The Affordable Housing Initiative Bootcamp gives the floor to practitioners to share and discuss challenges and successes in renovation projects29-09-2023
The Affordable Housing Initiative capacity-building programme Housing Europe is leading is now back on track. After organising a Tech Camp at the International Social Housing Festival in Barcelona and a Finance Summit in Paris, we thought a more practical session to ask questions, share experiences, and network was necessary. On September 18-19, we travelled to Vienna – the city which often tops the charts when it comes to decent homes that people can afford. The Bootcamp explored the relationship between affordability and energy efficiency in the context of the “Renovation Wave” by giving the floor to European practitioners who have completed or are on the way to rehabilitating entire districts while preserving affordability.
We divided the work into three “modules”, which reflect the fundamental dimensions of district-level renovation: the project implementation and the social and the technical innovation. Following this distinction, the European Affordable Housing Consortium is working on the Blueprints: a set of guidelines for local authorities, SMEs, and social and affordable housing providers who want to embark on a district-level renovation project with a holistic approach.
Bent Madsen, President of Housing Europe kickstarted the event by stressing the importance of social justice in urban green transitions as a non-negotiable element. Designing projects that include safeguards and bottom-up processes might be more challenging at first, but the final reward is incomparable.
Kathrin Gaál, Deputy Mayor of the city of Vienna, also gave away one of the main ingredients for the Viennese success: “For more than a century, Vienna’s public authorities have followed to the letter the vision of housing as a fundamental human right, rather than a commodity. Today still, their main goal is to keep houses affordable, which they pursue by both building new houses and renovating the existing stock.”
Local authorities also have a crucial role in paving the way for a “just Green Deal” meaning that the EU ambition must be fair and not “just a Green Deal” in the sense of another initiative that overlooks all layers of society. This was the key message of Masha Smirnova from Eurocities who highlighted that the work of cities can be fostered by creating an enabling European framework, including them at the decision tables, creating capacity-building opportunities at the city level with the participation of SMEs and civil society, and putting in place an appropriate financing system targeted to local needs.
“The Vienna Model of Affordable Housing”
Wiener Wohnen is the European largest manager of municipal property, with a stock of 220.000 municipal flats and 4,300 employees of which around 3,000 work as caretakers. However, this is only 50% of the subsidised housing stock, which results in more than 50% of the Viennese living in a subsidised apartment. Christian Schantl from Wiener Wohnen shared more impressive data that better explain the functioning of the so-called “Vienna model”. He also mentioned a set of measures put in place to prevent land and real estate prices from spiralling out of control as is happening in other major European cities. For example, in 2018, the city of Vienna introduced the ‘’Subsidised Housing’’ zone category: this entails that, if a plot is classified as belonging to this category, two-thirds of the useable floorspace created for housing purposes must, as a rule, be taken up by subsidised dwellings. This approach caps rents and safeguards that affordable dwellings will continue to be constructed across the entire city, ensuring another objective – a good social mix all over the capital.
“The European Affordable Housing Consortium: helping social housing providers go the extra mile in district renovation”
MANAGING A DISTRICT RENOVATION PROJECT
Transforming entire districts offers the possibility of scale, downsizes the costs, creates the feeling of well-thought-out urban planning, and creates a sense of belonging to a certain area. For instance, Bernhard Gugg from the Salzburg Institute for Regional Planning and Housing, showcased the renovation of 75 limited-profit rental apartments built in 1983. The number of dwellings increased to 99 after renovation thanks to the use of existing materials and wood construction, to which ecological thermal insulation was added. In addition, the heat supply was converted from gas to a mix of wastewater/heat, pellets, and PVs. High-quality bike parking and shared mobility points were also added to the existing 75-car parking spaces. During the construction, tenants were provided with an alternative accommodation and were still guaranteed the right to return.
