What do you mean there is no Definition for Social Housing in Europe?

When I graduated college in 2009 my head was full of academic ideas and principles regarding social housing.  Five years later, I am in a fellowship with a  completely different view on how urban planning and social housing work.  Theories are great but the reality of working in a government agency and implementing new programs  changed my thoughts on making change.  The greatest theories will go nowhere unless one is skilled at bureaucracy and team building.  Change is hard. (Punkt) Convincing large organizations, employees, partners, residents and key players to change is highly political and not to be started without serious thought.   Gone are the days where I thought implementing an academic principle was simple.

I find myself in a position once again where I can read social housing literature and academic reports.   Today I am blogging about social housing throughout the EU.  While my interest in the subject is strong, I now look upon this information with a discerning eye.  Enough of this lead in.  To the meat of the blog.

There is no common definition for social housing in Europe.  There are simply too many countries using different funding mechanisms or programs.  While there is no common definition, there are common elements.  The providers all have a mission to help those with the least, an interest in increasing the affordable housing stock and goals pertaining to helping a certain social-economic class. There are several models used in social housing in the EU.

  1. Universalistic Model– Everyone deserves housing and it is the publics responsibility to provide such housing.
  2. Targeted Model– The market will take care of housing and the government should only take care of those few who are not covered by the market.
    1. Generalist-Housing assistance is considered general when targeted by income.
    2. Residual– Housing assistance targeted by a certain indicator.  That could be homelessness, disability or some other certain category that is important in the member state.  (Social Housing in the EU, Institute for the study of Labor, Michaela Braga and Pietro Palvarini)

Outside of the general explanations used above, very little is similar when viewing the entire picture that is social housing in the EU.  When comparing the amount of social housing in various EU countries, the numbers are widely different.  The Netherlands lead the EU member states with 32% of all rentable housing units being social with countries like Latvia and Greece having none.  The funding models used in the EU are as different as the number of units in each country. Development is funded with different mechanisms including bank loans, mortgages, public grants, private funds and tenant contributions.   In some countries the local city supports affordable housing with discounted or free land. (Braga and Palvarini page 17)  Within all of these different EU member states are different ways to further fund the ongoing operations of the housing.

it is almost impossible to transfer one affordable housing policy from one EU member state to another because of the political, economic and cultural differences.  What passes in the Netherlands would not work in Latvia for many reasons. The same can be said for a EU member states housing policy being used in the USA.  Changing political climates in DC often make it difficult to predict funding for affordable housing programs year to year.  The thought of taking a system from a EU country and applying it in the US is almost unthinkable because of the politics that come into play.  With that said, there are good programs and ideas on a micro-level that can be implemented in the USA.  That topic is for a later post.

Author: jcrites

Josh Crites is an American social housing professional with both practical and research experience. He has worked at 3 social housing companies in the USA in roles ranging from policy and operations to process improvement and strategy. Josh is a former Alexander von Humboldt German Chancellor Fellow. During that fellowship, Josh researched and worked with social housing companies in Germany, The Netherlands, Portugal, Scotland, England, Estonia and Spain. He is an avid writer and advocate for the provision of social housing around the world.

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