Homelessness and housing exclusion have reached crisis levels in EU

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Homeless migrants. Brussels, April 2016. [Joel Schalit/Flickr]

With rising homelessness and housing deprivation across the European Union, now, more than ever, is the time for the Juncker Commission to bridge the disconnect with its most vulnerable citizens, writes Chloé Serme-Morin.

Chloé Serme-Morin is a project officer at FEANTSA.

Within a European Union that is struggling to reinvent itself, housing exclusion and homelessness are emerging as huge challenges. Using the latest available Eurostat/EU-SILC data, the Second Overview of Housing Exclusion in Europe 2017 (in French) highlights a housing exclusion state of emergency in Europe.

This is an issue that affects all member states, not just the ones struggling due to the financial crisis. Countries such as the UK and the Netherlands are among those whose situation has worsened since the First Overview of Housing Exclusion in Europe. Indeed, the UK now ranks 20th out of 28, with a broken housing market out of reach for poor and middle-class people. In Germany, 16% of people spend more than 40% of their income on housing (known as housing cost overburden) – a situation second only to Greece. In Romania, 1 out of 2 people live in overcrowded conditions and in Greece all indicators are set to red with 95% of poor Greeks in housing cost overburden.

In all EU countries, young people are more vulnerable to prohibitive housing costs, overcrowding and severe housing deprivation than the rest of the population. For young poor people across Europe, the situation is becoming unbearable, with 65% in Germany, 78% in Denmark and 58% in the UK spending more than 40% of their disposable income on housing. The average in the EU is 48%.

In general, people living below the poverty threshold are increasingly marginalised by a private rental market than feeds off a systematic lack of affordable housing. The number of evictions has increased dramatically in the aftermath of the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis with an apocalyptic situation in Greece. In all European countries, non-EU nationals are far more likely to face housing cost overburden and crowding than EU nationals.

Homelessness is rising in all countries, except Finland and major cities such as London, Paris, Brussels, Dublin, Vienna, Athens, Warsaw and Barcelona are under strain. In London, the number of families in temporary accommodation has increased by 50% since 2010 and in Copenhagen, youth homelessness has increased by 75% since 2009. Since 2013, Warsaw saw an increase of 37% of people sleeping in rough or emergency shelters and perhaps most shockingly of all, 1 in 70 people in Athens are now homeless, most since 2011.

The tools required to deal with the challenges of housing exclusion and homelessness in Europe already exist. At European level, networks bringing together various entities – local, regional, and national governments, NGOs, civil society collectives, research bodies, European financial institutions – are actively committed to partnerships aiming to promoting accessible housing for all that is sustainable for the future. Instruments established by the European Commission, such as the Urban Agenda for the EU or the European Pillar of Social Rights, can act as protectors for the implementation of the right to housing.

There is no shortage of inspiration, and good practice abounds: in Finland, long-term programmes for reducing homelessness (ongoing for 20 years) have proven their value, by focusing on the provision of permanent, affordable housing, and providing specialised support for the most vulnerable people. While other member states have committed to this path, clear European incentives would give greater momentum to these proven solutions that deserve to be prioritised.

As the EU’s post-2020 agenda is drafted, it is time for the Juncker Commission to prove it is not just all talk and no action.

The EU and member states should place the elimination of homelessness in the core of their social policy agendas. Responses to homelessness should be mainstreamed into the design and implementation of relevant sectoral policies including youth, gender, migration, and Roma inclusion. The EU and the member states can and should act to enforce social rights.

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