Stephan Hartmann shared his learnings from the EU-funded Smarter Together Horizon 2020 project. More specifically, he stressed the importance of establishing information points from the very beginning, as they witnessed tenants unwilling to have renovation works carried out in their apartments when not properly informed on what the renovation entails. The project enabled the refurbishment of 3 residential buildings and one school in the Simmering district in Vienna using a participatory approach and led to the establishment of the first “mobility station” of the city – an area where different mobility services are connected. Stephan Hartmann also presented the urban renewal programme WieNeu+ which started in 2021 and is set to run for 10 years with the aim of providing climate-friendly and future-oriented solutions for the district of Favoriten.
INTEGRATED APPROACHES IN TRAINING PROGRAMMES
If 2023 is the European Year of Skills and multiple of our Housing Europe Observatory reports and briefs often call for increasing knowledge, we needed to go to the heart of the question and focus on the hows. The Bootcamp put forward the key role of schools offering courses and training in the housing sector. Rector Daniel Kaltofen gave an overview of the curricula offered by EBZ Business School of Bochum, Germany, which include both bachelor’s and Master’s programmes on real estate with a focus on sustainability. Following, Franck Martin presented the École du Renouvellement Urbain, a French non-profit organisation funded by a board of trustees of which he is a director. The trainings are offered on different subjects ranging from project management, governance, urban development, and strategy to social functionality. Finally, Anita Pedersen, an urban sociologist working at the Danish National Building Fund (Landsbyggefonden showcased two winning projects that transformed a social housing area in Axelborg into a living lab: a rooftop restaurant managed by tenants and a health hub established with the collaboration of the healthcare workers living in the area.
DELIVERING AND ENSURING SOCIAL VALUE
Saskia Furman from RE-DWELL – the Marie Curie research programme that focuses primarily on social housing – set the focus on the social value that projects must deliver if we want to ride the Renovation Wave and continuously work with the people whose homes would be covered with dust and surrounded by noise during renovation. Henk Visscher from TU Delft presented in a nutshell the large source of knowledge that the Social Innovation Blueprint is bringing to the discussion. Following, Marlies Swait and Julia Nermuth from Wohnpartner Vienna offered the audience an insight into their everyday practice as social workers dedicated to improving the quality of life in municipal housing. In their experience, every conflict has the potential to escalate but all conflicts can be solved. When mediating between two parties, they adopt the principle of “multi partiality”, which means that they remain impartial when there are conflicts, but they try to provide adequate tools to solve the situation to a part that might be more vulnerable, like an immigrant family that does not speak German. When asked which is the most common trigger for conflict they could immediately answer: noise.
Mikaela Åberg from the Swedish public housing company Helsingborgshem, said she has one mission: to improve the living conditions and the reputation of Drottninghög. This district, built within the Million programme, became soon a synonym of deprivation, social exclusion, and criminal activity also due to design factors that made it a housing enclave. It became a tangible example of how “large modern housing for the many became cheap apartments for the poor”. Helsingborgshem developed a 25-year project in which the foundations were laid by talking to residents and listening to their everyday wishes and fears. In this way, they managed to design a project on a human scale and obtained 100% approval despite a 30% rent increase over a period of 5 years. Helsingborgshem decided to primarily invest in new public transport connections, the introductions of different housing tenures in the area, and common green spaces between the buildings. The image portrayed by national media has already started to change, thanks to long-term commitments and cross-party agreements.
We also heard from the Baltic region and Egle Randyte who shared the initiative of the city of Vilnius, Lithuania “VšĮ Atnaujinkime miestą” or “Let’s renovate the city together”. The city has many apartment buildings built before 1995 that are energy-inefficient and derelict. A one-stop-shop was developed to achieve the goal of renovating 4.700 units by 2030 by engaging residents of multi-apartment buildings, providing them with key information and supporting them with the repayment of loans. For every euro received as financial support by the city of Vilnius, the initiative manages to attract €170. This was supported by the city government and made possible with successful communication practices that were put in place already during the COVID-19 period when 250 online meetings with communities were held. To facilitate the engagement of residents, meetings were organised in the early evening with the employment of a qualified mediator.
