Juliette: Volunteering I found the path in which I would like to invest myself professionally

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I am Juliette.

I graduated last year with a master in Social and Cultural communication and during my gap year, I wanted to involve myself in a social project. After many research on Internet, I found the “Green Social Innovation” on the website of Workaway.

I was directly interested by the project description: social and intercultural dialogue, skills exchange, arts and environmental oriented project. I got in touch with Nikos, the project manager, and he directly agreed to host me as a volunteer for the Welcommon Hostel and Wind of Renewal project. He also mentioned that this project is funded by the European Solidarity Corps and he suggested that I participate to the project with this organism.

One big aspect that I appreciated in this project is the inclusion of everyone in the Welcommon Hostel: people living in the hostel (short-term or long-term), refugees, travelers and local people. Plus, the city of Athens is full of history, mythology and is very inspiring for a curious mind as mine.

The Welcommon Hostel is situated in Exarcheia neighborhood which is just a few minutes by walking from all the important sights in Athens. I really enjoyed discovering this special neighborhood where everyone is included (homeless people, travelers, refugees, people living in squad, students and local people…).

The projects and activities

A precise schedule was developed by the previous volunteers at the beginning of this year. The main activities that we offered are the language skills exchange in English, French and German. On the other hand, we also learned some languages as Turkish, Arabic or Farsi thanks to the refugees. That’s why, we called it “skills exchange”: it is a bilateral way to share and learn about language, culture and many other topics important for people. This is really empowering for all of us. The Welcommon hostel offers their space to support everyone in developing and pursuing their own needs, ideas, skills and resources.

Exceptionally, we also organized some activities in the afternoon instead of doing the normal language lessons like visiting the “Khora association” so the people know they can get there to have free assistance.

At the end of each afternoon, we decided to promote activities for families where children and their parents can practice English while doing a fun activity together like making art and crafts or playing games.

During the evening from Monday to Thursday, we had several activities like cultural nights, karaoke, movies, theater and kickboxing. For the Cultural night, one country was chosen and people from this country could cook a traditional meal. After that, they can show and teach us traditional dances, this was a lot of fun!

On Sundays, we planned free outside activities like a carnival Party, a photography tour in the city, a walk and a picnic in the National Gardens, visiting the Panathinaikon/Olympic Stadium, visiting a sea turtle rescue center and cleaning up the beach near Glyfada. Everyone is free to join and we all became friends easily.

 

 

The refugee situation

I didn’t know a lot about refugees before working with them but I learned quite fast about personal experiences lived by each person I have met. During my stay, the refugees and volunteers were facing several challenges when Turkey opened their borders and that they were attacked by the Greek police and fascist people on the Greek islands of Lesvos, Chios and Moria which also affected the life in Athens where several peaceful protests and demonstrations were organized to show the support for refugees on these islands.

At the beginning of March, the Covid-19 situation got worse and the Greek government decided to close all the public institutions, which include the Welcommon Hostel. For the safety of refugees, the staff and the volunteers, we had to stop all our activities temporarily without knowing when we could start again. All the volunteers were forced to go back to their countries but we still try to provide online lessons by WhatsApp or email.

My experience

I arrived in Greece at the beginning of February thinking I had a lot of time to participate to this great project. The current situation with the Covid-19 virus forced me to leave the country much sooner than I planned but I already learned a lot during the days I spent at the Welcommon Hostel. From the first moment I had there, I directly felt welcomed as a member of a big family. The “Days of Welcommon” and “Green Social Innovation” project facilitates the communication and makes bridges between different social groups, communities and local people. The beneficiaries appreciated sharing their skills and participating to all the offers (language, environmental, sustainable and social activities). The Welcommon Hostel provides a safe space for everyone.

All the people coming to this place are so humble. Each of them has a unique story, ideas and experiences to share. They taught me that freedom is not granted for everyone. Most of the refugees I met in Athens were forced to flee their countries and I realized that having the choice to travel abroad is a real privilege. I also learned to be humbler and I really feel grateful for all the amazing people I met and the moments I lived with them. I really consider them as a second family. By participating to solidarity demonstrations, I know now that we can stand for everybody’s rights when they cannot do it by themselves. I think that being united and promoting solidarity is the most important.

As soon as the borders open again after the Covid-19 crisis, I will go back to Athens to continue the project because I felt useful there and I found the path in which I would like to invest myself professionally.

#ErasmusPlus #volunteering #volunteers #socialinnovation #socialinclusion #empowerment #art  #intercultural #withrefugees #EuropeanSolidarityCorps #GreenSocialInnovationESC #cooperatives  #WelcommonHostel #WindofRenewal #SocEnt #GoGreen #hostels 

Noyonika: Participating in the volunteering project “Days of Welcommon” in Athens

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I am Noyonika, a final year student of sociology and psychology from Delhi, India. I was recently a part of the volunteering project “Days of Welecommon” together with other volunteers with Wind of Renewal / Anemos Ananeosis, a social cooperative in Athens.

I was volunteering for social inclusion and intercultural courses activities in Welcommon Hostel organised by Wind of Renewal. I am experienced in English for over 14 years and french for over six months. I have also spent more than five years learning Indian dance and art.

“If you don’t find her teaching, you will see her cooking something in the kitchen“, explained my friends in Welcommon Hostel!

