Home » A Via Urbana » Evento europeu, Marseille 2008 » Orientate policies on the Right to Housing

Mostra/Nascondi il menu

A Via Urbana

Orientate policies on the Right to Housing

All the states of the European Union have ratified the international treaties and conventions that recognize and protect housing rights.

Nevertheless, despite this legal recognition by the EU member stares, often reinforced by national constitutions and legislation, despite the States’ additional commitment to Millennium Objectives No. 7-11, which provide for the improvement in housing conditions for 100 million badly housed people by 2020, and the Lisbon Strategy for social inclusion at a European level, housing rights still get violated more and more.

1. Orientate policies on the Right to Housing and develop European guidelines for legal housing rights standards

All the states of the European Union have ratified the international treaties and conventions that recognize and protect housing rights: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (art. 25), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (art. 27), Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (art. 14 and art. 15), Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (art. 8), the European Social Charter (art. 15, 16, 19, 23, 30, 31), the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (art. 2, clause 94).

Nevertheless, despite this legal recognition by the EU member stares, often reinforced by national constitutions and legislation, despite the States’ additional commitment to Millennium Objectives No. 7-11, which provide for the improvement in housing conditions for 100 million badly housed people by 2020, and the Lisbon Strategy for social inclusion at a European level, housing rights still get violated more and more.

Therefore, it is our painful duty to point out that even the member states of the European Union as well as the EU itself are contributing to the failure of these minimal objectives, since it is predicted that the global housing crisis will actually get worse . At global level, there are more than 1 billion people who are either homeless or badly shelterd, a figure that is supposed to reach 1.7 billion by the year 2020

In Europe the housing crisis affects 70 million badly housed people, of which approximately 18 million are under threat of eviction and 3 million are homeless. These people find themselves excluded from the housing market and adequate social policies are lacking. Neither the Member States, nor the local authorities are able to offer satisfactory solutions to the problem.

The crisis is aggravated by the free circulation of speculative investments within the EU (including Private Equity Fonds, Investment Banks, newly introduced REITs and securitisation of mortgage), by the privatisation of public or social housing sectors, massive condo-conversions and the commercialisation of the housing business in general, even in the most of the new member states , by migrations and unbalanced agglomeration, by gentrification, tourism and pro-business orientated urban development projects, by middle class orientated urban sprawl, home owner orientated development and policies, resulting in an enormous deepening of inner-urban social divide and segregation.

The result is an exorbitant increase of the lack of affordable decent housing, of house prices and rents, disinvestments and run down housing districts, less security of tenure in housing contracts, greater risk of foreclosure in mortgage agreements, threat of evictions and other forms of urban real estate violence which affect the young, the elderly, the unemployed, the poor, the migrants, but also families on an average income.

This situation leads to the opposite of social inclusion: marginalisation, precarisation and social apartheid ; it fosters inequality, speculation and corruption.

This inequality will deepen as long as the redistribution of wealth from the poorer classes and the majority of the people to the very rich and speculators will not be reserved.

The consequences cannot be dealt with by the individual Member States alone, because of the budget cuts imposed by the Euro control mechanisms and the monetary policies of the European Central Bank, because of the low taxation imposed by the EU market policies, because of the high costs of improving the standards in the new member states , because of globalisation of financial markets and labour and because the level of economical integration the European market already has achieved. Without the re-allocation of the necessary resources little can be done by those – often decentralized sub-national - state levels which have the responsibility for housing and urban development.

The failure of the EU’s liberalist approach to the housing question

While a definitive EU competence for housing still is not accepted, meanwhile everybody agrees that many aspects of the urban and housing question get co-determinated by EU policies. But this determination totally fails to address the housing needs .

Instead of working towards the recognition of housing rights EU-policies and especially the European Commission enforces the mercantile side of housing through directives on building, insurance, tenders, taxation, FEDER and BEI funds, Urban programs, etc.

It has also muscled in on the sphere of the public housing service. The DG Competition is making inroads into this sector in various countries (contesting the funding system –Livret “A” – of the sector in France, requiring Holland to privatise, contesting the tax benefits for Swedish communal associations allowing a tax-reduced emission of capital stocks in German housing companies; forcing local authorities to sell communal land according to competition rules , etc.

At the same time, the European Parliament has voted for the exclusion of the social housing sector from Bolkenstein Directive on the liberalization of public services and evn part of the Lisbon treatylimited its application to the charity sector: it would mean the death of public social housing as a general alternative to the free market.

Toward housing rights as the basis of European Union competence

In light of the failure of the neo-liberal approach, the social organizations that work in the housing field would urge your respective governments and the European Union to take up the following proposals in order to promote coordinated policies among the EU member states, accompanied by process of strengthening the related competencies of the EU bodies :

Housing rights should be explicitly recognized in the EU Constitution; the EU officially should adopt the entire international conventions, i.e. The Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; public bodies – even the EC - should respect these legal obligations and the liability imposed by such rights at all levels;

The EU should develop about guidelines for legally enforceable housing rights, which give households which are homeless or badly housed legally enforceable guarantees for an affordable and decent home. If states are not able to provide a decent home, the homeless people should have the right to live in vacant housing or rent apartments or hotels at the cost of the state.

