26 April 2024
6 mins

Breaking Down the Walls: Why You Need to Care About Housing Policy

Source: meta.eeb.org

Whether you rent or own, housing policies shape our everyday life. They impact not just our home, but also the environment and society. Yet, the defense for fairer and greener housing is an uphill battle – and one that is not often talked about. Here’s why housing laws matter and key facts to consider ahead of the next EU election.

Bich Dao and Laetitia Aumont report, the article is originally published by the European Environmental Bureau.

Buildings account for 40% of energy use and 50% of material use in the EU. From heating to every kilogram of cement and steel you can (or cannot) see, buildings consume a massive amount of resources throughout their lifecycle. Whether it makes the headlines or not (a/n: it should), buildings have enormous environmental impacts, and reducing them is crucial to achieving climate and social goals.

On the eve of European elections, what can we call on lawmakers to fight for in the next five years?

1.Better insulated homes

Roughly 75% of houses in Europe are aging and energy inefficient and 41 million Europeanswere unable to keep their homes adequately warm in 2021. Whether it is freezing winters or boiling summers, housing must meet standards of people’s comfort and health.

The newly revised Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), approved last Friday, calls for European countries to plan and finance renovations in order to cut their energy use. Unfortunately, the law leaves the flexibility for each country to decide how they want to achieve these targets, complicating EU monitoring.

Citizens must hold national lawmakers accountable for an ambitious strategy that prioritises the wellbeing of vulnerable households, such as low-income renters, with adequate financial and informational support for homeowners.

2. Better construction materials choice

The production of building materials like concrete, glass, steel, and plastic consumes massive amounts of raw materials and energy and generates a lot of waste during demolition.This creates a hefty environmental impact even before a building is occupied. Despite this, traditional players and conservative allies continue to resist higher environmental standards.

Luckily, change is on its way. By 2030, the EPBD requires governments to assess and limit emissions throughout the whole lifecycle of all new buildings, incentivizing the use of low-carbon materials.

From late 2026, the EU will define green public procurement rules for construction products. Through the Construction Products Regulation, public projects will be encouraged to use eco-friendly options. These rules could align the fragmented requirements across EU countries which will redirect a whopping 14% of the EU’s GDPaway from environmentally harmful construction materials.

Particularly in the case of cement, a climate burden which contributes to 7% of global emissions, sustainability requirement will be developed by 2030 if there is inaction in the law for construction products.

Batiterre is a Belgian company promoting circular construction materials through deconstruction, sale of salvaged materials, and consulting for sustainable projects

Are your politicians serious about reducing our environmental impact and fostering European innovation? Ask them about their plans for the industrial emissions of cement, steel, and other construction materials, as well as promoting the widespread adoption of low-carbon alternatives.

3. Better heating system that does not heat the Earth

Did you know 75% of European heating and cooling relies on fossil fuels? Switching to more efficient and renewable alternatives (e.g., heat pumps and solar thermal) is crucial for energy fairness, reducing indoor pollution, and cutting energy use and greenhouse gases.

The EPBD urges EU countries to move to renewable heating, aiming to phase out fossil boilers by 2040. But success depends on how countries define and implement the law. At its most ambitious, support for fossil heating could end by 2025 – saving the €3.2 billion spent in 2022 across 9 EU countries still subsidising it.

Total amount of subsidies per capita for heating installations per country and per heating type in 2022 
(Note: France has since stopped subsidies to fossil heating)

Europe’s reliance on fossil fuel heating keeps the bloc tied to imports from Russia and similar petrol states, while keeping people tied to increasingly expensive and polluting technologies. Leaders must draw the roadmaps away from gas and finance the necessary (luckily, very affordable) switch to matured renewable tech.

4. Better housing justice without building more

Poor housing conditions, shortages, and energy poverty persist in the EU, hindering living standards for many despite intensive land use. Overcrowding affects 17% of the population, while millions spend 40% or more of their income on a place to live. However, this does not reflect an insufficient number of buildings. In fact, most countries have a substantial number of vacant buildings. On average, 16% of European dwellings were not occupied in 2011 and 35% were underoccupied.

Sufficiency, a concept mentioned by the IPCC, the United Nations Environment Programme, and the European Environment Agency, offers a solution. It promotes measures to reduce resource demand while ensuring well-being.

For housing, this means providing adequately spaced, sustainable accommodation that prioritises adaptability. Strategies include adapting old spaces to new purposes, deconstruction instead of demolition, thoughtful attention to material use, optimising building use, repurposing unused dwellings, and favoring multi-family homes.

An example of a sufficiency policy. For more, explore here

Europe does not have a housing or land shortage; it has a resource distribution problem. The continent’s deepening housing crisis and climate crisis can only be addressed if politicians prioritise policies needed to ensure fair and sustainable housing is accessible to all.

How to get engaged?

As we approach the European election, it’s essential to shoot the discussion of housing to the forefront. It’s not just a backstage issue; it’s a vital topic that intersects with our greatest social challenges – climate, energy, and fair housing. Housing policies impact everyone, regardless of age, political line or whether you own or rent. Building a future of better housing for all therefore needs all hands on deck.

Do you have stories about how your region is addressing or struggling with the housing and energy crises? Get in touch and share your experiences.

This article was originally posted meta.eeb.org