Apart from teaching, I am very interested in journalism, editing and content creation, and this volunteering experience will help her know a lot about communities better.

I aim to contribute to the world someday through words and art.

Thank you Wind of Renewal / Anemos Ananeosis, WElcommon Hostel and friends / volunteers in Athens

 #WindofRenewal #socialinclusion #volunteers #hostels #Athens #volunteers #volunteering #interculturalcourses Days of Welcommon #art #India #dance @NoyonikaSircar #ErasmusPlus

Margaux: participating in a European Solidarity Corps project in Athens with Wind of Renewal

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I am Margaux.

During the first weekend following my arrival at Welcommon Hostel, I had the chance to attend a three-day seminar bringing together different NGOs working on migration issues and coming from different countries: Philippines, United States, Greece, Albania, Poland …

These first days were very interesting and allowed me to update my knowledge concerning the migration crisis in Athens in recent years. They also allowed me to meet many different actors with whom I would like to stay in touch if I continue to work on these issues, and also to participate in empowerment workshops such as the “Story telling” workshop or “organize effective crowdfunding ”.

The following days were a little more difficult because there were only two of us in the volunteer team in December, which did not correspond to what was announced in the description that I had personally found on the Workaway site. Also, the missions were ultimately not those announced.

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The second week, we organized a workshop “Make your own comic strip” where only two teenagers participated, one of whom spoke no English at all, which made us completely readjust the workshop created. Then, I organized a workshop “Create your own stand for the Welcommon Hostel winter market“. Again, no one came during the week, except on Saturday when four children and their mother came.

So, from the observation that creating workshops was not enough because the new comers were not already used to coming to Welcommon Hostel for such activities, I had to readjust the tasks to be done. In the following weeks, I therefore concentrated on making the communication as much as possible for NGOs established around the Exarchia district thanks to contacts that had given me by Ida, one of the receptionists of the hotel. I also changed the formula, instead of offering activities over an entire week, I preferred to offer several short activities taking place once a week. This is how I started to work on the installation of a film club, a karaoke, and a “Sunday activity”.

English lessons meanwhile worked well. There were two advanced students when I arrived and as the weeks went by, the English course kept growing with new students; at the end of my volunteering we had a good twenty students coming more or less regularly. I really enjoyed giving English lessons, trying to find learning methods, and reviewing grammar basics to pass them on.

To conclude, the month of December was a bit fluctuating because there were few people coming to the hotel and few volunteers. And the last two weeks have been very hard, because nobody came to the workshops, the second volunteer from Australia left without giving any news and the new Indian volunteers were not very helpful during this period, arriving regularly with about three hours late. I felt quite depressed during this period, feeling left on my own without support, and having to work on tasks different from those announced without support from other volunteers.

 

Fortunately in early January three new volunteers arrived: Ben, Roseanna and Franziska! One of the Indian volunteers Noyonika also stayed. With this small team, we all got along very well to continue the activities at the Welcommon Hostel. This very enthusiastic new team dynamic allowed the activities to work little by little! Thanks to the support that we gave to each other, communication started to gain momentum and we were able to divide up the missions to be carried out: create posters announcing events, go and stick them in different places, communicate on Facebook, better distribute the students of the beginners and advanced English lessons, animate the events and look for other associations in the area to create partnerships.

Roseanna and Ben have also created online communication tools to exchange our resources thanks to a Google Drive and to identify new students in the English course and have a follow-up on each student’s progress. Then we set up more regular team meetings aimed at improving our functioning and our activities, and meetings with the manager to communicate to him our intentions of activities and to ask him questions concerning the safety rules in Greece. We started asking the English class students if they had any ideas for activities they would like to do. Also, for the more advanced in English we asked them if they would like to teach in turn, and we proposed to some students if they would like to share their knowledge in Farsi, Arabic, French or in other areas of activities.

Franziska allowed, with the help of the team and the hotel manager, several teenagers from our English lessons to organize a kick-boxing session at the Welcommon Hostel. We learned about safety issues, found the basic equipment necessary for the workshop to run, and the manager helped us find a professional to accompany the workshop.

We also allowed other teenagers to organize a music evening at the Welcommon Hostel bar thanks to a DJ they knew. So, little by little, all the activities started to attract more and more people. But it was necessary to constantly support the communication with the students of the English course after having noticed that nobody came to the events when we did not insist every day, even if the week before a lot of people had come.

To conclude, the month of January was much more rewarding. I learned a lot from Roseanna and Franziska thanks to their knowledge of social work: I learned in particular that the most important whatever the organized activity is to spend a pleasant time all together and to create team, to remain vigilant in the way of proposing these activities to avoid waking up traumas and remaining adaptable to different personal situations, and finally to allow others as soon as possible to become active actors in their turn.

I also learned a lot from Ben by attending some of his English lessons. I was inspired by some of his learning methods and I gained more self-confidence while teaching. Working in duo with Roseanna was also beneficial for us may exchange our resources and methods.

For communication, I remember that what was most effective to communicate informally in different places welcoming refugee populations: canteens, free shop, party places … Also, have a start of friendly relationship with some people we met often made them want to join our activities.

Finally, word of mouth ended up working, friends of our students began to come more and more. For cultural events, concentrating communication with students of English courses has also proven to be more effective than trying to reach new people from other organizations.

