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News | 11.07.2023

Working formulas and question marks for pathways out of energy poverty


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In 3 years social housing providers, social workers, municipalities, and researchers got training and trained 2,000 people all across Europe to fight energy poverty. We are bearing the fruits of this commitment thanks to our EUfunded project, POWERPOOR but also, trust, open communication, persistence, scale-up. Housing Europe wearing also the hat of the POWERPOOR project, together with Barcelona's Energy Agency and the Flemish social housing initiative, ASTER shared what measures and tools have been successfully supporting energy-poor citizens.

To set the context, Housing Europe's Research Director, Alice Pittini presented a sneak peek of our 2023 "State of Housing in Europe" report with information from 22 social and affordable housing providers, coming from 17 countries. Having a strong focus on energy, this edition has shown that the sector is a leader in the energy transition, through renovations (compared to privately owned homes). Austria's social housing sector for instance has renovated 96% of all its pre-1980 building stock. In other countries, however, challenges such as the unsustainable costs for construction and renovation have been a serious barrier. In Germany, renovation projects have been cut by 1/4 and new construction by 1/3, causing a risk of backlogs due to the increase in the cost of living which has been hitting low-income households the hardest. Nevertheless, many companies decided not to increase the rent, even if legally they were allowed to; they worked with the residents; offered energy coaching or helped them to access available funding.

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Sven van Alst, a Director of ASTER explained that the company's action to offer solidarity-based and sustainable energy for social housing in Flanders is of crucial importance as more than 50% of the social housing tenants in the region live in energy poverty. "We cannot say for sure what will be the extent of the consequences of the energy crisis, we needed this crisis for people to become aware if the seriousness of the situation and become motivated to find solutions," Sven said. He then explained how ASTER was created in 2020 as a cooperative company, bringing together 60% of the social housing companies (90% of the housing stock), with private funding and no subsidies. Their ambition was simply to activate the social potential of social housing sector in Flanders. The generated energy generated from the solar panels installed on the social housing stock is sold to the tenants, at a price 28-34% cheaper than the market. So far, 4 000 PV-installations, 50 000 panels have been installed and to him, the only way of getting the message across is through repetition, talking to the people, keeping things simple and knowing that tenants know best what their needs are.

Eleni Kanellou, a PhD researcher at National Technical University of Athens (NTUA) and a coordinator of the Horizon POWERPPOR project explained that in three years, Housing Europe and partners have certified 1100 energy supporters and mentors who can help households in need. Our Estonian member, Anu Sarent from EKYL has established an energy poverty alleviation office where apartment associations can seek help. "You have to know your target group and have a physical presence. To make sure that these solutions are long-lasting, we started thinking about sustaining the tools from the very start." The Estonian system of grants, loans and guarantees for housing associations has been a true power house but also offering a solid legal support framework to citizens has been highly valuable. Finally, and very importantly, the power of example has proved important once again as citizens are more willing to follow after seeing a best practice.

Sergi Delgado from Barcelona Energy Agency pointed out that we need to prioritise refurbishment even if it is a heavy goal. Local actors have been using the Next Generation EU fund to be able to do this in communities that normally do not have the resource or cannot access them.

PhD researcher Tijn Croon has spent several months with large social housing companies and within the Housing Europe team to study what is the sector doing to tackle energy poverty. Looking ahead of the hot summer which impact households in southern countries, Tijn said that the measures taken during winter could also work for summer conditions and that the principle of warm hubs (where people can find shelter and comfort) could be transformed and adapted into ‘cool hubs’. However, affordable refurbishment remains one of the most important factors.

Once again, Eleni Kanellou highlighted that the POWERPOOR toolkit which helps to target households, act on the problem, and fund measures has made it easier for local authorities to help citizens.

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We welcomed six local heroes, the most motivated energy supporters and mentors who have been helping households in Bulgaria, Croatia, Spain, Portugal, Estonia, and Latvia. Speaking of investment in smart energy efficiency in social housing, our EU-funded project SUPER-i presented some of the key tools and findings, including a methodology to score the potential positive impact of different practical measures (insulation, replacement of windows, inclusion of renewables) therefore allowing social housing companies to choose the best combination given the local context. Cristina Davi from ATER Trieste highlighted the benefits of the Italian pilot, including tools to tackle energy poverty and overall poverty, environmental benefits and increased quality of life, as well as the creation of services for residents and the local community.