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Housing should be an opportunity, not a hindrance

Evaluating priorities of the Hungarian presidency in the European Union from a housing perspective

Dilapidated housing units in Budapest, Hungary.

Since January 1, 2011, the rotation presidency of the European Union has been held by Hungary. It is stated that the goals of the 6-months leadership of the EU include higher employment rates for the unskilled, better social inclusion, poverty reduction and development of a viable Roma strategy. All these issues, however, are impossible to solve without considering their housing component.

Habitat for Humanity believes that to achieve all the above stated objectives a strong emphasis on a common approach to combat housing poverty is needed. As one the leading international nonprofit organization that seeks to eliminate poverty housing and homelessness, it has put forward housing policy recommendations for the Hungarian EU presidency.

According to the official data, 15 million people in the European Union live in flats without a bath or a shower. Around 80 million people live in dwellings with major problems, like leaking roofs and damp premises. The problem of bad locality–no access to proper institutions, services and employment opportunities –affects at least 300,000 people, in Hungary alone. In other East and Southeast European countries the proportion of affected population is even higher.

Habitat urges the Hungarian government to make sure that in the EU budget planning for 2014-2020 enough funds are allocated for the cohesion policy. It should aim to decrease social and spatial differences, and not focus just on investments. It is important to develop and implement integrated programs that tackle poverty housing in connection with social problems, unemployment, poor education and health.

The Orsós family is one of many Roma families in Hungary living in poor housing conditions.

During its presidency in the EU, Hungary will also strive to develop a common EU strategy for the integration of the Roma. Though housing poverty affects not only Roma representatives, it strikes them disproportionally, states the 2009 report of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. An EU-level Roma strategy must deal mainly with housing issues. In countries where segregation is a mass phenomenon, programs to combat Roma marginalization and the elimination of ghetto-like settlements should be launched.

At the same time, Hungary also wants to include issues of a common energy policy, as well as environmental and climate policies into the European agenda. In Europe, the average share of the housing sector in total energy consumption is around 25 percent. In Hungary and other Eastern countries of the EU this proportion is significantly higher. Poor energy efficiency of the housing stock means that millions of households do not get properly heated homes, while consuming too much energy. All this has grave consequences both on the residents’ health and surrounding environment.

Hence, Habitat urges that the EU recognizes the importance of the housing sector in environmental and climate policies. It is essential to develop common guidelines for dealing with energy poverty, including measures and resources allocated to increase housing energy efficiency through the revision of existing subsidy systems as well as raising public awareness.

Habitat for Humanity believes that the Hungarian government has a unique opportunity to elevate the issue of housing poverty higher on the EU policy agenda.

What is next?
Habitat wants people not only to read about poverty housing but do something to fight it. You can support Habitat’s work in Europe and Central Asia in a number of ways. Here are some examples:

• Visit our donations page to support projects in Europe and Central Asia.
• Go to country profile pages to learn about other programs in Europe and Central Asia.

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