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Affordable housing is in short supply - here's what other countries are doing about it

The lack of affordable housing is only getting worse in the UK. But other countries are coming up with intelligent solutions to fix it – so why can't Britain?

Affordable student housing in Denmark

Urban Rigger has transformed an old shipyard with floating affordable student homes made from shipping containers. Image: supplied

Housing has never been more unaffordable in the UK and it’s a similar situation across the globe.

Rents at record highs, house prices the same and mortgage rates growing as interest rates are raised to ease inflation – the situation is pricing people out of a home. Jeremy Hunt’s autumn statement did little to face up to the reality. While he made the house price-boosting stamp duty cut time-limited and capped social housing rent rises at seven per cent, there was no good news for private renters struggling to find affordable housing to keep a roof over their heads.

Other countries have stepped up to support renters – Scotland has brought in a blanket rent freeze and eviction ban – as well as introducing innovative solutions to the seemingly universal issue of a lack of affordable housing. Perhaps Rishi Sunak’s government can pick up a few tips from around the world to ensure the cost-of-living crisis does not end up becoming a homelessness crisis.

Portugal

Think Housing First, think Finland. The model, which gives rough sleepers a home and ongoing support, has been instrumental in tackling homelessness in the Scandinavian country and now it is being widely adopted elsewhere. NGO Crescer’s project in Lisbon has been running for nine years, and in that time has moved 131 people into housing, with 90 per cent staying out of homelessness for good. 

The Housing First model has “proven it’s possible to eradicate chronic homeless situations”, according to Crescer. Housing First is having success elsewhere, too – World Habitat’s European End Street Homelessness Campaign is sharing best practice across the continent, including in parts of the UK like Brighton, Leicester and Glasgow.

Canada

The death in the UK of Awaab Ishak – the Rochdale toddler who died due to exposure to mould at his family’s home – showed the dangers when minority communities don’t have a say in how their homes are managed. Maybe Canada has a solution. Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services has been running since 1994, providing a for-Indigenous by-Indigenous housing strategy. The not-for-profit group provides 2,700 homes for First Nation, Inuit and Métis people living off reservations in the province.

Following Rochdale Boroughwide Housing’s admission that it did “make assumptions about lifestyle” in Awaab’s case, more housing projects driven by minority groups could help to eliminate the discrimination that can lead to people living in horror homes. 

Dublin queue for rental property viewing

Republic of Ireland

When this photo of a 100-strong queue to view a rental property in Dublin went viral in August, it summed up the state of things in Ireland. New tenants are facing advertised rents of €2,258 (£1,938) in the capital, up 14.3 per cent year-on-year, and rises are even higher in other parts of the country.

Like Scotland, the Irish government has introduced an eviction ban to protect renters facing homelessness this winter with no eviction notices to be sent out until next March. The move was “necessary” according to Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien, but only more affordable homes will make a difference in the long term, he added.  

Denmark

Fed-up students have been facing homelessness or protesting against the lack of affordable housing in the UK. In Denmark they’ve taken to the water to solve the problem. Urban Rigger uses floating architecture to create homes out of shipping containers, billing its designs as a sensible solution to climate change and rising sea levels.  

The flagship Urban Rigger development is on the waterfront of the ‘Refshaleøen’ island in Copenhagen and makes use of a former shipyard deserted for more than 30 years. Now it’s home to more than 100 residents living in 72 floating apartments. Expect more housing on water in the years to come. “We’re not only running out of space, we’re losing it. By building on water we regain space,” as Urban Rigger puts it.

Germany

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced £6 billion of funding to improve home insulation to start in 2025 at the autumn statement, but the truth is no country is even close to reducing the emissions from buildings at the speed or scale needed in the global climate fight. Germany came out on top in the Global Retrofit Index, published by sustainability advisers 3Keel in October, offering some hope for its declining emissions intensity in the built environment.

German leaders announced €56bn (£48bn) of its €177bn (£152bn) climate fund would be spent on climate-friendly building renovation in the summer, with a shift away from building new homes in favour of renovating existing ones. Will that not leave a shortage of places to live? Well, a new app dubbed the ‘Tinder for flat seekers’ has been launched to deal with existing shortages in Berlin and Frankfurt. The Mietz app allows landlords and tenants to swipe to be connected on the platform. It even has the financial backing of Germany World Cup star Mario Götze.

Spain

Free bus travel might have hogged the headlines but Spain’s left-wing government has been pulling out all the stops for renters too. Young renters aged between 18 and 35 have been receiving a payment of €250 (£215) per month to go towards their rent since January. The Bono Joven Alquiler – or Youth Rental Bonus – will be paid for two years and renters receive it regardless of whether they are from Spain or abroad.

The payment is part of a wider housing law to promote affordable housing, which has hiked up tax on empty homes to 150 per cent, introduced rent controls in areas where rents have increased more than five per cent above inflation and introduced plans to ensure 30 per cent of new builds are for social rent. There are even incentives for landlords to keep rents low and take on first-time renters.

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Last month Spanish leaders signed off on a mortgage relief package to allow one million households to extend their loan repayments for up to seven years if they are paying more than 50 per cent of their monthly income on payments or earn less than €25,200 (£21,600) a year. 

Actual action to deal with the housing crisis, eh? Imagine. 

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.To support our work buy a copy! If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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