Exploring ways to increase the supply of affordable housing

December 4th 2017

Scottish Cities Alliance continues to play an important role in the European Housing Partnership (EHP), which met recently over two days at the UN Palais de Nations in Geneva. The meeting was the first since the conclusion of research undertaken by Glasgow University in conjunction with the Alliance which explored obstacles to increasing the supply of affordable housing in developed EU states. A parallel study was carried out by the Metropolitan Research Institute at the University of Hungary to identify similar issues in newer EU states, particularly those of Eastern Europe.

The EHP meeting focused on the relevance of the research to the emerging EHP Action Plan. The plan will set out recommendations to EU policy makers on measures which might assist in promoting the EHP’s key objective of increasing the supply of affordable housing throughout Europe, where official Eurostat statistics suggest that more than 80million households are overburdened with housing costs i.e. spend more than 40% of household income on housing.

The EHP meeting co-incided with the 78th Session of the UNECE Committee on Housing and Land Management, which itself focused on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Housing and Urban Development, adopted by member states in 2015, and an important framework for the ongoing work of the Committee. The theme of “decent, affordable, adequate and healthy housing for all”, and the role of “Smart Cities” as part of sustainable urban development strategies, were also explored in key roundtable sessions.

The EHP meeting concluded on Friday afternoon with a roundtable discussion sponsored by Eurocities, the network of major European cities. This session examined questions around the policy tools available to cities in promoting sustainable neighbourhoods and affordable housing, including the role of land policy instruments, funding mechanisms and the importance of strategic innovation. The session was chaired by Professor Brian Evans, from the Urban Lab at Glasgow School of Art, and before opening up to discussion first heard contributions from representatives of the major European cities of Vienna, Posnan and Glasgow. Patrick Flynn, Head of Housing and Regeneration at Glasgow City Council gave a succinct overview of the considerable social and economic challenges facing the city. He outlined the vision and housing policy objectives developed to address these challenges, something of the funding instruments used by the city and its achievements to date. Patrick drew particular attention to the onerous requirement that VAT, while exempt from the cost of new build housing, must be paid on renovation, and the effect this has on reducing incentives to modernise existing stock. Delegates were impressed with the scale of investment in new affordable housing in Glasgow, and in Scotland more generally, and in the commitment of both national and local government to funding and delivery. Many had visited Glasgow for the previous EHP meeting in September, and were familiar with the scale of the city’s ambition (not to mention its hospitality!)

Similar presentations were given from the Polish and Austrian participants. A general consensus emerged on the need for city authorities to demonstrate civic and political leadership in identifying and analysing housing needs and demands in their localities, and to set out clear and costed plans for improving standards where necessary in existing stock (especially in the area of energy efficiency) and to address identified shortfalls in the supply of new affordable housing. A further plea was made by those present for the EU to consider amending the current definition of state aid rules to remove the provision of social housing from state aid category and leave decisions on subsidy for social housing to member states or municipalities.

The Roundtable concluded with a re-affirmation of the vital importance of cities in promoting affordable housing and the inclusive economic growth it helps to generate and sustain. Interestingly, the 2018 Eurocities conference will take place in Edinburgh in November next year. SCA will be closely involved in planning for the event.

The next meeting of the EHP takes place in Lisbon in March. The EHP itself is a three year partnership and will shortly enter its final year.

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