On 14 December 2022 the SprINg project, with the support of ICMPD and SOLIDAR, held a webinar on housing solutions for people who fled following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, causing the arrival of 4.7 million people claiming temporary protection in the EU at the time of the webinar. The discussion gathered 5 key speakers on housing.
This rapid influx has been faced with a range of housing complications, with affordable housing already in crisis, host countries have needed to work creatively to scale up their capacity to accommodate new arrivals in a variety of ways, including enlarging reception centres, repurposing existing buildings, and encouraging private households to host newcomers. Although such diverse short-term initiatives have mushroomed, several problems have emerged, such as matching and vetting hosts, ensuring adequate accommodation standards, minimising the risk of exploitation, and finally ensuring the transition to long-term housing solutions.
The webinar looked at specific challenges faced by this group and what is needed to address vulnerabilities. The speakers discussed the potential, as well as the limitations, of different housing efforts and looked at how initiatives catering to the immediate housing needs of new arrivals can be embedded in a long-term integration strategy.
The takeaways below provide an overview of the discussion.
- Access to safe, secure, habitable and affordable housing is a fundamental right.
Stable and quality housing is a precondition to a good quality of life and therefore integration in society. It fulfills a vital needs and impacts successful integration in all other areas (learning the language, education and labour market, etc).
- The shortage and limited quality of affordable housing stock are longstanding problem preexisting the large-scale arrivals from Ukraine.
Europe is facing a long-standing housing crisis. The lack of local investment in social housing in combination with external selling of properties has resulted in a situation which does not only affect new arrivals, but also vulnerable groups of the host community, such as young people or single mothers. Since 2022, the energy crisis has been creating additional pressure on vulnerable people and making it harder to reach decent standards of living.
- In Poland, the Member State holding the largest number of Ukrainian refugees, the private rental market is limited and overstretched.
Over 85% of Ukrainians coming to Poland are women, the majority of them traveling with children. They are facing significant challenges on the rental market in Poland, in which housing ownership is the dominant model and the rental market is small and overstretched. With rising rents and strict eviction policies, discouraging landlords to rent to vulnerable people, it is close to impossible for Ukrainian refugees to find a place to rent in big Polish cities.
- Information is key.
Improved access to information is needed, both in private hosting initiatives and on the rental market. It became all the more crucial with the arrivals from Ukraine; in situations where the hosts and the guests do not know each other, it is important that they have access to information on each other, and initiatives have flourished to facilitate this matching. The need to clearly state rules, rights and duties is also acute on the rental market in general, especially given the scarcity of housing which creates an environment where rules are bent.Tenants need to be made aware of their rights, as well as people in social housing.
- In most countries, social housing is not an option for newcomers.
In addition to the structural insufficiency of social housing units available, the bureaucratic and long procedure to be able to access them comes with years of waiting and restrictive eligibility criteria, mostly leaving recently-arrived migrants and refugees behind. Housing associations, social rental agencies, community land trust and co-housing solutions attempt to fill this gap, however there is a lack of investment and initiative from local governments.
- Changes to housing programmes and policies take time.
Building housing stock takes time and requires massive investment. For quality housing to be available in sufficient numbers in a decade, a wide policy shift needs to take place now. It does not help that housing practices are highly contextual, making it harder to transfer knowledge and best practices from one country to another.
- Long-term, bold housing solutions are needed.
For refugees from Ukraine just as for any other groups of newcomers, private hosting is an emergency measure that cannot become a long-term solution. Modern and creative techniques and legislation can be used to provide housing, such as renovation and repurposing of empty buildings, prefabricated containers, using the space above shops, and even encouraging new arrivals to move to smaller cities. While public investment is needed, private developers are a necessary part of the solution, so public-private partnerships will be key to increase affordable housing.