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The European Responsible Housing Awards 2019

Image of Cynthia Campbell, Director of PD&R's International and Philanthropic Affairs Division.Cynthia Campbell, Director of PD&R's International and Philanthropic Affairs Division.

I recently read this year’s European Responsible Housing Awards 2019 Handbook, which highlights best practices in housing throughout the European Union. The competition is run through the European Federation of Public, Cooperative & Social Housing, or Housing Europe, which is a network of 45 national and regional federations that includes 43,000 housing providers in 24 countries. Housing Europe’s members manage more than 26 million homes, including social/public housing units, which make up roughly 11 percent of Europe’s housing stock.

The competition consists of several categories, including Fair Financing for Housing Affordability; More Than a Roof – Supporting Communities of Equal Opportunities; Leaders of Innovation, Agents of Fair Energy Transition; Building Strategic Alliances, Fostering Community Participation; and Empowering the Team, Addressing Employees’ Changing Needs.

The award for the category of Fair Financing for Housing Affordability highlighted the work of a group in Budapest, Hungary, that is turning private housing into affordable social housing through a landlord incentive program. Derelict homes are renovated and updated for immediate use, with the program helping the landlord pay the costs for the renovation. Once the apartment is renovated and rented, the landlord must agree to keep it affordable. Although Hungary has very few affordable social housing apartments available, it has 4,000 municipally owned properties and 90,000 privately owned homes that are vacant and uninhabitable. This program matches those properties with funds for renovation to return them to Hungary’s housing stock. The country has an estimated 30,000 individuals and families experiencing homelessness, mostly in and around Budapest.

In the category of More Than a Roof – Supporting Communities of Equal Opportunities, one of the selectees was the Wiener Wohnen Management Company in Vienna, Austria. Wiener Wohnen is the largest municipal property management firm in Europe, managing 1,800 municipal housing complexes, including 220,000 apartments. Wiener Wohnen hired a team of social workers to reach out to tenants who are behind on rent or who have received their first eviction notice. The social workers stage an intervention to help the tenant with issues that may be affecting their ability to keep up with their rent payments. These interventions prevented the eviction of approximately 70 percent of the firm’s tenants. About 25 percent of tenants failed to cooperate with the interventions. The Vienna University of Economics and Business is conducting research on why tenants ignore eviction notices.

One of the winners in the category of Leaders in Innovation, Agents of Fair Energy Transition is the Dún Laoghaire–Rathdown County Council in Ireland, which spearheaded a project designed to provide affordable housing rapidly. The project is in Dublin, where housing costs, which are among the highest in the world, have triggered an extreme affordable housing crisis. The council selected a company to provide a prefabricated structure with a rapid-build timber frame that could be delivered quickly. The resulting homes are also highly energy efficient. The monthly energy costs for the homes are less than €200 per month, a significant savings for low-income residents. The city provided a vacant parcel for the project near the waterfront.

One of the winners in the category of Building Strategic Alliances, Fostering Community Participation was GESOBAU in Berlin, Germany. The company manages the Märkisches Viertel Housing Estate, a large multifamily high-rise complex built in the 1960s. Many of the original tenants still live in the complex and are now aging in place. To help the elderly residents stay in their homes, GESOBAU created a new project to update the apartments and improve the lives of these older tenants. Specifically, the company conducted tenant surveys and held workshops and meetings to understand what tenants needed to have higher levels of safety, independence, and self-esteem. The management company installed state-of-the-art technology in the units that automatically detects inactivity and falls and improves stove safety; it also installed automatic light sensors and other safety measures throughout the homes. The program was funded by GKV-Spitzenverband, a German healthcare provider.

Finally, in the category of Empowering the Team, Addressing Employee’s Changing Needs, one of the winners was ATC del Piemonte Centrale in Torino, Italy. More than 26,000 families live in ATC del Piemonte Centrale-managed homes. Most of the company’s tenants (78%) earn less than €20,000 a year. ATC reorganized its management team to more effectively manage the properties with less revenue. The company did this through employee involvement. The reorganization also changed the priorities for the buildings, including developing ways to prevent and manage late payments, creating common rules and methods for delivering services and using innovative methods to manage maintenance. ATC also created a tenant-based portal to manage and arrange for apartment repairs, allowing for increased efficiency and effectiveness.

These are only a few of the innovative practices found in this year’s awards. To learn more about these projects, you may visit: www.housingeurope.eu/resource-1286/european-responsible-housing-awards-2019-handbook.