Social Housing: Preparing for Changes- Housing Europe and Aedes Morning Session

The morning discussion of Housing Europe’s conference revolved around the theme of preparing for changes.  The speakers hit the festival’s three main themes of diversification, migration to cities and segregation and inequality.  Below is a short review of the morning session.

Speaker 1: Dr. Rudiger Ahrend

Dr. Rudiger Ahrend the head for the Urban Programme in the OECD’s Directorate for Public Governance and Territorial Development gave a presentation regarding the rise of large cities and the challenges that it presents for housing.  In 1950, only NYC was considered a mega city but by 2015 there were 29 of them.  Housing costs continue to also increase in countries around the world.  This is causing a massive redistribution of wealth from poor to rich and young to old.

Challenges for Housing Policy:

The speaker told us that the main issues in housing policy are national vs. local, coherence of policy objectives, cross sector integration and metropolitan level coordination.  In more detail:

  • National vs. Local– Most countries have policy to give money for housing. At the same time, in many regional levels there are policies that restrict housing.  It might be for urban form but it creates a disconnect between federal and local.  This increases housing prices.
  • Coherence of Policy: Many spatial plans go in the opposite way of national policies for housing. For example, there are often lower taxes for family housing but the city wants to have density.  This is a clear disconnect.
  • Metropolitan Level: Fragmentation in metro areas can have negative effects. Too many small cities cause issues because there is a lack of big picture thinking on a larger metro area.  This can cause issues in housing development.

Speaker 2: Carina Dantas

Carina Dantas from Portugal followed up Dr. Ahrend’s presentation and spoke on demographic change within social housing.  Mrs. Dantas let us know that the aging population is growing dramatically.  In a few years, more than 25% of Europe will be 65 and over.  The number of births are decreasing in Europe.  We must understand that physical environment is a big factor in our health as we age.  The World Health Organization believes we should be creating age friendly environments.  Housing, transportation, social life’s, healthy living, being independent and engaged are all key factors in age friendly environment.

The speaker talked about technologies and services that can help elderly stay in their homes.  She gave an example of Mrs. Isabel who lives in social housing in Portugal.  The resident lives on the 4th floor of a building that has no elevator.  She had a stroke and could not leave her building without the help of a firemen.  Mrs. Isabel did physical therapy and could finally climb the stairs it takes one hour each way.  Mrs. Dantas’s organization put a robot into the apartment to help the woman.  See the video below

The final takeaway was that smart housing is much more important than robots or other types of technology.  Smart design and future forward solutions are needed.  More national investment into this type of design will need to take place.

Speaker 3: Dr. Wouter van Gent

Dr. Wouter van Gent from the University of Amsterdam spoke about neighborhood development with the focus on two themes.

  1. Life Course: The basic principle is that people age and need different things. He did some work to see if neighborhoods need different amenities or services as the population change and grow older.  His findings were that single persons typically move to different neighborhoods when they meet someone, they move again when they have children and often there are neighborhoods where people go to when they grow older.  The mapping that Dr. van Gent showed, demonstrated that very few neighborhoods meet the needs a person as they move through the life course.
  2. Social Diversity and Segregation: There are income, cultural, ethnic and age issues within neighborhoods. His findings were that if there are more people who like you within in your neighborhood, you are less likely to move.  These slight preferences can over time cause segregation.

Role of Social Housing:  Dr. van Gent recommends that social housing associations help facilitate mobility.  Create housing where people need to be.  Think about life course dynamics.  Housing associations should also help maintain social diversity.  The idea is to have a mix at a super market level.  That means allow for that if people want to live next to people who look like themselves, that is fine at a smaller block level.  However; at a supermarket level it is wise to have a nice mix so the diversity at the macro-level is high.

The morning session ended with a dynamic question and answer session.

Featured picture: © Elodie Burrillon |

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