The 25th international housing Conference, ENHR2013 took place in Tarragona between the 19th and the 22nd of June to 2013, it was organised by the URV Housing Access Group. 480 papers were received from more than 40 different countries. During the plenary sessions that transpired at this event, important current issues were addressed, such as the European housing crisis, new forms of property tenure, the integration of existing housing and the proposal of new regulatory approaches designed to overcome the crisis. 27 workshops were also set up, in addition to a monograph dealing with the current housing crisis in Spain. The congress had a significant media impact, as can be seen at http://bit.ly/14taOqT.
The web site for the conference is www.enhr2013.com
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There follows a list of the conclusions reached in the wake of the 25th ENHR Conference, these were drawn from the more than 450 lectures that took place.
- Researchers are now actively dedicating themselves to understanding the causes and effects of the crisis, for example, in relation to the cost of housing and its accessibility in economic terms, price volatility and risk, the functioning of financial markets and the role played by housing policies.
- The countries that are suffering the crisis find that they need to design housing policies that will help them to advance and to discover a way of developing the private and social housing market, for example, and to resolve issues concerning the financial aspects of home ownership.
- Countries with more balanced housing markets, which offer a range of options, such as France and Germany, are behaving far better than those that put too much emphasis on home ownership, such as Spain, Ireland and England. This raises questions related to the optimum balance between types of tenure and housing options in each jurisdiction. Catalonia, which has introduced intermediate tenures, is a clear example.
- The research aims to understand the impact of market failures as regards to poverty, deprivation and the new austerity, especially concerning the effect this has had on the provision of protective housing for the poor.
- Concerning the role played by the private rental market, it should be said that after decades of decline in many countries, this sector has resurged as an alternative option to home ownership and social rental. It has yet to be understood whether this is a temporary revival or if it is here to stay, particularly considering the environment of labour market uncertainty. Other topics related to the private rental market were also discussed, such as the role that should be undertaken by legislation, especially that related to to the protection of tenure stability, or the profile of the people who live under this type of tenure, with the perception that the middle class are becoming more and more interested.
- From a sustainability perspective, public policies should be based on proven methods if they want them to be sustainable, whilst avoiding policies that have failed in the past. Policies should be drawn up with the advice and cooperation of the affected parties and the housing researchers. New technologies can be employed to increase the participation and involvement of groups that have traditionally been left out of this process. The use of imaginative planning tools can help to design future scenarios, policies and practices.
- From a social housing perspective, the crisis is not defined so much by the severity of the impact as by the lack of solutions available, given that the old models have failed and they have not been satisfactorily replaced. The crisis has created opportunities for civil society organisations to become more directly involved in housing issues. These initiatives can make a small but very important contribution to providing solutions. The large hybrid housing organisations have found it difficult to provide independent responses to the crisis, having to increasingly rely on public authorities and on the markets. The crisis has created short term opportunities for housing organisations to acquire homes at a good price from faltering constructors and by benefiting from previous stimulus programmes – but the long term the fundamentals of hybrid models designed to provide social and affordable housing by means of cross subsidies and negotiation are undetermined.
- Concerning housing for the elderly, the fact is many of them live in homes or living environments that are not suited to the needs associated with old age, in relation to accessibility, safety, health, financial cost and social needs. The adaptation of housing for the requirements of seniors is becoming increasingly expensive and if alternative housing is available, it is normally more costly; another problem can be that residents don’t know each other or that seniors wish to grow old in their own home. Some suggestions have been made as regards alternative housing, such as encouraging the elderly to move to smaller homes (through subsidies, tax breaks, etc.), intergenerational housing, shared housing and a more efficient use of existing housing (for example, moving to more accessible homes instead of staying in unsuitable houses).
- In relation to health, it has been suggested that the crisis may open up the possibility of local authorities requesting construction companies carry out refurbishment work on the buildings that are in a worst state of repair, as a means of supporting the psychological health of those who are in the most precarious financial position, and who are most exposed to the negative effects of the crisis. Does the crisis offer opportunities? Spain could benefit from the housing intervention studies that are being conducted in the United Kingdom and Canada.
- From a legal perspective, it is clear that the crisis that began in 2007 has triggered legislative changes in many countries, including Portugal, the United States and Spain. A variety of legal issues have been addressed, concerning leases (many of these issues were first raised in the TENLAW research project), holiday homes, the risk of mass construction, the role undertaken by Public Administration, insurance coverage in flood zones, the of protection offered to people letting rooms in France and car park regulation.
- As for the land market, discussions were held on the notion that housing begins with the availability of land and that countries did not have a definitive reply to the question of whether land should be made available publicly or privately. In order for the market to resolve the matter of land availability, operators must have a residual right to the profits, although given the crisis situation, it is possible that these profits may no longer exist. But on the other hand, a public approach is not always preferable, given the financial risks involved.
- In relation to residential housing and architectural design, a diverse range of issues were discussed: scarcity and creativity, accessibility and usability, identity aspects, temporal/spatial characteristics, advertisements/symbols posted on the facade and communication. The case studies focused on: cooperative housing, gentrification processes in open/public spaces, recycling and transformation of the existing housing stock and future urban housing developments. Examples: developments in Catalonia serve as an example for examining temporal and spatial aspects as well as identity issues (the city is not a project, it is a process), featuring significant participation models. The case of Paris is used to cover the gentrification process: there is a preference to select the centre or the peripheral areas, there is a tendency towards a change in housing structures and a modification in the types of tenure. General conclusions: the facade of the building is an important communication tool in 20th century residential buildings, it is important to have collection and classification of concepts and drawings, the potential and limitations of the use of new materials. The transformation of domestic space and the use of vernacular building styles.