12 December 2019

European Parliament

Conference Summary: 50 Out-of-the-Box Housing Solutions to Homelessness and Housing Exclusion 



Considerations for The Salvation Army:

  • TSA should consider developing an Advisory Statement for homelessness in Europe, to be used for advocacy and cooperation purposes.
  • TSA can highlight examples of innovative housing solutions and disseminate to other territories as best practice ideas.
  • TSA can utilise the examples of and ideas provided in the Housing Solutions Platform to develop its own work in this field:
  • www.housing-solutions-platform.org.


            On December 11th, the Housing Solutions Platform hosted a conference at the European Parliament in partnership with the Greens and the European Federation of Organisations Working with the Homeless (FEANTSA). The purpose of the conference was to present a new report published by the Housing Solutions Platform entitled ’50 Out-of-the-Box Housing Solutions to Homelessness and Housing Exclusion’. Throughout the conference various MEPs, representatives of civil society organisations, and project managers spoke on the current housing situation in EU Member-States and presented various examples of good practice with the aim of addressing existing gaps. 


The Current Housing Situation and Underlying Factors

            MEP Katrin Langensiepen (Greens, European Free Alliance), opened the conference by stating that inequality and homelessness is rising across the European Union, and emphasised the importance of Member-States taking immediate action. ‘I came to this parliament to fight for a social Europe,’ she said, ‘And housing is a human right’. MEP Matt Carthy (Group of the European United Left, Nordic Green Left), built upon this statement by sharing a personal story from his childhood, when he and his family were allocated a social housing unit after his parents split up. This not only provided him and his family with a long-term solution but also allowed him and his siblings to fully focus on school. ‘Now in Ireland, families will be lucky if they are allocated a hotel room, and they might have to move every night,’ he told the participants. ‘The only difference between then and now is government policy and strategy. High levels of homelessness are the result of political choices.’ He concluded by stating that fortunately, solutions to address this issue exist. 

         Bjorn Mallants (Housing Europe Board Member) spoke next, reaffirming Carthy’s story by saying that the problem which prevents homelessness from being effectively addressed is the lack of affordable and quality homes which are equally accessible to everyone in need. He specifically mentioned people from Roma communities, emphasising that although they are often seen as part of this ‘problem’, when in fact they are not. ‘The resources that we have available to us are not being properly managed,’ he asserted. Pascale Taminiaux (Project Coordinator, Y Foundation), noted the importance of housing in order to promote social cohesion, and the need for strengthening and supporting organisations which seek to help provide housing solutions for vulnerable groups. ‘There is a need for investment in large-scale projects.’ She stated.  


Report: 50-Out-of-the-Box Housing Solutions

                  Clotilde Clark-Foulquier (Project Coordinator, FEANTSA), introduced the 50 Solutions report, which was compiled in response to the current housing situation in the EU, with the increase in housing prices and cuts in social budgets leaving people ‘locked out’ of the housing market. The report is composed of innovative and daring solutions for those people. She stressed, however, that these solutions were from a broad range of contexts that ‘adapted to local circumstances’ and that there was no ‘one size fits all’ solution. ‘It is our hope,’ she emphasised, ‘That this publication can push the policy debate in order to more creatively provide adequate housing’. 

                  After this introduction, various projects were presented, starting with Anne Kinni (Department of Social Services and Health Care of the City of Helsinki), who spoke about how the ‘housing first’ method was helping to address various issues in the city like rent arrears, substance abuse, mental health issues, poor maintenance of flats, and evictions. Tom Pedersen Rønning (Housing Strategy Consultant, Odense Municipality) presented a project from his country of Denmark, which provides a housing guarantee in which homeless individuals need only to wait three months at the most for a home. This is done by obtaining vacant housing and can also be used for newly arrived refugees or single mothers. He noted that this approach actually saves the municipality money in the long-run, and emphasised the need for common social responsibility in order to ensure that individuals who are homeless or socially excluded are a part of the city’s development. 

                  Diana Unterholzner (Managing Director, NeuneurImmo) provided an example from Austria, where housing in the capital offers little for marginalised groups who cannot afford to access the wide variety of housing supply that is available for upper and middle-class households. Her company, NeuneurImmo, seeks to remedy this situation by mediating affordable permanent housing with direct rental contracts, renting temporary housing to allow individuals to start a new life, and develops new innovative concepts for social living in cooperation with property developers and effectively bridging the real estate and social sectors. 

                 David Rysavka (Director EU Public Affairs, Erste Bank), presented a project entitled ‘Self-Helped Construction of Individual Family House for People from Socially and Spatially Excluded Communities, which was implemented in Slovakia. Although this project sought to help individuals from a variety of backgrounds, it also sought to help families from the local Roma community. The concept of ‘self-help’ is truly the main aspect of this project, as families are provided with assistance and financial literacy training in order to help them access financing. Members of the families involved in the project would obtain a job, save for a period of time, work to become eligible for a loan. At this point eligible families would be able to collaborate with local architects and builders to be able to build their own home. He emphasised the sense of pride and accomplishment that was obtained at the end of this process since it preserved the self-determination of the family. 

                  Virginie Toussain (Manager of Legal Affairs, USH EU Representation), concluded with the presentation of a programme in France, which seeks to provide direct access to housing instead of housing paths to access social housing in addition to providing security and stability for households that are experiencing various economic and social difficulties. One example of this involves a team which seeks to address the psychological needs of tenants through a holistic approach in coordination with care from a local NGO. The main takeaway from this programme was that there is not only a need to ensure efficient access to social housing but to provide tenant support in order to ensure that a long-term housing situation is able to be maintained. Using a comprehensive approach such as this is very important and can be very effective in reducing homelessness. 


Concluding Thoughts

                  Sorcha Edwards (Secretary General, Housing Europe) stressed the need to capture grassroots efforts in order to duplicate the aforementioned projects in order to ensure that less and less people fall through the housing ‘net’. She also noted that ignoring the current housing conditions is much more expensive than it would be to design and implement targeted measures with the aim of addressing it. An example of this is the judicial and medical systems of a country or city, where costs can be reduced if socially excluded and marginalised individuals are provided with access to adequate housing. She concluded by quoting the words of some of the project managers who’s programmes were featured in the 50 Solutions report: ‘Our project was not a social project it was a human project’. This highlighted the importance of taking the human aspect of housing issues into account, instead of just focusing on statistics and numbers. 

                  Freek Spinnewijn (Director, FEANTSA) closed the conference by stating that ‘This is not the end, but the beginning of good collaboration’. He explained that now is the perfect time to address the issues surrounding the housing market in the EU, particularly since the European political context is in the right place. ‘Social exclusion is becoming a policy priority, especially with the adoption of a Green New Deal,’ he stated. ‘In order to make the link between affordable housing solutions and investment on a European and Member-State level, however there must be continuous streams of debate, knowledge, and investment’. 

Tags: Europe