawl and homeowner-orientated development and policies, resulting in an enormous deepening of inequality and intra-urban social segregation. 

The result is an exorbitant increase in the deficit of affordable decent housing and of house prices and rents, less security of tenure in housing contracts, greater risk of foreclosure in mortgage agreements, increased threat of evictions and other forms of urban real estate violence which affect the young, the elderly, the unemployed, the poor and migrants, as well as families on an average income.

This situation leads to the opposite of social inclusion: marginalisation, precarisation and social segregation; it fosters inequality, speculation and corruption.

This inequality will deepen as long as the redistribution of wealth is reserved to speculators and the very rich.

The consequences cannot be dealt with by the individual member states alone, because of the budget cuts imposed by Eurocontrol mechanisms and the monetary policies of the European Central Bank, the low taxation levels imposed by EU market policies, the high costs of improving standards in the new member states, the globalisation of financial markets and labour, and the level of economic integration that the European market has already achieved. Without the re-allocation of the necessary resources little can be done by those who – often at a decentralised sub-national level – have the responsibility for the development and implementation of state housing and urban development policies.

The failure of the EU’s liberalist approach to the housing issue

Whilst a definitive EU competence for housing is not unanimously accepted, all agree with the fact that many aspects of the urban and housing question are co-determined by EU policies. And this determination completely fails to address the existing housing needs.

Instead of working towards the recognition of European policies for the right to housing, the European Commission reinforces the mercantile aspect of housing through directives on building, insurance, tenders, taxation, FEDER and BEI funds, urban programmes, etc.

It has also muscled in on the sphere of the public housing service. The DG Competition is making inroads into this sector in various countries, for example: contesting the funding system – Livret “A” – of the sector in France, requiring Holland to privatise its public cooperative sector, contesting the tax benefits for Swedish communal housing associations, promoting a tax-free emission of capital stocks in German housing companies, forcing local authorities to sell communal land according to the rules of competition, etc.

At the same time, the European Parliament has voted on the Bolkenstein Directive for the liberalisation of public services, leaving out only the charity housing sector: this represents the death of public social housing as a general alternative to the free market.

Toward the Right to Housing as a basis for the Europe that we want

In light of the failure of the neo-liberal approach, the social organizations that work in the housing field would urge their respective governments and the European Union to take up the following proposals in order to promote coordinated policies among the EU member states, accompanied by the strengthening of the related competencies of the EU bodies.

It doesn’t make sense to have a Europe based on the market; rather, it should be based on its people and their rights, as it is upon their acceptance that the adhesion to the process of European unification will depend.

a) Explicitly recognise the Right to Housing in the EU constitution

The EU should officially and fully adopt the international conventions (i.e. the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, etc.) and public bodies, including the European Commission, should respect the legal obligations and resulting responsibilities through the implementation of policies based on these rights at all levels: 

  1. The EU should adopt directives for legally enforceable housing rights in favour of households which are homeless or living in inadequate housing conditions, offering legal and executive guarantees to access safe and decent housing. If the state is not able to provide a decent home, those who are homeless should have the right to live in vacant properties with rents covered by the public sector.
  2. The EU should adopt European directives to reinforce legal regulations in favour of the right to housing, providing effective instruments to all member states for their implementation.

For example: 

  • legal standards and public guarantees for the accuracy and security of rental contracts;
  • legal standards for the calculation of rents and expenses, guaranteeing rights for rent reduction in cases of contract violation;
  • legal mechanisms to oppose extra-legal pressure and mobbing;
  • prohibition of eviction without rehousing. As per Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and general comments n. 4 and 7, evictions without the offer of agreed, decent, secure, and affordable alternatives, which must be developed in consultation with the affected residents, must be prohibited. Extra-legal evictions and other violent forms of pressure must be publicly prosecuted as crimes.

b) Launch a New Deal for social cohesion through a coordinated European Public Housing Service 

