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European Sustainable Energy Week
News blog16 February 2024European Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency4 min read

Supporting affordable and social housing in taking on the challenge of renovation

Sorcha Edwards, Secretary General of Housing Europe

Supporting affordable and social housing in taking on the challenge of renovation

The only way to reach the objectives of reducing CO2 emissions by 55% by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050 is to encourage a decarbonisation that is very specific to the different contexts across Europe. The good news is the necessary technologies for a fast transition are here, but the affordable housing sector might need some more support. This is why the European Affordable Housing Consortium, SHAPE-EU, led by Housing Europe, was established as the point of reference for a socially inclusive Renovation Wave and New European Bauhaus. A set of guiding blueprints will be drafted based on the 100 lighthouse projects of the Affordable Housing Initiative.

Finding the most efficient solution for everyone

The district-level approach is the best option for a just energy transition. Not only it allows important cost reductions, achievable through economies of scale, industrialisation, bulk logistics, etc., but it also enables the housing providers and developers to engage with the community, push for a human-centred renovation and added sense of ownership and belonging of their homes and neighbourhood.

‘Lighthouse districts’, from the Affordable Housing Initiative, represent models of integrated approaches, involving the use smart energy efficient solutions, people-centred business models, and co-creation practices with the residents at the neighbourhood level and engaging several disciplines – creative, green, digital, mobility.

One of these projects is drOp, aiming to come up with a district renovation methodology, addressing the needs of social housing from Spain, Italy and Estonia and transforms these neighbourhoods into smart and inclusive ones. The objective is to develop solutions for positive social change, creating new opportunities within the local economic environment, all while relying on advanced technologies and cultural and creative activities. Once again, a key focus is the involvement of the community.

Using what was done best to do even better

The Consortium partners have as a priority to bring all these good practices forward. They have put together a handbook of inspiring examples. Delivering Affordable ‘Lighthouse Districts’ in Europe aims at encouraging to explore the limits of what is possible, create a new appetite to renovate better, and tap into a new level of ambition.

Such an example is the case of ÖrebroBostäder, the first public housing provider in Sweden to include as a condition in the procurement the obligation to hire jobless inhabitants as construction workers for a limited period. In addition, the planning of the intervention aimed at fostering social cohesion in the neighbourhood. 10,000 residents, 32,000m2 area of intervention and EUR 40 million total cost of renovation are just a few figures that can indicate the scale and impact of the project.

The Wir inHAUSer project, from Salzburg, Austria, is an example of zero carbon refurbishment, integrating a shared mobility concept and a resettlement programme. It can be described as remarkable in terms of its comprehensive (award-winning) concept to minimise carbon footprint through energy use, where the innovative mobility approach assumed a pioneering role.

Following a step-by-step approach makes the process easier

While examples of what has already been done are a valuable resource, it has also been important to create a set of guidelines that make that task of an inclusive energy efficient district level renovation seem approachable. Planned to be published at the end of the project, they will focus on different aspects including temporary accommodation for tenants during the renovation period or ensuring cost-neutrality for residents after the renovation operation.

The Renovation Helpdesk is another tool of the project, composed of experts that have the experience of carrying out a lighthouse district. They have volunteered to help other project leaders that are just starting the process to renovate their stock and offer affordable, safe, and suitable housing for their residents.

A mission that is far from being over

After two years, the capacity-building programme is approaching its finish line, an occasion that will be marked with the ‘Launching 100 lighthouse districts’ conference at the European Committee of the Regions on 21 February 2024.

Recommended links

  • Renovate Together Forum – a LinkedIn community on district level renovation
  • ProLight project – a lighthouse district project, part of the ‘Social and affordable housing district demonstrator (IA)’ call
  • SUPERSHINE project – a lighthouse district project, part of the ‘Social and affordable housing district demonstrator (IA)’ call

About the author

Sorcha Edwards is General Secretary of Housing Europe, the European Federation of Public, Cooperative and Social Housing since 2014. Housing Europe brings together public, cooperative and social housing providers from across Europe. Sorcha leads the team and coordinates the network for maximum impact aiming at better regulation, better knowledge and better finance for housing in EU and International policy-making. Under her leadership, Housing Europe has become a point of reference for sustainable housing systems in Europe and beyond.


Disclaimer: This article is a contribution from a partner. All rights reserved.

Neither the European Commission nor any person acting on behalf of the Commission is responsible for the use that might be made of the information in the article. The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) only and should not be considered as representative of the European Commission’s official position.