Finally, I am very happy to have left on a very positive final note. We organized a visit to the Acropolis of Athens on the first Sunday of the month when all the historic sites and museums are free. Many of our young and old students came. On this occasion, I organized a “chocolate photo rally”. The animation worked very well, everyone came out very happy with the activity, and we ended with a huge outdoor game with students from another school, curious to meet us.

Finishing with this great outing was very encouraging for me, despite the difficult beginnings, I keep precious everything I have learned and all the wonderful meetings I have made during these two months.

 

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Lors du premier week-end suivant mon arrivée au Welcommon Hostel, j’ai eu la chance d’assister à un séminaire de trois jours réunissant différentes ONG travaillant sur les questions migratoires et venues de différents pays: Philippines, Etats-Unis, Grèce, Alabanie, Pologne…
 
Ces premiers jours ont été très intéressants et m’ont permis de mettre à jour mes connaissances concernant la crise migratoire à Athènes de ces dernières années. Ils m’ont également permis de rencontrer beaucoup d’acteurs différents avec lesquels j’aimerais rester en contact si je continue à travailler sur ces questions, et aussi de participer à des ateliers enrichissants comme l’atelier «Story telling» ou encore «Comment organiser un crowdfunding efficace».
Les jours suivants ont été un peu plus difficiles car nous n’étions que deux dans l’équipe de volontaires ce qui ne correspondait pas à ce qui était annoncé dans le descriptif que j’avais personnellement trouvé sur le site Workaway. Aussi, les missions n’étaient finalement pas celles annoncées.
 
La deuxième semaine, nous avons organisé un workshop «Réalise ta propre bandedessinée» où seulement deux adolescents sont venus dont un ne parlant pas du tout anglais, ce qui nous a fait réadapter complètement l’atelier créé. Puis, j’ai organisé un atelier «Créé ton propre stand à l’occasion du marché d’hiver du Welcommon Hostel». Là encore, personne n’est venu de la semaine, à part le samedi où quatre enfants et leur maîtresse sont venus.
Donc, à partir du constat que créer des ateliers ne suffisait pas car le public n’était pas déjà habitué à venir au Welcommon Hostel, j’ai dû réadapter les tâches à faire. Les semaines suivantes, je me suis donc concentrée à faire de la communication le plus possible pour des ONG établies autour du quartier Exarchia grâce à des contacts que m’avaient donné Ida, une des réceptionnistes de l’hôtel. J’ai également changé la formule, au lieu de proposer des activités sur toute une semaine, j’ai préféré proposer plusieurs activités courtes ayant lieu une fois par semaine. C’est ainsi que j’ai commencé à travailler sur l’installation d’un ciné-club, d’un karaoké, et d’un «dimanche d’activité ».
 
Les cours d’anglais quant à eux ont bien fonctionnés. Il y avait deux étudiants avancés quand je suis arrivée et au fur et à mesure des semaines, le cours d’anglais n’a cessé de s’ agrandir avec de nouveaux étudiants; à la fin de mon volontariat nous avions une bonne vingtaine d’élèves venant plus ou moins régulièrement. J’ai énormément apprécié donner les cours d’anglais débutants, pour essayer de trouver des méthodes d’apprentissage, et revoir des bases de grammaire pour les transmettre à mon tour.
 
Pour conclure, le mois de Décembre a été un peu fluctuant car il y avait peu de personnes venant à l’hôtel et peu de volontaires. Et les deux dernières semaines ont été très dures, car personnes n’est venu aux ateliers organisés, car le deuxième volontaire est parti sans donner de nouvelles et car les nouvelles volontaires indiennes n’ont pas été très aidantes sur cette période, arrivant régulièrement avec environ trois heures de retard. Je me suis sentie assez déprimée à cette période, me sentant laissée à moi-même sans soutien de la part du manager, et devant travailler sur des tâches différentes de celles annoncées sans soutien de la part d’autres volontaires.
 
Heureusement début Janvier sont arrivés trois nouveaux volontaires: Ben, Roseanna et Fransesca ! L’une des volontaires indiennes Noyonika est également restée. Avec cette petite équipe, nous nous sommes tous très bien entendus pour continuer les activités au Welcommon Hostel. Cette nouvelle dynamique d’équipe très enthousiaste ont permis aux activités de fonctionner peu à peu! Grâce au soutien que nous nous sommes donnés les uns les autres, la communication a commencé à prendre de l’ampleur et nous avons pu nous répartir les missions à réaliser: créer les affiches d’annonce des événements, aller les coller dans différents endroits, faire la communication sur Facebook, mieux se répartir les élèves des cours d’anglais débutants et avancés, animer les événements et rechercher d’ autres associations aux alentours pour créer des partenariats.
 
Roseanna et Ben ont également créé des outils de communication en ligne pour échanger nos ressources grâce à un Google Drive et pour recenser les nouveaux élèves du cours d’anglais et avoir un suivi des progressions de chacun. Puis nous avons mis en place des réunions d’équipe plus régulières visant à améliorer notre fonctionnement et nos activités, et des réunions avec le manager pour lui communiquer nos intentions d’activités et lui poser des questions concernant les règles de sécurité en Grèce. Nous avons commencé à demander aux élèves du cours d’anglais si ils avaient des idées d’activités qu’ils aimeraient faire. Aussi, pour les plus avancés en anglais nous leur avons demandés si ils souhaiteraient enseigner à leur tour, et nous avons proposé à certains élèves si ils souhaiteraient partager leurs connaissances en farsi, en arabe, en français ou encore dans d’autres domaines d’activités.
 
