Eurofound report highlights cost of inadequate housing

A recently published report from Eurofound, Inadequate housing in Europe: Costs and consequences, highlights the current costs of poor housing and the benefits that stand to flow from improving the housing stock. The report was requested by the European Parliament in its 2013 resolution Social housing in the EU and is based on data from the third European Quality of Life Survey (EQLS). It finds that issues such as heating, insulation, structural problems and cramped conditions continue to affect a substantial proportion of the population in most Member States, despite a gradual improvement in quality in recent years. These inadequacies have negative impacts on health, make it more likely that occupants will suffer accidents, and have a negative impact on productivity and economic output.

Standard of housing varies widely between Member States

The report also shows considerable divergence in the standards of housing in Europe. Although only 3% of EU residents said they lack basic facilities such as an indoor flushing toilet, or a bath or shower, this statistic masks large national differences. In Romania, for example, 22% of the population have neither a toilet, nor a bath/shower. Issues associated with structural problems are more widespread: 12% of EU residents reported damp or leaks, and 9% reported rot in windows, doors and floors. Again, there are pronounced national differences: more than half of residents in Cyprus reported a structural issue in their dwelling, whereas in Austria and Sweden it was less than one in ten. 

Upgrading housing stock – social and economic benefits

Inadequate housing costs EU economies nearly €194 billion per year – in direct costs associated with healthcare and related medical and social services, and indirect costs such as lost productivity and reduced opportunities. To bring the standard of housing up to an acceptable level would cost about €295 billion at 2011 prices. If all necessary improvements were completed at once, the report projects that this €295 billion would be repaid within 18 months by savings in healthcare and better social outcomes. However, in Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Malta, Portugal and Spain, the investment would be recouped in less than a year. (This figure does not include non-health related outcomes such as the impact on market values, home insurance, enforcement action, or the potential economic and social capital associated with community development through the improvement of housing.)

The report also highlights that the removal of housing inadequacies is a long-term investment that will pay both short-term and long-term social and economic dividends. Savings on healthcare provision alone would total some €9 billion in the first year; however, positive outcomes could extend to include a stimulation of the local economy, improved social protection of vulnerable groups, the integration of migrants, and greater social mobility, particularly for Europe's most disadvantaged children living in inadequate housing. 

Immediate actions to be taken

The report recommends immediate actions that can be taken, such as improving data collected at national level, so that interventions can be well-planned and capitalise on a strong return on investment. The report is also accompanied by a set of case studies from across Europe that will be of particular interest to experts in housing policy and legislators.

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