Challenges in Europe

Document made by Pascale Thys, HeP, Belgium, Cairo, September 2005.

The Non-EC partners’ vision of the “HABITAT PROBLEM” faced by the Europeans:

Some said that they do not know anything about it, but would be interested in being informed. Still yet, for others there are no habitat-housing problems in Western Europe.

  • the most stated problem is immigrant (or people of immigrant origin) housing . The north and south African participants feel very concerned with this. According to them, immigrant ghettos are of issue, and, thus, the housing concentration theme is often discussed.
  • the housing problems in Eastern Europe were similarly discussed at length. According to them, Eastern European inhabitants have similar problems than the Southern ones (for instance: too small residences)
  • A lot of them wonder why there are vacant houses on the one hand and homeless persons on the other. One of the participants proposed to increase the market rental offer by offering these vacant residences. The problem is to be connected with the squatter development.
  • the immigrants’ issue is to be related also to the housing quality of the poorest and the rise of racism. The insalubrities conditions of clandestine / illegal residents housing has been stated several times.
  • Some people stated the increasing cost of housing and land. The property right is stronger than the housing right, in spite of the European social policies.
  • The urban centres issue has also been mentioned, stating processes of building deterioration, of mercantilisation, of gentrification and pointing out the fact that immigrants generally arrive in the urban centres.
  • Questions of mobility
  • Problems of pollution of the cities due to building materials
  • Modification of the families structures
  • Rupture of bond between habitat and territory
  • Deteriorated housing stock
  • Access to land

Finally, in relation to the housing issues in general and, from the point of view of HIC strategy in Europe, I took down the following remarks:

  • Complexity in standardization of regional difficulties because of the differences in backgrounds
  • Increase in housing problems due to the “homogenisation” intentions of policies in Europe
  • Reduction of housing subsidies and of allocations for the people who tries to solve the housing problems.
  • Wish to spread HIC European network together with the organisations working in the field of right to adequate housing.

2. Some challenges for Europe

Preliminary remarks: Western Europe has developed a lot of assets (many networks related to habitat in a sector-based way, such as FEANTSA for homeless or the CECODHAS for social housing).

The national and local governments set up procedures that allow the inhabitants to generate changes, to be part of some decision taking.

These procedures allowed a transformation of the existing relations between civil society and political power and reduced the “anti-establishment” social forces. The relationship with the politic world has changed and slipped from opposition towards negotiation, consensus. This should not be seen in a positive perspective because it permits projections concerning the right to housing, which require major consideration of citizens’ opinion, and some difficulties cannot be solved via consensus.

Many observers think that the “welfare state” is now agonizing in Europe, that the social pattern will have to change…

In Eastern Europe the situation is different (see: the quantified report of Poland organization). According to Magdalena, governments tend to deny the degraded situation of housing and access to housing for the poorest (for instance the homeless).

  • Statement of some difficulties with geographic multi-speed approach because of the lack of homogeneity in Europe
  • Problem in the management of privatization of public services: for instance: social housing must be managed with criteria of financial balance. This problem caused the expulsion of poorest from their residences and has installed the middle class. The states want to sell because they are not able anymore to renew the rental housing stock, due to a lack of financial means and to very low hiring incomes. They need to be informed about possible alternatives to face this problem [social housing European percentage = 13%]
  • Exponential housing costs for rental as for buying purpose (up to 10% annual increase in countries such as Belgium or Spain). This situation leads the “lower” middle class to rush for social housing or social loans to access to land (exceptionally low current cost = 3%)
  • A traditionally welfare state which cannot assume anymore its responsibilities as the capital means decrease, but still insist on controlling everything. They are still in a phase of will of control and impede the “abandoned” people to develop their own strategies. This situation will certainly change in the forthcoming years as the State cannot finance its policies anymore (no control at all on the companies capital benefits), and leads to the specific interest of HIC SPH project to develop and support the alternative strategies
  • Increasing problems with clandestine settlements Illegal persons housing: clandestine do not have any recognized rights and it is risky to act in behalf of them, as they would be discovered and would be subjected to expulsion. Sometimes, illegal persons may succeed in their goals through successful legal procedures, but often they are forced to leave the country before they can gain legal opportunities to defend their cases in their goals by victorious procedures, but they often had to leave the country before. Some clandestine are locked into centres, meanwhile the State takes a decision about their refugees’ status. These centres are a kind of prison.
  • Minorities housing problem in a “super-standardized” society, including concerning housing matters: for instance gypsies, migrants, circus people, and nomads. The standardization of the criteria of housing habitability has led to a housing standard, which is not appropriate for all the differences (single-parent families, blended families, single individuals, other cultures, etc.)
  • Rise of environmental and ecological considerations (waste management; pollution control, renewable energies development). This is a particularly complex issue in the case of construction / demolition concerns, because of its high contamination level (for instance: amount of subsidies to building sector according to the material ecological grade in Austria)
  • Problems in the management of urban centres: inadequacy of the residences in front of increasing housing demand for single individuals, degradation of the locations upside the stores; ghettoization of immigrants; mobility; empty residences; … The actual trend is the urban functions combination (combination of habitat, offices, trade, cultural spaces…), after a general tendency to urban mono-functionality. The occurrence of homeless and squats concentration is another urban and periurban phenomenon
  • Evolution of the political environment: slipping from a centralized state nation to a decentralized state implementing European directives translated into execution decrees. But the local authorities, increasingly responsible for housing, have less availability than the national State. Decentralization, in order to support proximity, is probably good, under the condition of a capital provision that would fulfil its requirements.
  • Both rural and urban environment are increasingly degraded in order to develop the employment tertiary sector. The rural zones are abandoned (in Belgium, the most decayed habitat is located in the rural sectors) and young people must leave them because no rentals are available. For example: in Belgium, the farm tourism development allowed the farm renovation, but drove young couples out of the villages since the dwellings are destined to the urban tourists “on holiday”.

From the above noted considerations, in addition to the heterogeneous character of the European problems, it arises that it is not always easy to find footbridges between the European problems and those of the rest of the world. However, it seems to me that, at least on certian topics, we should be able to develop projects and common claims: the environmental issues: urban agriculture, waste management, renewable energies, sustainable development, participative budget, actors capacity building.

3. Specific requests

(civil society organizations)

= their requests to the network

  • Initially work on experiences sharing between HIC members in order to create a confident atmosphere which will allow a better articulation and increase unification in work (common lobbying).
  • Have HIC network acting on a top-down basis instead of on a bottom-up one
  • Be very careful with the translation matter because the NGOs and CBOs workers are usually unilingual. Working only in Spanish and English is not realistic if the aim is to reach civil society organisations.