Fransesca a permis, avec l’aide de l’équipe et du manager de l’hôtel, à plusieurs adolescents de nos cours d’anglais d’organiser une session de kick-boxing au Welcommon Hostel. Nous nous sommes renseignés sur les questions de sécurité, nous trouvé le matériel de base nécessaire au déroulement de l’atelier et le manager nous a aidé à trouver un professionnel pouvant accompagner l’atelier.
 
Nous avons également permis à d’autres adolescents d’ organiser une soirée au bar du Welcommon Hostel grâce à un DJ qu’ils connaissaient. Ainsi, peu à peu, toutes les activités ont commencé à attirer de plus en plus de monde. Mais si il a fallu soutenir constamment la communication auprès des élèves du cours d’anglais après avoir constaté que personne ne venait aux événements quand nous n’insistions pas tous les jours, et ce même si la semaine d’avant beaucoup de monde était venu.
 
Pour conclure, le mois de Janvier a été beaucoup plus enrichissant. J’ai beaucoup appris de Roseanna et de Fransesca grâce à leur connaissance du travail social : j’ai notamment appris que le plus important quelque soit l’activité organisée est de passer un moment agréable tous ensemble et de créer du lien, de rester vigilante dans la manière de proposer ces activités pour éviter de réveiller des traumatismes et de rester adaptable aux différentes situations personnelles, et enfin de permettre dès que possible à d’autres de devenir force de proposition à leur tour.
 
J’ai également beaucoup appris grâce à Ben en assistant à quelques uns de ses cours d’anglais. Je me suis inspirée de certaines de ses méthodes d’apprentissage et j’ai ainsi pris de plus en plus confiance en moi en enseignant. Travailler en duo avec Roseanna a également été bénéfique pour que nous
puissions échanger nos ressources et méthodes.
 
Pour la communication, je retiens que ce qui a été le plus efficace a été de communiquer de manière informelle dans différents lieux accueillants des populations de réfugiés : cantines, free shop, lieux de fête… Aussi, avoir un début de relation amicale avec certaines personnes rencontrées leur a souvent donné envie de rejoindre nos activités. Enfin, le bouche-à-oreille a fini par fonctionner, des amis de nos étudiants ont commencé à venir de plus en plus. Pour les événements culturels, concentrer la communication en direction des étudiants des cours d’anglais s’est également révélé plus efficace que d’essayer de toucher de nouvelles personnes d’organisations aux alentours.
 
Pour finir, je suis très heureuse d’être partie sur une dernière note très positive. Nous avons organisé une sortie à l’Acropole d’Athènes à l’occasion du premier dimanche du mois où tous les sites historiques et musées sont gratuits. Beaucoup de nos étudiants jeunes ou âgés sont venus. A cette occasion, j’ai organisé un «rallye photo chocolat». L’animation a très bien fonctionné, tout le monde est ressorti très content de l’activité, et nous avons terminé par un énorme jeu extérieur avec des étudiants venus d’une autre école, curieux de nous rencontrer.
 
Finir avec cette belle sortie a été très encourageant pour moi, malgré des débuts difficiles, je garde précieusement tout ce que j’ai appris et toutes les magnifiques rencontres que j’ai faites pendant ces deux mois.
 
#Welcommonhostel #WindofRenewal #socialinclusion 
#volunteers #hostels #Athens #volunteers #volunteering 
#interculturalcourses #art #India #dance #ErasmusPlus #EuropeanSolidarityCorps #GreenSocialInnovationESC

Commissioner N. Schmit sent a letter to Member States urging them to support social economy

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On Friday 23 April, Commissioner Nicolas Schmit (Jobs and Social Rights)  sent a letter to Member States’ Ministers of Labour/Employment urging them to ensure that social economy enterprises and organisations are well equipped and supported, so they can keep playing their crucial role to manage and overcome the COVID-19 crisis.  Providing over 13.6 million paid jobs in the EU, the #SocialEconomy has a key role to play in our economy and in the response to the #coronavirus crisis.

On 29 April Social Economy Europe (SEE) and its members had an exchange with Commissioner Schmit during the meeting of the European Commission Expert Group on Social Economy  and social  enterprises  (GECES). Schmit confirmed that the European Action Plan for the Social Economy will be published by the European Commission in the second semester of 2021. He called on social economy actors to actively contribute to shape this policy to ensure that social economy is at the heart of the economic and social  recovery that Europe needs and showed his intention to connect the Social Economy Action Plan with other EU policy areas such as the Green Deal, the Social Pillar or the Industrial and SME strategies. He also referred to the importance of mobilising EU funds and investments for the social economy in the framework of the recovery plan, which the Commission is currently working on, as agreed by the European Council, and of a strengthened EU budget (MFF).

Over 90 participants joined the GECES meeting, including representatives of various Member States such as Spain (represented by Director-General for Social Economy Maravillas Espín and deputy DG Juan Manuel Sánchez Teheran), France (represented by Sarah Robin, diplomatic counsellor to the High Commissioner for Social and Solidarity Economy and Social Innovation), Ireland (represented by Andrew Forde, Head of Rural Strategy & Social Enterprise at Department of Rural & Community Development), Belgium and the Netherlands among others.