AFFORDABLE TECHNICAL INNOVATIONS FOR SUSTAINABILITY
Reaching the end of the two-day exercise we needed to debate on the tools that can be used to make social renovation happen. Nerea Gómez explained to participants the scope and the methods of the Technical Module of the Blueprints. All three guidelines will be with open access at the beginning of 2024, ready to support the public, cooperative, and social housing network. Sebastien Delpont presented the vision behind Energiesprong which spread from the Netherlands to France, the UK, Germany, and Italy and is going to start soon in Ireland. According to him, one of the main challenges for green building technologies is their lack of popularity in the public discourse compared for example to PVs, electric cars, or planes. Affordable and “ready to wear” climate-neutral solutions for an “extreme makeover” of our building stock at the district level should be, therefore, a major priority, and LEAN, BIM off-site and prefabricated façades are among the key ingredients for success.
Krzysztof Kukucki, Deputy Mayor of Włocławek, Poland brought to the table the perspective of a political administrator. He was motivated to change the housing system of his city to contrast the dilapidation of the old town by building municipal flats to rent, inspired by Vienna. In Poland, housing ownership is the most common tenure, but Krzysztof won his bet when more than 1.700 people applied for 432 flats built with turnkey standards. In addition, 80 passive social housing units were built. The local administration also implemented a series of social measures by establishing a social support centre, a daycare centre for senior citizens, and the “Faience centre”, an interactive museum on the ceramic historical tradition of the city.
Last but not least, Felix Assman, project manager of integrated urban development at the housing association of Essen, presented “Your Voice”, a digital tool that bridges technological solutions to social innovation in urban development. Your Voice is a 3D planning tool online that aims at increasing participation by being always accessible on different devices and enabling people their questions answered at any moment by different competent stakeholders. This initiative has the core goal of making renovation projects understandable and is based on 10 principles of good citizen participation, which include transparency in the process and clear communication on what sort of engagement is expected from people.
While the European Affordable Housing Consortium is contracted until February, the work of the diverse team behind it continues. On the official website of the project, we have launched a Renovation Helpdesk which offers help to social and affordable housing providers, and in the coming months, a funding simulator tool would provide insights into what kind of finance could be used by our sector. Make sure to be up-to-speed at https://shape-affordablehousing.eu/
Download some of the best practices we shared with Bootcamp participants.
Delivering Affordable Housing ‘Lighthouse Districts’ in Europe
The Vienna Model – Christian Schantl (Wiener Wohnen)
The European Affordable Housing Consortium – João Gonçalves (Housing Europe)
Blueprints for Replication: the Project Implementation Module – Paula Ferrando (GNE Finance)
Zero Carbon Refurbishment: Redevelopment, redensification and shared mobility within the limited-profit housing sector in Salzburg – Bernhard Gugg (Salzburg Institute for Regional Planning and Housing)
Effective local partnerships for successful renovations in Vienna – Stephan Hartmann (WieNeu+ and Smarter Together Projects).
Integrated approaches to renovation in training programmes current offer and future perspectives – Franck Martin (Ecole du Renouvellement urbain)
Blueprints for Replication: the Social Innovation Module – Henk Visscher (TU Delft)
Social Cohesion in Apartment Complexes – Julia Nermuth and Marlies Swait (Wohnpartner Vienna)
Social regeneration and resident involvement in Drottninghög, Helsinborg – Mikaela Åberg (City of Helsingborgshem)
Blueprints for Replication: the Technical Innovation Module – Nerea Gómez (ECTP)
The industrial approach and project aggregation – Sebastian Delpont (Energiesprong)
The Celulozowa Project in Włocławek (Poland) – a prefabricated approach to renovation – Krzysztof Kukucki (Vice-Mayor of the City of Włocławek)
Your Voice – a digital tool for integrated urban development – Felix Assmann (ProjektStadt / Nassauische Heimstätte GmbH)