State of housing

Research has shown that the state of housing across the EU is ‘critical’, as growth recovery sees house prices rising faster than income in most member states

A new report from the Housing Europe Observatory – the research branch of Housing Europe – has revealed that in the two years since the previous edition, housing markets across the EU have started to speed up again – with 2016 seeing the highest annual growth rate in house prices since 2009.

However, in some countries like the UK or Sweden prices are higher than ‘pre-crisis level’, while in others like Greece, Portugal and Spain the downward trend has only marginally reduced.

The report titled ‘The State of Housing in the EU’ concedes that what is worrying is that in most countries house prices are growing faster than incomes. There are also countries where the crisis had a long-lasting impact in terms of worsening a households’ economic situation.

The report identifies a direct link between the rising inequality at global scale and housing.

Looking at housing costs in relative terms, the average EU overburden rate among people at risk of poverty has increased significantly compared to pre-crisis level, from 35.9 in 2005 to 39.3 in 2015.

However, it has slightly decreased for those with higher incomes.

The share of poor households paying too much for housing has doubled in Spain, Portugal and Ireland.

Greece has registered the sharpest increase and it also shows the most severe situation.

Those attempting to enter the housing market and in particular the younger generations find it increasingly difficult to access home ownership, while at the same time facing limited availability of social/affordable housing.

The report also outlines income gap between tenants and owners as widening, and the housing cost burden for tenants is increasing disproportionately in the vast majority of EU countries.

The evidence also pointed to an alarming situation with increasing homelessness, Finland being the only country in the EU which managed to reverse this trend by implementing effective policies.

Construction appears to be recovering much slower than prices and consequently housing shortages are emerging more clearly, especially in large cities/metropolitan areas with a growing population.

This has been reported notably in the UK, Sweden, Ireland, Luxemburg, but also at a local level in Netherlands and Germany.

Major cities are identified as facing a structural housing shortage and house prices in areas of high demand are higher and raising faster, with rents following the same trend.

The report concludes that the crisis could have represented a turning point showing the importance of investing in affordable, non-speculative housing.

However, so far there has been little change in social housing policies.

In general, with few exceptions, social housing providers have to cope with less public funding and rely more on private finance.

Consequently, the report found that local authorities/cities were instigating solutions rather than national policies.

These solutions ranged from making land available at a reduced cost for social/affordable housing, demanding private developers contribute to the development of affordable housing and social infrastructures, bringing vacant premises back into use, promoting initiatives to increase social inclusion, education and employment opportunities in poor neighbourhoods, and providing homes in cooperation with not for profit partners.

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