  1. The EU, together with its member states, should develop a new framework for a European Public Housing Service, including the non-profit, social and cooperative sectors. The various types of non-commercial housing providers (depending on the national situation) which are dedicated to the provision of decent and affordable housing for all and which are committed to EU defined standards of a social and democratic management, should enjoy specific public support, e.g. tax reductions or direct subsidies, without being in contradiction to EU standards.
  2. Taking into account the fact that 40 per cent of energy is consumed by buildings, a European Directive should be established for zero-energy properties, that is, properties that produce as much energy as they consume, bringing forward the 2018 deadline that was recently voted on by the European Parliament.
  3. The EU, together with its member states, should develop coordinated programmes for financing affordable and decent housing.

These programmes should: 

  • address the relative housing deficit through the construction, recuperation or purchasing of at least 18 million new affordable homes in 5 years;
  • improve the energy efficiency of the existing housing stock, beginning with the not-for-profit sector, by establishing by 2010 a European directive for zero energy properties;
  • provide funding for the housing sector: the EU should develop a specific Housing Cohesion Fund, which could partly be financed by national taxation on financial and real-estate speculation (e.g. on property transactions, on vacant properties and land kept fallow for speculative purposes, on housing converted to commercial spaces, on luxury housing consumption, etc.), as well as the European Structural Funds.

c) Stop the privatisation, commercialisation and deregulation of the housing sector 

  • The public housing sector should be totally excluded from the Bolkenstein Directive for the liberalisation of public services of general interest.
  • Member states should immediately stop the privatisation of public housing and develop alternatives for the housing stock within the framework of a new European public housing service, including the new not-for-profit housing sector.
  • The introduction of new national or European REITs should be stopped. The EU should instead develop a model of Housing Finance Trusts under public control.
  • Public control, legal regulations and taxation on existing REITs should be reinforced in order to increase public transparency, guaranteeing sufficient capital for the sustainable management of the properties and allowing for reinvestment into the existing housing stock or needed new construction, thus stimulating the transformation of financial instruments into less speculative assets, or even better, into housing finance structures such as Housing Finance Trusts.
  • Highly speculative derivatives and securitisation instruments like mortgage-backed securities should be banned within the housing sector.

d)  E nsure the affordability of housing costs 

  • The EU should develop a strategy that ensures that in all member states housing costs (rent or mortgage plus service charges) should not exceed a certain proportion of the household income. The maximum rate should be defined according to income levels. Whilst this can be a certain percentage for middle-income households, it should be significantly lower for the poorest households. In no case should these costs force households to go below the poverty line.
  • Possible tools for reducing housing costs include the provision of public and social housing, legal standards, means of price and rent control, social tariffs, direct subsidies for the poorest households, the introduction of a guaranteed minimum income, public credit for housing investments at reduced rates, the concession of public land, public investments and subsidies to improve energy and water efficiency, the optimisation of infrastructure, the transparency of costs for public services, and of course the provision of a satisfactory amount of decent and affordable housing.
  • Social welfare and unemployment benefits should guarantee at least the payment of the average costs of decent housing according to local standards, without discrimination or segregation. The proportion of income dedicated to housing must be controlled by the residents, who should be free to choose their housing option or change their residence.

e) Support the creativity and social inclusion of inhabitants 

  • The EU should develop a programme supporting the development of alternative housing solutions and experimental projects for new types of social housing, which are sensitive to multiculturalism and the issue of social exclusion, in partnership with local authorities, civil society and social investors, e.g. housing co-operatives for collective ownership and adaptive reuse and/or self-build communities.  
  • This programme should be accompanied by support for international exchange, networks and international studies, towards a Europe that fully guarantees the right to housing.  
  • The EU should support the development of legal standards for the social use of vacant properties and their restoration and/or adaptive reuse.
  • To this end, the criminalisation of squats, of resistance against evictions and of rent strikes must be stopped.

Перевод этого текста выполнен добровольцем из группы за жилищные права без границ МСЖ:

Silvia Guimaraes Yafai