SEE President Juan Antonio Pedreño commented:“We welcome Commissioner Schmit’s letter to the Member States’ Ministries of Labour and the bold support expressed for the social economy. We encourage dialogue with social economy enterprises and organisations at all levels to ensure their access to instruments designed to overcome the crisis. The future Action Plan for the Social Economy will be key to boosting the development of enabling ecosystems for the social economy to thrive. It is clear that we need to build Europe’s tomorrow based on solidarity, sustainability and social progress. The social economy is ready to contribute to the EU’s recovery, offering an entrepreneurial model able to ensure no one is left behind.”

Read Commissioner Schmit’s letter here. For a PDF version, SEE has transcribed the letter here.

The story of Elisa’s volunteering in Athens with Wind of Renewal

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I am Elisa, and I participated in the Green Social Innovation volunteering ESC project with Wind of Renewal / Anemos Ananeosis from the 15th of February to the 15th of March 2020. I’ve been volunteering with refugees in Athens, through the European Solidarity Corps. I was supposed to stay three months more, but the coronavirus measures implied that we stopped our activities face to face and I had to go back to France. However, I consider what I’ve experienced there as one of the most intense period in my short lifetime.

But first, let’s present the organisation and the project I’ve been involved in.
The Organisation: Wind of Renewal (ANEMOS ANANEOSIS) is a social cooperative enterprise for Social and Green Economy, Innovation and Culture. Among lots of initiatives, Wind of Renewal runs the Welcommon Hostel.
The Welcommon Hostel: This innovative hostel is a community center hosting projects for social inclusion of refugees, sustainable tourism, non formal education, social entrepreneurship and intercultural dialogue. It gathers volunteers, tourists, Greek locals and refugees around activities in the context of the project «Days of Welcommon».
Days of Welcommon: Days of Welcommon project aims to have a social impact while connecting different lifeworlds and people from everywhere. Therefore all the events are open to everyone: refugees, tourists, volunteers, local people… The project covers various fields as art, language practice, integration activities, intercultural mettings, environnmental awareness activties, self empowerment…
All of these activities take place in the Welcommon hostel, which gather all theses different people, or outside for some of the cultural or sportive activities.
Role of the volunteers: Volunteers are involved to bring their help by giving language practices (english, german, french, greek) and organizing activities from Sunday to Thursday to include refugees, local people and newcomers in the hostel. Their role is very important to make the project sustainable and ever more creative.
II- Everyday life
Schedulde : From Monday to Thursday, we used to organise language practice and skills exchanges, every afternoon from 1 to 5. We used to create level groups for each language and to adapt our activities to the number of refugees attending the lesson, number that could vary a lot from a week to another, and to the number of volunteers we were.
I used to pratice french with two very committed türkish refugees, and english with a group of young afghan beginners.
Sometimes I’ve helped the german volunteers too, with families who wanted to learn it from scratch. Trying to keep the language groups as much stable as we could was part of the inclusion project, and allowed us to create special links with our ‘students’.
On the Sundays, we used to organise outdoor activities :
– cultural visits (Athens is full of historical monuments and museums)
– a photography tour that I‘ve organised with an other volunteer and a small group of very commited refugees
– a visit at the Sea Turtle Rescue Center and a beach cleaning
– a carnival party
We had lots of ideas for the following weeks, and asked everytime the participants about their wishes and own ideas of activities; not doing unilateral teaching was part of the project philosophy.
From 5 to 6, we used to do informal education with children, that we called «family time», during which we used to do some art activities or play games in english. The participants of this time-slot were very committed and this was an appreciated time for everyone.
In the evenings, we used to organise intercultural nights (we cooked specialities from one country with families and people who wanted to make us discover their meals), Karaoke nights and movies projections. Keeping a regular schedulde about these acitivities was very important for the social inclusion of people.
Athens and Exarcheia: The Welcommon Hostel is located near the city center of Athens, in Exarcheia which is a very lively neighboorhood, full of social and green initiatives, and historicaly the anarchist district of the city. The streets of Exarcheia are full of street art and there are both refugees and students from the Politechnic University, which is a very interesting merging of people.
Living all together: During the project, I’ve been living in the Welcommon Hostel with other volunteers coming from Belgium, Germany, Japan, England and France. Some tourists of the Hostel, (from Canada and India) joined the project for one week too. This intercultural merging of everyday has contributed to the enrichment I got from this month in Athens. We used to cook and eat together, and do lots of activities to discover the city. During this short period, we all felt like we found for a while a second family.
III- My experience and learnings
The context of Athens and refugee crisis: Being in Athens to work on social inclusion with refugees in the actual context has been very intense. I’ve been able to get 100% engaged for the cause I went for and to understand very precisely the situation: with the other volunteers, we attended lots of assemblies and went to lots of protest to demand the opening of borders.
A social and intercultural experience: Before coming, I had only a tiny experience working with refugees. I’ve learned many different stories there and think that now I understand well the difficulties they have to face, and all the reasons why they had to leave their country.

My personal apreciation: First, I would like to go back there as soon as the international situation allows me to do so. I feel a huge frustration having to leave after only one month in such a social experience. Moreover, thinking about long-term implications, my professional project will for sure evolve in the direction I took during this ESC: I want to get committed in such social issues and even work again with migrants. Finally, I did know nor Greece neither Athens before arriving there but I’ve been strucked by the cultural and historical aspects of the city and would love to come back later to live a few months more there.

