Europe faces daunting task on refugees but housing is a human right

4022Western European countries face a huge task trying to house and integrate refugees, but must take some responsibility for creating the crisis, says the United Nations housing envoy.

Leilani Farha , the UN special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, says pressure on European countries to act quickly in response to the influx of refugees could exacerbate the problem of social exclusion, as people are housed in poor, temporary conditions.

There has been a varied response across the continent to the high numbers of refugees seeking a place to settle. “I’ve actually been very pleased with some of the responses,” says Farha. “I would imagine if I were the leader of a country like Sweden, Germany or France, it would be pretty daunting, when refugees appear on the doorstep of states, to say yes, come in. Of course, in my opinion, there is a moral obligation to do so.”

That moral obligation comes in part from states recognising, as Farha puts it, their own role in creating a world order that forces people to flee their countries for safety.

Read more in the interview on the Guardian.

Download Leilani Farha’s presentation at the 3rd Europe Housing Forum.

Privatising UK social housing won’t work – just look at Europe

Poles choose to emigrate to solve housing problems

Almost two thirds of all Poles see housing as a major concern.  Both availability and quality were identified as key issues that could cause them to consider emigration. The Habitat for Humanity Poland survey was carried out among a statistically representative group of Poles aged 16 and above.  The study, conducted by Millward Brown between May and June 2015, is part of Habitat’s goal of increasing awareness of poverty housing in the country.

Habitat for Humanity PolandAbout one-third of all Poles identified two top concerns—the inability to renovate or refurbish their current home and improve living conditions by moving to a better or bigger space. The survey also found that around 15 percent of respondents could not afford living on their own. And, another 15 percent faced problems with paying their mortgages or utility bills.

“Over 3.2 million of Polish families have to share their living space with other tenants and almost 15% of Polish citizens experience housing poverty defined as a lack of housing or substandard conditions,” says Małgorzata Salamon, director, Habitat for Humanity Poland. “The roots of this situation lie in the private and in the public sector. Market prices for housing outweigh financial means of most Polish people, while the social policy of the state is limited and cannot solve housing problems.”

After a wave of privatization in Central and Eastern Europe in the 1990s, most tenants became homeowners. According to Habitat for Humanity’s 2013 Housing Review, private homeownership in Poland is about 80 percent, while the share of social housing is around 10%. In more prosperous EU states, homeownership is about 60% and social housing accounts for 20% or more.

While the survey found that housing issues ranked third after low income (84%) and unemployment (77%) as major concerns of Poles, problems with housing ranked higher than access to health services and security concerns.  In fact, two-thirds of those polled said they knew families who postponed decisions to have children due to housing. And, almost 72 percent said they knew people who left the country because they could not solve their housing problems.

“From these and other studies that were carried out in 2010 and 2013 we can conclude that national housing programmes have failed to deliver the expected result,” said Salamon. She called on the new Polish government to develop a long-term national housing strategy with the focus on social housing. Resolving existing housing problems, commented Salamon, can help alleviate mounting social issues and better accommodate the needs of an increasing number of young people and stop them from opting to leave the country.

Housing problems are common these days in many European capitals. The crucial issue of whether Europeans can afford living in Europe will be discussed at the 3rd Europe Housing Forum that takes place in Berlin, 18-20 November, 2015. It will seek to stimulate both discussion and serve as a launching point for practical recommendations to improve availability and affordability of housing in Europe.

International Roma Day: Access to housing

International Roma Day, observed on April 8, is not just about celebrating Roma culture, it also highlights the discrimination that Roma people face. Among the many problems that Roma face, one of the biggest is a lack of access to adequate housing.

According to the recently published Civil Society Monitoring Report on the National Roma Integration Strategies, the priority issues identified in this area include homelessness, poor housing quality, lack of legal title, and poor infrastructure in Roma neighborhoods. Roma households in segregated settlements on the periphery of urban areas often lack water supply and basic sanitation.

There is a lack of basic infrastructure: roads are unpaved and are in a very poor condition, or, as is often the case, do not exist at all. There is often no electricity supply in the homes in areas densely populated by Roma. In addition, a considerable number of migrant families that have returned mainly from Greece have set up informal settlements and live in slum conditions of extreme poverty without basic amenities.

Roma families face exclusion from social housing programs. Social housing for purchase is not available to Roma because the majority of them are unemployed and do not meet the income requirements of the program. For rental social housing, Roma are not considered as a specific target group.

This photo slideshow, called Roma Realities, illustrates some of the most acute housing problems of Roma families in Central and Eastern Europe.



Cities: the battle ground for sustainable housing

A new way of approaching urbanization is desperately needed, writes an expert at Habitat for Humanity International.

Wealth accumulated in cities after WWII has contributed to the expansion of the middle class. Cities have offered us many improved opportunities such as health and education. Today, the ongoing economic crisis is derailing a lot of these achievements. Rapid urbanisation in the developing world is also posing problems without offering effective solutions.

A guest column by Lucija Popovska, director of programs for Europe, Middle East and Africa at Habitat for Humanity International appeared in July at the Information Daily. See the full text.