The Renovation Wave aims to drive forward EU climate and social commitments by improving energy efficiency and sustainability in homes whilst protecting the most vulnerable. Regrettably, in some areas, renovation policies are causing "renovictions", as retrofits are used as a pretext to raise rents and evict tenants and lowincome homeowners. Implementing social safeguards is imperative to ensure the Renovation Wave benefits the most disadvantaged and energypoor. How can EU and national policymakers make this happen?
The European Renovation Drive: Addressing Energy Poverty and Social Exclusion
With buildings in Europe accounting for a staggering 40% of energy consumption and 36% of CO2 emissions, it is no surprise that the European Renovation Wave is being hailed as a crucial step forward. However, as the energy price crisis has only exacerbated the already dire situation of energy poverty, a condition closely linked to poor quality housing, affecting more than 34 million European households, collective efforts must go towards improving the energy efficiency of buildings and prioritising the needs of the most vulnerable.
Ineffective Policies and Renoviction Risks
While well-intentioned, many current policies and programs tackling housing renovation have proven costly, discriminatory and ineffective. For instance, in Germany, Italy and Bulgaria, untargeted financial incentives have led to delays and inflation. In Slovakia or Croatia, the most vulnerable are often excluded from renovation programs due to eligibility criteria and documentation issues. Meanwhile, in Greece, a focus on ownership rather than rental properties leaves many people in rental accommodation ignored.
In the absence of low-income and tenant protection measures, speculation and financialisation of the housing sector are leading to social exclusion, as seen in the sharp rise in homelessness in Ireland in 2022. Without sufficient financial incentives, property owners may not undertake renovations without passing the costs onto tenants, leading to "renoviction" and displacement of low-income homeowners and tenants. Other cities with high real estate demand, such as Paris, are particularly affected by this trend, such as Paris, are particularly affected by this trend, displacing tenants and low-income homeowners and contributing to housing insecurity and urban gentrification.
Lack of financial incentives can also result in renoviction. Property owners may not have enough financial incentives to undertake renovations without passing the costs on to tenants, including those in social housing (as seen in Lodz, Poland). Low-income owner-occupiers are also vulnerable to the harmful effects of poor renovation policies. In some cases, they may be forced to undertake costly renovations to meet new energy efficiency standards, leading to over-indebtedness. Others may be forced to sell their homes due to the costs associated with renovating multi-apartment buildings (as seen in Estonia).
Social Safeguards: Essential for Housing Policies
We must ensure our renovation efforts prioritise social justice and improved living standards. To do this, we must implement social safeguards to protect the rights of tenants and property owners and prevent renovictions. This includes prioritising the renovation of the worst-performing dwellings of those in energy poverty and temporary accommodation, such as hostels and shelters. Fratello Sole in Italy, for example, focuses on renovating hostels for marginalised populations.
Private Rental Sector
Investing in a better understanding of the private rental sector and assessing the effectiveness of tenant protection laws and rent control measures is crucial. These measures, such as the right to request repairs and improvement and rent control - through legislation or collective agreements - can help protect tenants from the adverse effects of renovations and the threat of eviction.
Financial tools such as 100% subsidies and low-interest loans should be provided to support low income owner-occupiers, keeping remaining costs close to zero. For landlords, instruments could be linked to rent cap guarantees. Certification schemes for responsible renovations could also be introduced to recognise and reward property owners who undertake renovations in a reliable, tenant-friendly manner.
Promoting Social and Community Housing
Policies and programs must prioritise community housing, as seen in Vienna, Austria, putting people before profit. To ensure sustainability and affordability, it is essential to think beyond the building and involve all sectors and policy areas, from regulation to construction, taxation, environmental, energy, and social policies.
Conclusion: Renovating for affordability and sustainability
In conclusion, while the European Renovation Wave has the potential to improve energy efficiency and address energy poverty, we must implement adequate social safeguards to prevent "renovictions" and ensure the affordability and sustainability of housing for the most vulnerable households. The EU's Affordable housing initiative is a major step forward. But by going further and including living conditions in the energy performance certificates, boosting the implementation of the right to housing presented in Article 31 of the European Social Charter, and providing access to affordable performant renovation for low income households, we can help secure a brighter future for all.
About the author
Marine Cornelis is the executive director and founder of Next Energy Consumer, a policy consulting firm specialising in the social aspects of energy and climate transitions. Her work brings together the demands and perspectives of civil society, scientific groups, corporations, ombudsmen, regulators, and governments. She works with and advises customers in Europe, Africa, and Mexico. Before founding Next Energy Consumer, Marine worked for many years in Brussels as a consumer rights advocate. Marine is an experienced public speaker and policy shaker who is passionate about energy justice and community development. She is one of the first Ambassadors for the European Climate Pact.
Marine Cornelis is a digital ambassador of the European Sustainable Energy Week, of which European Energy Innovation is a media partner. Registrations will open in April 2023.
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