From building to advocating -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

From building to advocating

By Lea Köszeghy


Habitat Hungary feels that its advocacy efforts can act as a powerful supporter of its homebuilding and reconstruction activities. ©HABITAT FOR HUMANITY HUNGARY


Europe and Central Asia Housing Forum 2011


The foreclosure crisis that hit the world’s economies in 2008 was particularly painful in Eastern European markets, which had recently emerged from the long transition of a centrally controlled to a laissez-faire system.

In Hungary, a country of 10 million people, more than 100,000 households went into mortgage arrears.

This was mainly caused by the ownership-oriented housing policies. Many of the now-indebted low-income families chose loans because there was no properly functioning rental system. At the same time, as part of an austerity measure, the state scrapped almost all construction subsidies in the summer of 2009. Only interest-bearing assistance was left intact, but it was significantly cut and oriented for the better-off, leaving low-income families aside. In the summer of 2010, the newly elected government announced a temporary ban on foreclosures, but the new government still lacks a comprehensive housing strategy.

All of these developments triggered the creation and launch of Habitat for Humanity’s advocacy agenda in Hungary. Its main aim is to put housing-related issues higher on the political agenda. During 15 years of its work in Hungary, Habitat came to realize that providing decent homes for all requires a better understanding of the nature of housing poverty and its policy context. Analysis revealed that housing poverty, in one form or another, affects more than 1 million people in Hungary. At the same time, there is a clear lack of public attention to the problem and public resources allocated to tackle it.

The new program focused on identifying key housing poverty issues, conducting desk research, developing and presenting a statement on housing poverty, formulating expert opinions on housing-related policy papers, and identifying and networking with relevant actors and the media. As a result, the organization is now recognized as a reliable partner in Hungary on housing policy, and Habitat’s housing policy statement was used by state officials in designing a response to the floods that affected some parts of the country in the summer of 2010.

Habitat for Humanity Hungary’s housing policy statement was completed in June 2010 after months of deliberation. The statement identified three key problems:

  • Failure of an ownership-oriented housing policy to address certain problems of the housing market.
  • Affordability and fuel poverty (e.g., when people cannot afford new homes or cannot afford to pay energy bills as fuel prices in Europe rise).
  • Spatial segregation, that is, the increasing physical distance between different social groups, the concentration of poor households in particular areas, and the tremendous social costs of those developments.

To combat these, Habitat for Humanity Hungary advocates for:

  • The development of an operational social rental sector.
  • The introduction of measures to improve affordability.
  • The launch of multi component programs addressing energy poverty.
  • A decrease in spatial segregation.

Strategic challenges and planned responses
The new advocacy activities and new knowledge in the organization brought forth additional challenges and opportunities, mainly in the correlation between traditional building programs and advocacy. The original idea was to allow the programs to run parallel.

But this premise was challenged from the beginning, as the information gained through the advocacy program proved to be useful for program planning and development.

At the same time, construction programs could act as a powerful supporter of advocacy efforts.

It became obvious that the more coordinated the activities of the two programs are, the stronger the programs — and the organization’s advocacy — become.

This approach is now used in formulating Habitat for Humanity Hungary’s strategy for 2011–13. This strategy states that the organization aims to become a knowledge center in housing poverty. Activities will be centered on strategic themes representing key challenges in housing poverty, such as social rentals; housing solutions in deep, locally concentrated poverty; affordability; and fuel poverty. The devised knowledge center endeavors to collect and disseminate information, consult, carry out scalable showcase projects and pursue advocacy efforts with one global aim embedded in Habitat’s mission: to ensure decent homes for all.

The launch of Habitat’s advocacy efforts in Hungary had far-reaching consequences for the organization, pushing it toward more strategic thinking on the problems of housing poverty and relevant responses, along with better integration of the various types of knowledge in the organization. Habitat Hungary hopes this effort will help it leverage its effectiveness in combating housing poverty, including those problems brought to light by the economic crisis.

The crisis affected Habitat Hungary’s capacity in a number of ways. Available household resources and potential donors have been depleted, and there is a threat that housing poverty can drop even further on the political agenda, especially when it’s compared with the overall government goals of revitalizing economies.

However, Habitat Hungary believes that the current crisis can also be perceived as an opportunity to reconsider past decades’ policies and activities aimed at combating housing poverty, i.e., the potential and limitations of ownership-oriented versus sector-neutral policies, and housing-only solutions versus housing interventions embedded in integrated programs. Habitat Hungary hopes that in the long run it will be able to develop and implement more relevant responses to the existing housing issues.

Lea Köszeghy, a sociologist, is the advocacy officer for Habitat for Humanity Hungary.


Housing poverty and housing policy – diagnosis and recommendations (36KB .pdf)