In Search of a Home – Global Struggle for Affordable Housing

European Commission states that there is a housing crisis and a problem of increasing homelessness in Europe. The income of citizens is not following the rising costs of living. The ones troubling to find affordable place to live are increasingly the younger generations, children, migrants and other disadvantaged minorities. According to Euronews, over 10% of the inhabitants in EU and more than 40% of the low income citizens use nearly half of their income to housing, which is seen as an overburden of housing costs. 

As a consequence, homelessness is becoming more noticeable problem all over Europe. European Commission defines homelessness as a “situation of living in temporary, insecure or poor-quality housing”, being typically a cause of poverty, migration, ageing, social problems or the lack of affordable housing options. The number of homeless people differs from the actual number of people sleeping literally on the streets since families and relatives often provide a social safety net. Some people are temporarily homeless due to unpredictable life changes, whereas, a smaller group of people are living without a shelter for a long term.
Lack of affordable housing for lower income citizens is a global phenomenon. The rural urban -movement, increase of the housing prices and the decrease of the state subsidised apartments have been boosting the problem around the world. South Africa, a country of 56 million inhabitants is having a huge housing shortage within the deprived people, especially the younger generations. During past decades urbanization has been shaping the country, people from rural areas are coming to cities wishing to find work and a house. Among other things this movement of the people from the periphery to the cities like Cape Town is increasing a desperate need for affordable housing in the urban areas. According to WPI, in 2015 there were over 200 000 street homeless citizens in the country. Albeit subsidized housing has been built in South Africa, it has not matched the pace of increasing number of applicants. More than a quarter of the total amount of households in the City of Cape Town is waiting to get the house promised by the state already 20 years ago. Housing protests are frequent and held by the homeless people demanding decent living conditions. 
While the citizens of Cape Town are waiting for the social housing they have to find alternative places to live. This situation has created informal housing markets within the lower income people. Over 20% of the households of the city live in informal dwellings or hostels, and the number is expected to increase while people are moving to the city to find work. People who have been lucky to get a subsidized house are renting their backyards to other people in need. In Cape Town, around 75 000 citizens live in these backyard dwellings.
[bctt tweet=”In Europe, the role of local and national governments providing public utilities is remarkable. Still, people of low income are also increasingly waiting to get under a state subsidized house.” via=”no”]
In the global south where the support of the state is not remarkable or reliable and the inequality between people is strong, the wellbeing of the citizens is depending on mutual solidarity and the connections of the relatives. In Europe, the role of local and national governments providing public utilities is remarkable. Still, people of low income are also increasingly waiting to get under a state subsidized house. England has 1,15 million households under a waiting list for social housing and 300 000 of them have been waiting over 18 years. In Europe the failure to provide affordable housing for the citizens might increasingly leave citizens to hang without neither the help of the state or the social network. As a consequence, we might see a similar increase of informality in the housing markets in Europe that has taken place  in South Africa, squatting (occupying abandoned buildings) being one example. 

What should be acknowledged?

Different solutions are being searched for to solve the problem of homelessness. Charlotte Lemanski, the professor of geography states how government of South Africa should rather support the informal settlements instead of overlooking them and discouraging the market. Eventually, informal solutions are coming from the citizens themselves as an effort to fill the gap of housing that the local and national governments have failed to fix.
Currently there is no reliable numbers about homeless people in Europe since each country is collecting the data in different ways. FEANTSA (European Federation of National Organizations Working with the Homeless) states that EU should collect collective data of homelessness to find better policy solutions to the problem. Currently the focus of the work against homelessness has been constant dialogue in European institutions as well as exchange of information about the  state of homelessness, research and data collection about the housing and raising public awareness about the complexity of the housing problem in Europe. Different projects are also carried out to decrease the numbers of homelessness. In Belgium, 400 Roofs campaign aims to provide stable houses for people living on the streets of Brussels by 2020.
Finland is very fortunate with its statistics of homelessness. In Finland the number of people without a home has been decreasing while in other European cities the trend is reverse. Since 2008 housing has been designated as the first step to uplift people to the work and student life in Finland, the stand being called Housing first policy. Before anything else people have to have a lease-based housing with postal address from where person can start to develop their life further. The Housing Finance and Development Centre of Finland (ARA) states how the number of homeless people has split during past 20 years. According to ARA, in 2018 there were around 5500 homeless people in Finland,  415 of them sleeping on the streets. 
[bctt tweet=”Ultimately it is our own decision whether we see housing as an integral human right or an asset for accumulating wealth.” via=”no”]
Finally, this raises the question why middle to lower income citizens can’t afford to live in their cities? Housing Europe has published a striking report about the reality of the housing being linked to the increasing global inequality. The prices of the houses have been increasing rapidly because of the liberalization of the housing market: besides being a place to live and a home, housing is increasingly seen as an opportunity to gain financial benefits. Ultimately it is our own decision whether we see housing as an integral human right or an asset for accumulating wealth.
TEXT Tiia Talvisara
PHOTOS Tiia Talvisara

The author is doing her master degree of urban studies and planning in Brussels, with a BA of political science and studies of clothing design from the University of Lapland. The author is currently working in Cape Town with the youngsters of local communities. Shas specialised in the questions of identity and socio-economic differences in urban areas