Assessing housing rights in the EU countries (BLOG)


Assessing housing rights in the EU countries

BLOG D5.4 Housing

Affordable and adequate housing is important for wellbeing, health as well as financial and family stability. However, such housing has become increasingly inaccessible to low-income households and even to the middle class, and homelessness is growing in the EU. This is why accessible, affordable and adequate housing has become a major issue for EU policymakers.

In our recent report Assessing housing rights in the EU countries, we provide an analysis of the state of the housing rights in the selected EU countries, explore the instruments through which the EU supports housing as a social right, and to examine alternative policy scenarios for improvements.

In general, housing decisions and outcomes have evolved towards more convergence in EU Member States in recent decades. But the overall trajectory of change is not that positive: government expenditure on housing-related policies is declining, and the sector’s performance in ensuring housing availability, affordability and adequacy is not improving, and in some cases is even deteriorating. The analysis of the selected EU countries shows that the EU has a very few instruments to support housing rights. The right to housing is the responsibility of national states and is usually guaranteed at local/municipal level.

At large, European countries are becoming increasingly similar in terms of various housing indicators, typical housing policy regimes remain. For example, countries with a larger rental sector (private and/or public) have better rates of availability, affordability, and adequacy. Thus, countries which belong to social democratic or conservative-corporatist welfare state and housing policy regimes are in a relatively better position than the Central and Eastern European and Mediterranean countries.

However, despite their convergence in terms of individual housing indicators, the European countries retain differences, which are largely defined by housing regimes associated with welfare state models. These results also suggest the different challenges faced by the countries: some countries should be more concerned on how to deal with accessibility issues, while others should focus more on affordability or adequacy issues. Therefore, “one size fits all” is not at all suitable for finding solutions to secure housing rights in the EU Member States. Until now, housing support policies have focused mainly on low-income people, young people, families with children and the elderly. More complex solutions are needed; housing should be addressed through such areas as employment, education, inequality, segregation, inclusion, migration, etc.

Housing rights are better enforced in countries where housing is ensured not only by the municipalities, but also by other providers, such as non-profit housing associations, cooperatives, and non-for-profit organizations. This is the case for Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium. These countries also have larger public/social rental sector (except Belgium, which has higher private rental sector). In countries with a small social rental sector, the government support is mainly concentrated to subject subsidies, e.g., support for home buyers, support for renters at a very low income, and maintenance support to cover housing utilities for people in vulnerable situations. This can be seen in Lithuania, Poland, and also Spain.

Countries, which ratified the European Social Charter, including Article 31 on the Right to Housing, do not necessarily have better enforcement of housing rights. For instance, the Article 31 is not ratified by Denmark and Poland. However, these two countries have very different housing policy systems. Denmark can be considered one of the leaders in housing protection; this is reflected in the large social housing sector as well as good indicators of housing availability, affordability and adequacy. Belgium, the Netherlands and Lithuania, have all ratified Article 31, but they have very different housing systems.

Countries, which have high ownership rate and provide housing support for those who are in the most vulnerable situation, such as Lithuania and Poland, and to some extent also Spain, have the highest overcrowding rates and higher housing deprivation. While those countries which focus on the protection of tenants, and provide public/social housing through various non-profit organizations, have better indicators when it comes to overcrowding and housing deprivation. These countries are Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium.

Overall, in order to increase the housing rights and ensure better housing availability, affordability and adequacy, we need to expand the public/social rental housing sector. The tenant’s involvement in social housing sector management is crucial to shield the sector from the State (its attempts to privatize and stigmatize) and the market (increase in prices).

Another important finding is that countries, which focus their attention on protecting the rights of renters in the rental market, have a better situation when it comes to affordability and availability. This is the case of the Netherlands and Denmark.

All the EU countries have in-place instruments to combat homelessness. For instance, Denmark and the Netherlands have much better resources to combat homelessness than Lithuania. But we see a much lower number of homeless people in Lithuania than in Denmark or the Netherlands. It seems that other important factors can explain the homelessness increase or decrease, such as demographical conditions (increased migration, high number of young people leaving parents’ home, depopulation). Yet, we cannot deny the need for expanding social rental sector.

Written by Jolanta Aidukaitė and Rūta Ubarevičienė (The Institute of Sociology, Lithuanian Centre for Social Sciences).

© Photo:  Image by Sander Sloots.