The ministers and the EU should even develop European guidelines for empower legal standards of housing rights, which provide effective instruments to implement legal regulations in all member states. For i.e.:security of housing tenure for everyone, legal standards or public guarantees for rental contracts , legal regulations on rent increase/regulation and service charges, banning condo-conversions against the will of the residents, defining legally enforceable minimum standards for maintenance, housing standards and services, guaranteeing rights for rent reduction in cases of contract and standard violation like bad maintenance, legal standards for information rights, legal mechanisms to oppose extralegal pressure and mobbing, etc.

As per the art. 11 ICESCR and general comments n. 4 and 7, evictions without the offer of agreed, decent, sustainable and affordable alternatives, which must be developed in consultation with the affected dwellers, must legally be prevented and banned. Extra-legal evictions and other violent forms of pressure must be publicly persecuted as crime.

2. New Deal and cohesion through a coordinated EU Public Service of housing programme within a European frame for non-profit-housing

The EU together with the member states should develop a new framework for an EU Public service of housing, including non-profit, social or coop ownership. Non-commercial housing corporations of various types (depending on the national situation) which are dedicated to the provision of decent and affordable housing for all and which are committed to EU defined standards of a social and democratic management, should enjoy specific public support with no contradiction to EU standards, like tax reductions or direct subsidies.

The EU together with the member states should develop coordinated programmes for financing affordable and decent housing . The programmes should allow construction, recuperation or purchasing of at least 18 million new affordable homes in 5 years, It should finance the energy-efficient renovation of existing housing stocks which are part of the non-for-profit sector.

EU should also proof the development of publicly controlled housing finance trusts in which besides public money private shares can be invested against a secure and tax privileged return. These housing finance trusts could invest into a decentralized non-for-profit sector, being one of the stakeholders for their professional management.

For refinancing the EU should develop a specific Housing Cohesion Fund, which could partly be refinanced by national taxations on financial and real-estate speculation, i.e. on property transactions, on housing and legally dedicated land being vacant for speculative reasons, on needed housing which gets transformed into commercial spaces, on condo-conversions and on luxury housing consumption (high consumption of square meters living space in cities with housing needs, high consumption of water; high consumption of land for ... )-

3. Stop privatisation, commercialisation and deregulation of housing

The public housing sector should be totally excluded from the Bolkenstein Directive on the liberalization of public services of general interest;

Member states immediately should stop privatisation of public housing and develop alternatives for the housing stocks within the framework of a newEuropean public service of housing, including the new non-profit-housing sector.

The introduction of new national or European REITS should be stopped. Instead of that the EU should develop a model of Housing Finance Trusts under public control (see above)

Public control, legal regulation and taxation on existing REITs and other instruments of financial investments in housing and property should be enforced in order to increase public transparency, guarantee a satisfying capital stock for sustainable management of the property, allow reinvestment into the housing stock or needed new constructions and to stimulate the transformation of the instruments into less speculative assets, best into Housing Finance Trusts.

Highly speculative derivates and securitisation instruments like mortgage backed securities and speculative Investments like Hedge Funds should be banned, at least from investing in housing.

4. Ensure the affordability of housing costs

The EU should develop a strategy which insures that in all member states and territories housing costs (rent or rate plus service charges) should not exceed a certain portion of the household income.
The maximum rate should be defined according to the income level. While it can be a certain percentage for households with at least average income (related to the size of the household), it must be significantly lower for poorer households and in no case should force households under the poverty line.

Among the possible means to reduce the housing costs are social and public housing provision, legal standards, means of price and rent control, social tariffs, direct subsidies for poorer households, the introduction of a basic rent and guarantees of minimum wages, public credit for housing investments at reduced rates, lending of public land, public investments and subsidies in energy and water efficiency, cost optimised public services especially network infrastructure, cost transparent public services, and of course the provision of a satisfying quantity of decent and affordable housing.

Social welfare and transfer incomes for unemployed must guarantee a payment of the at least average local costs of decent housing according to the normal local standards without discrimination and segregation. The housing related part of the income must be controlled by the residents which must be free to chose their housing option, change their residence and to reduce the rent if necessary without allowances by welfare offices. The best way to do so is a housing budget as part of a basic rent.

5. Support the social creativity of inhabitants

The EU should develop a programme supporting the development of alternative housing options and experimental projects for a new types of social housing, sensitive to multiculturalism and the issue of social exclusion, i.e. in partnership between local authorities, civil society and social investors, for example housing co-operatives, housing associations in collective ownership, home building communities .

This programme should be accompanied by supporting international exchange, networking and studies towards a Europe of realized housing rights.

The criminalisation of squats, resistance against evictions and rent strike have to be stopped. The EU should support the development of legal standards for the legalisation of squats and public recuperations.