Euro-Mediterranean Intercultural Τrends, a free online course by ALF

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Open Online Course: Euro-Mediterranean Intercultural Trends
A learning journey through the Anna Lindh Report “Intercultural Trends and Social Change in the Euro-Mediterranean region” (see the reports of 2010, 2014, 2018)
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The online course “Euro-Mediterranean Intercultural Trends” is based on the Anna Lindh Report on Intercultural Trends and Social Change in the Euro-Mediterranean region, including a unique public opinion survey among a representative sample of the Euro-Mediterranean population about mutual perceptions, values and openness to diversity.
The pilot version of the course will be in English and will run from May 12th to June 8th 2020, jointly delivered by the Anna Lindh Foundation and UNIMED, the Mediterranean Universities Union. New editions will be planned for 2020.
Participation in the course is free of charge. Registered participants will receive an email message with detailed instructions on how to access the course.
The course duration is four weeks, with an estimated commitment of around two hours per week. The course is video-based and interactive, in this way participants will have the possibility to discuss the content and the main course messages with peers from around the Mediterranean. Learners who will complete the course activities will receive a Certificate of Participation.
MAIN TARGETED LEARNERS
The course is mainly targeted to
– lifelong learners who want to better understand the different cultures and values of the people around the Mediterranean;
– social workers or researchers working in intercultural settings;
– students dealing with intercultural subjects;
– school teachers facing multiculturality in their classroom;
– journalists reporting on cross-cultural issues and
– decision-makers wishing to gather data and analyses for policy development.
WHAT YOU WILL LEARN
By taking the course, you will:
  • increase your understanding of mutual perception between people from different European and Southern and Eastern Mediterranean countries (SEM), about their identities, values, fears, women’s role in society, the impact of religion on their views and their inclination to mobility.
  • learn what actions people expect in order to reduce radicalization and increase multiculturality, taking into consideration different opinions.
  • learn what is the impact of different media on people’s opinion and which are the most reliable and trustworthy media in different countries.
COURSE CONTENT
The course is composed of four modules:
Module 1 Representation of the Mediterranean and Mutual Interest. Through this module, you will learn about common values and attitudes, interests and expectations of the people living in the EuroMed region and their perception towards other countries/people.
Module 2 Values and Mutual Perception. Through this module, you will learn what are the most important values for people living around the Mediterranean and how the role of women is perceived and it is expected to change.
Module 3 Interaction across Cultures. Through this module, you will learn about how people from the two shores of the Mediterranean interact and how they construct the representation of the “other” as well as the role of media in this process.
 
Module 4 Living in Diversity. Through this module, you will learn about the impact of religion on people’s point of view and what could be efficient actions to contrast radicalisation and for better living in multi-cultural cities and societies.
 
Watch this video to learn more about the Intercultural Trends and Social Change in the Euro-Mediterranean Region.
 
Anemos Ananeosis / Wind of Renewal is an active member of the network of Anna Lindh Foundation

ALLIES: Online Meetings and a Digital Conference for Energy Efficiency

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Interview by Samuel Held and Julia Unverzagt, GIZ/EUKI

The key approach of ALLIES – Activating and Learning from Local Investment in Energy Savings is to involve citizens and local businesses on the regional level as investors and facilitators for energy efficiency projects in enterprises and municipal premises. The EUKI project establishes new types of measures and organizations to activate investments in cost-effective energy efficiency projects. Investments generate steady returns for reinvestment and provide citizens with tools to contribute to climate action as well as local economic and environmental sustainability. Katalin Herner, Executive Director of KÖVET Association, shares some insights on how to deal with the current crisis and talks about what she expects society to learn from these experiences.

Katalin Herner

Katalin Herner; photo: KÖVET

Ms Herner, you planned a final project conference in Krk, Croatia, for the end of May. When did you know that you would have to cancel it and what was your reaction to it?

The EUKI ALLIES Consortium found out about the necessity to cancel the Conference on Krk in March when preparatory measures had already been taken by all partners and registrations were going. We were disappointed but had to look at what could be done to arrange an online conference.

You decided to move the conference “Financing Local Energy Transition” to an online format on May 26. What can the participants expect?

Participants can expect to meet key project members online as well as a number of international presenters. Besides presentations about the results of the project there will be a panel discussion as well as parallel interactive capacity building sessions for all interested parties concentrating on three regions: the Baltics, the Balkan and the Mediterranean. We think it could even reach a wider circle of interested parties as online meetings could be easier than travelling far.

Many other organisations are confronted with similar challenges and consider online events. Can you give them advises? Which tools or programmes do you use?

These unprecedented times also provide, beside difficulties and challenges, many great opportunities. It takes a lot of effort to organise an online event, too. Cooperation between all project partners is essential as well as a strict schedule and to-do lists with deadlines and frequent checks. Currently we are using ZOOM and WEBEX for communication and organisation. We have been using these channels for some time now within the project so it was obvious that they will be good tools for a webinar, too.

About the project in brief

ALLIES plans to activate investments in cost-effective energy efficiency projects by means of local approaches involving citizens and local businesses as investors, facilitators and beneficiaries. By acting on regional level projects and benefits are made more tangible. Investments can generate steady returns for reinvestment and actually provide citizens with tools to contribute to local economic and environmental sustainability.

