How to tackle housing shortages in Europe?

Rising rents and housing shortages were already a major issue in Europe before the pandemic - especially in the cities. Now war, inflation and high energy and construction costs are exacerbating the problem. Europe's commentators assess the situation and discuss what must be done.

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Irish Independent (IE) /

Not the time for complacency

The years-long crisis in the Irish housing market seems to be easing, the Irish Independent comments:

“The Government's Housing for All Q4 progress report shows the housing targets for last year were reached and exceeded. It also reports progress on affordability, vacancies as well as the reform of the planning system. ... These successes have come at a huge price - with a record €4.5bn committed as State housing investment. This figure may be unsustainable in the long run, but it does reflect the values of a caring society. ... There can be no complacency. Continued focus is required because Ireland has a growing population with ever more households.”

Le Quotidien (LU) /

Callous speculators

A growing number of Luxembourgers are being forced to move outside the country and commute to work because home ownership has become unaffordable, Le Quotidien complains:

“Until now Luxembourgers have only very rarely had to emigrate in the hope of a better life. At present, they do it to have a place to call home. ... The Greater Luxembourg region is teeming with expatriates. The world is upside down. The speculators don't care - most of them don't live here. They don't see their children, friends, neighbours moving away. They meet in the Emirates, Florida or elsewhere to talk about business and their latest acquisitions. Social cohesion and the lives of others have little value for these people in their glass towers.”

Expresso (PT) /

Fair taxation and social housing

Sale prices for houses and flats in Portugal have risen by almost 19 percent in the past year, mainly because of high demand from foreign investors. Publicist Daniel Oliveira complains in Expresso:

“Despite all the promises, 'golden visas' are still being issued, which now come with the added injustice that digital nomads or people who are not regular residents of the country pay only half the taxes paid by residents. ... There is no reason to prevent foreign nationals from buying or renting houses in Portugal. ... I am only advocating that they pay the same taxes as the Portuguese. ... The solution is the approach that already exists in much of Europe: public investment in housing.”

Polityka (PL) /

Inflation fuels investment in real estate

Polityka also calls for more public housing:

“The almost completely privatised Polish housing market is kind to the rich but ruthless towards everyone else. Even if in the run-up to the elections politicians are eager to show that the state is playing along again, we should not be deceived by appearances. After more than seven years of PiS government, both property developers and real estate developers are doing very well for themselves. And the ongoing crisis will likely only further strengthen their position. Because the desperate will be willing to live anywhere and can't afford to be choosy. And the wealthy, fearing inflation, continue to invest their surplus income in real estate, even in the tiniest flats or cramped housing estates.”

Dagens Nyheter (SE) /

Stop the social dumping

The acute shortage of rental accommodation in Sweden also has a negative impact on integration opportunities for migrants, notes Dagens Nyheter:

“All municipalities must start taking responsibility for social housing policy. ... It is not acceptable that Stockholm, for example, spends large sums of money on pushing newcomers into flats in other municipalities. They often end up in poorer municipalities where the labour market is tougher, sometimes against their will - which is basically social dumping. The opposite is what is needed: those who are furthest away from the labour market must have the opportunity to live where the labour market is strongest. After all, a job is generally the best way to achieve a stable housing situation.”

Zeit Online (DE) /

Caps the only way to counter rising rents

According to a study presented on 12 January by the Alliance of Social Housing Associations, Germany currently lacks 700,000 flats. But intensive new construction alone will not solve the problem of high rents, emphasises Zeit Online:

“In the short term, it is not possible to create as many new flats in German cities as would be necessary to lower rents. ... As long as there are several applicants for a flat, even if it's only five or ten, the owners have an advantage when it comes to negotiating the rent. And as long as they have this advantage in a market economy, they will use it. ... Rents will always rise if the state doesn't place more restrictions on them, for example with a rent cap.”