A lack of decent, affordable housing directly affects EU citizens, by restricting their education, training and job options. High house prices also stunt economic growth by eroding householders’ disposable income.
EU funding is available to help. In the new Member States, it may already be used to make housing more accessible and this should be considered for old Member States, too, says an own-initiative report adopted by the Regional Development Committee on Tuesday. Although the EU has no specific powers over housing, the European Regional Development Fund regulation for 2007-2013 would allow structural aid for housing in urban (re-)development projects, in areas of the new Member States that are threatened by physical deterioration or social exclusion, something which is highlighted in the report, drafted by Alfonso Andria (Italy).
For 15 countries that were in the EU before 2004, the report seeks to reopen debate on „extending access to Community funds for renovation of social housing to all Member States; in order to save energy and protect the environment, currently foreseen only for certain countries, given that housing needs are critical throughout Europe”. Structural fund aid should form part of an integrated strategy for boosting the accessibility of housing, to ensure that any steps taken to improve the quality of life in urban environments and enhance their attractiveness are taken simultaneously, says the report, so as to give the biggest possible boost to jobs and growth.
Reviving urban areas
Four out of five Europeans live in urban areas. Many European cities face soaring housing purchase and maintenance costs. Yet at the same time, notes the report, urban sprawl is adding to mobility problem (congested public transport, reliance on private cars) energy consumption, and pollution. EU funding could help to revive urban areas, the committee says, with a mix of measures to redevelop public areas, improve safety and prevent delinquency, use water and energy more efficiently, and renovate infrastructure.
Among other points, the report advocates identifying EU-wide minimum quality standards defining „decent housing”, strengthening the right to housing benefit so as to ease worker mobility, giving cities a greater role in planning and managing the use of structural funds for housing projects, and asks the Commission and the European Investment Bank to implement the JESSICA (Joint European Support for Sustainable Investment in City Areas) initiative on integrated urban development programmes in the same way for all countries. The report, adopted in committee with 45 votes in favor, 3 against and 1 abstention, will be put to the vote of the whole Parliament at the Brussels plenary session of 9-10 May 2007. (EP Press)