The ALLIES concept brings three pillars together with explicit regional focus:

  1. B.A.U.M. future fund model (national and regional funds transferable to international level)
  2. Energy saving contracting and
  3. Cooperative as a social business and means to foster regional development

Our concept builds on the REEG model of regional energy efficiency cooperatives as it has been developed by B.A.U.M. e.V. with governmental support. There are more than a thousand energy cooperatives in Germany to operate renewable energy installations, but they rarely focus on energy savings. Applying the REEG concept, their scope can easily be widened to include energy efficiency. Good guidance is available: www.reeg-info.de

In ALLIES, partners in the implementing countries are about to transfer the German experiences and find appropriate means and financing structures for their respective countries.

How does the cooperation within the ALLIES project work in these days? Is the work limited due to restrictions or do online meetings bring Europe even closer together?

In the course of our organisational and preparatory work, we are holding weekly or even more frequent online meetings. We find the situation challenging but there are also new ways opening up as we try different channels. We can communicate via phone, e-mail and video conferences, so communication is not limited, but rather very active and involving. We also use a lot of social media channels to promote the event. This hasn’t changed in the course of the project.

Which general consequences do you expect for climate action in Hungary and Europe?

In general, digital solutions are becoming faster and new communication channels are used even more frequently which has a positive side effect for the climate as travelling and GHG emissions are decreasing. We hope that some solutions will live on after the crisis. Also, we think that the situation has once more revealed the unsustainable state of our lives and hope that humankind will find new, sustainable pathways from now on.

Also, we think that the situation has once more revealed the unsustainable state of our lives and hope that humankind will find new, sustainable pathways from now on.

More about the ALLIES Conference

ALLIES Virtual and Interactive Final Conference: “Financing Local Energy Transition”
26.05.2020, 09:00-17:00 CEST
Please register by clicking on the link before 22nd May to receive the connection details.

These unprecedented times also provide, beside difficulties and challenges, many great opportunities.

COMMUNITY LAND TRUST BRUXELLES – enabling low-income homeownership

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Anemos Ananeosis / Wind of Renewal publishes good examples of european citizens’ and cooperative’s initiatives for helping people in need or in crisis. This is an article published here by the network Cooperative City. We are glad we have hosted in our WELCOMMON HOSTEL – some weeks ago – Joaquin de Santos and we were able to discuss about Community Land Trust Bruxelles.   

Photo: The social housing complex L’Espoir in Brussels. Photo (cc) Eutropian

The Community Land Trust Bruxelles was created in 2012 as an initiative of residents, activists and neighbourhood organisations. The CLT was founded as a reaction to the emerging housing crisis of Brussels, addressing the insufficiency of public tools to create social housing. With 9 homes finished and many more in the plans, the Community Land Trust created an instrument to help low-income families access home-ownership. In the same time, through retaining the ownership of land and using a governance structure involving future residents and organisations present in its neighbourhoods, the CLT excludes the possibility of speculation and individual financial benefits from rising housing prices.

“A stock of long-term affordable housing can provide security and independence for disadvantaged groups of society”

What is the context in which the CLT Bruxelles was created?

In Brussels we have less social housing compared to other European cities. 12% of the housing is social and they are owned by 30 different housing associations (now they are merging) who for the last 20-40 years have not built any homes. Until recently, they were not experienced in this, they were not organised for it and there was a lot of opposition from the neighbours wherever there were plans for social housing. Therefore, although there was a political majority to invest in social housing and they reserved a large budget to do, it took years before the first new homes were produced. For us this was an opportunity to come with another format and some of the people who were involved with the community land trust already had experience with the social housing project L’Espoir.

How did you build on the experience of L’Espoir?
The social housing complex L’Espoir in Brussels. Photo (cc) Eutropian

It is a very interesting project, although not on the legal or philosophical base because it is a very normal condominium: people who live there, they own their home and a part of the land. But it was very new that the future residents – poor migrant families – strongly participated in the project; we had a lot of positive attention with that and it helped us to prove that we were able to create well-functioning social housing projects.

When we started seeing that the social housing format we used there might be something that could work and could be redone, we also discovered that we needed public subsidies for it. For L’Espoir we had to find the subsidies along the way and we were lucky to find them. But we wanted to do it differently: especially when you work with low-income families, you do not want to expose them to that kind of risk, so we have to assure funding from the beginning. We also started wondering that if we ask for all that money, it means a lot of money to make affordable housing for low income families: 30-40-50% of the budget has to be subsidised, otherwise it is not possible. We had to find something better than just giving a grant.

There was also another problem. When one of these families leave the house, they can have all the value or the appreciation of their home. For some people it is strange to try to give ownership to really poor families but there is a strong culture of home ownership in Brussels and a housing policy that is historically based on helping people becoming owners. We have lot of instruments such as grants or social loans or tax credits. In the 1970s and 1980s, lots of migrant families bought homes in neighbourhoods like Molenbeek or Schaerbeek with these loans, and they refurbished them little by little.

All of these instruments are given to the home owners and when the home owners sell their subsidised home, the selling price also includes the appreciation of the home, which is not sustainable and not just. It worked for many years but once housing prices started to rise, there was no money left to help families in need and there was suddenly no stock of social housing. We were looking for a solution that could combine the advantages that offer homeownership for the owners (security, independence, the possibility to build capital) with the advantages of a policy based on building public housing (creation of a stock of permanently affordable housing for low income groups).

