Rethinking the Housing Paradigm: opinie-artikel Martin van Rijn

Aedes-standpunt Aedes-standpunt · 21 mei 2024
Robin van Leijen

Op 14 mei publiceerde EU Observer een opinie-artikel dat Martin van Rijn schreef in aanloop naar de Europese verkiezingen: Europe has a housing crisis — revising state aid rules starts to fix it. Hieronder de integrale tekst. 

Europe has a housing crisis - revising state aid rules starts to fix it

Europe is in the grip of a worsening housing crisis, with ramifications stretching from homelessness to the affordability squeeze felt by middle-income families. As rents and property prices skyrocket, outpacing income growth, households are increasingly burdened, exacerbating the broader cost-of-living crisis. 

Meanwhile, the elderly face the challenge of finding suitable housing options as they seek to downsize or move to more accessible accommodations. Recent estimates from Housing Europe, drawing on Eurostat data, reveal that  9.6 million full-time workers aged 25-34 still reside with their parents, representing one in five individuals within this age group across the EU. The trend in this regard has generally been upwards over the last decade, even prior to COVID-19 and disruptions to construction. 

Essential workers, such as teachers, nurses, and police officers, are finding it increasingly difficult to find affordable housing near their workplaces, leading to long commutes and strained finances. International operating companies struggle to find housing for skilled workers, demonstrating that affordable, adequate and available housing is nothing less than a prerequisite to a competitive European Union. 

The urgency of addressing this crisis cannot be overestimated, especially in the face of broader geopolitical, climate, and technological challenges confronting the European Union. Failure to address the fundamental right to adequate housing risks further alienating European citizens at a time when cohesive support is most needed. Therefore, bold and decisive action is required.

While member states must prioritize tackling housing challenges within their respective jurisdictions, a coordinated effort at the European level is essential to catalyze systemic change. At the heart of this effort lies the need for a new housing paradigm that prioritizes people's needs and transcends bureaucratic silos. Herein special priority should be given to eradicating homelessness and extreme housing exclusion by 2030.

Policies must strike a delicate balance between affordability, availability, and sustainability, ensuring that housing remains accessible to all segments of society. This requires rethinking existing frameworks and challenging entrenched orthodoxies that have failed to adequately address the evolving needs of European citizens.

Particularly  the reassessment of European state aid rules concerning social housing is of importance. Currently these rules refer to social housing for disadvantaged citizens or socially less advantaged groups. Middle-income households, often overlooked by the market, require targeted support as well to access affordable housing options. Several member states and the European Parliament already pressed the European Commission to revise the definition of social housing within existing regulations.  Thereby truly delivering on providing access to housing for those in need.

In the Netherlands, social housing providers make use of a mutual guarantee system for loans, with the state providing a final guarantee when necessary. The resulting low interest rates, allows the sector to build homes at lower costs. A recent study in the Netherlands demonstrates that if Dutch social housing providers are also allowed to utilize this guarantee system for the construction of housing for middle incomes, they can build significantly more homes. In fact, their investment capacity would more than double. However, existing state aid legislation poses a barrier to these efforts, underscoring the need for regulatory reform at the European level.

As Europe approaches the upcoming elections, politicians must incorporate solutions to the housing crisis into their platforms, campaigns, and election discourse. Housing should feature prominently as a key issue, reflecting its importance in the lives of European citizens. Post-election, the incoming College of Commissioners must prioritize housing and establish a dedicated Task Force led by one of the vice-presidents to drive forward initiatives aimed at addressing the crisis.

Now is the time for bold leadership and decisive action.

Martin van Rijn

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Martin is a board member of Housing Europe, the European federation for social, public and cooperative housing providers, and president of Aedes, the Dutch federation of social housing providers. Previously Martin has been a minister and secretary of state in the Netherlands.