Why did you choose the format of CLT?

When we investigated, we saw that we could use cooperatives to create affordable housing, but in Belgium the statue of cooperatives, for different reasons, is not adapted to these kind of projects, so we were looking for alternatives. We heard about community land trusts in America, which was at the time a model not known at all in Belgium or in Europe. We heard about CLTs because the Champlain Housing Trust in Burlington received the World Habitat Award from the United Nations. We won a grant to visit the Champlain Housing Trust and the visit was very fruitful: they did not only have a solution for long-term affordability, but also had a governance system in place and interesting ways to integrate other functions than housing into their projects. The Trust had a lot of interesting elements that we loved. And as the Champlain Housing Trust was the first urban CLT in the USA that was supported by the authorities, we also met Bernie Sanders, who, as Mayor of Burlington in the 1980’s, made the creation of this CLT possible – it was a really inspiring visit.

Do CLTs in general receive public support?

In the UK, for instance, there are CLTs that operate without the involvement of public authorities, while other work with them. At the end of last year, for instance, the UK state provided a funding of £60 million to help CLTs and other community-led housing initiatives so there is some support by the authorities. We were also established with public help: in 2012 we were recognised by the regional government in Brussels in charge of housing and who also gave us the first grant to start our first project. And since then each year we receive regional subsidies to pay our team and to buy land. Public support, however, is not without questions: although there is a general appreciation of our participatory aspects and anti-speculative mechanisms within the public sector, there is also an ongoing discussion about how we should operate, if the CLT should own land or land should go to a public institution. For us, this is a very important issue. A CLT that does not own the land just would not work. If we manage to involve low income families in everything we do is also because we are the owners of the land and, as member of our board, they become co-responsible for the stewardship of that land.

How is the CLT organised?
General assembly of the CLT. Photo (c) CLTB

The CLT owns the land, the homes on the land are privately owned by their occupants and we use long term lease contracts to make this possible. But ownership in this case does not include the possibility to speculate with the property. The resale formula follows the typical CLT format: we appraise the home the moment people enter and when they sell it, we calculate the difference between the two, they can have 25% of the appreciation and the rest is taken from the resale price, so the new buyers pay the initial price without subsidies plus 25% of the appreciation, in case the market has gone up.

To ensure this, you have to find a way to legally separate land ownership from home ownership and in Belgium we have these rights since Napoleon, called the “droit de superficie” and “bail emphytéotique” that respectively allow for 50-year and 99-year lease formulas. We have to use it creatively to make it work for us: this legal system is not perfect for us and I think the legal will be more suitable one day, but by now, we have been working with these rights.

The Brussels CLT has a complex legal structure. We have a foundation that owns the land but a foundation cannot be democratically governed, although this is an important aspect for us. Therefore besides the foundation, we have an association in charge of all daily decisions and the two are strongly linked by the board members: it is one organisation with two legal bodies.
We receive subsidies from the region that help us buy the land. Then a part of the construction is paid with public money.

Who has access to CLT apartments?

First of all, to buy a home in the CLT you have to be eligible for social housing. This includes more than half of the Brussels population: although Brussels is a rich city, a large part of its population is poor. But within these margins there is a lot of difference. Those who are the poorest, who have the minimum income earn half of what those who meet the right to social housing. Therefore we had to find a pricing policy that makes it possible to serve all of these people: we set different prices according to income categories. The poorest group pays less than those who earn a little bit more for the same type of apartment.

As we work with public money we had to find a system that was very transparent and objective. In our approach we really focus a lot on the community within the building. In Brussels we do not build single family homes, it is always apartment buildings. Whenever we buy a parcel of land, we make a program, we see how many and what types of homes we can build, then we launch a call. Those who are interested can apply and the first family on the waiting list that fits the criteria will become member of the group. Once we have the plans and we know what kind of homes we will build, members of the group will decide between them who will get which home. The group is not composed by affinity, but by objective criteria.

And for us to make this work, for home owners with little income, mostly with less education, it is very important to work on the community, not just putting the families in the apartment, otherwise it would not work. This means that we decide whom to sell to long before the homes are built. We organise groups of future home owners for specific sites, the moment we buy the land.

The planning procedure takes a lot of time in Brussels, it takes one year, sometimes up to two years, between having the plans ready to getting the permit. You have to organise the tender, then you have to build, so it is at least 4-5 years between buying the land and when the homes are built. This means that there is already a selection criteria, people have to be ready to follow this process, not just to enter the group but to be active. Once a group is formed, it has monthly or two monthly meetings, and its members really become part of the process. Not everyone is willing to enter this kind of procedure. While in Brussels today there are more than 29,000 families waiting for a social home, we have 300 families on our waiting list.

General assembly of the CLT. Photo (c) CLTB
What do people on the waiting list have to do during these years?

Our waiting list is composed by our members and it is not just a formality. For us it is important because our members are invited to our general assembly and can get elected to our board, we can provide trainings for them. They start saving money (a symbolical sum of 10€ a month). Recently, we also started to organise other activities with our members: gardening on the building sites the years before the construction, a bike rental program, a monthly festival.

How does the CLT work together with a neighbourhood where it develops new homes?
Architecture workshop. Photo (c) CLTB

I think the way our CLT is governed it is a very interesting model to use at the neighbourhood scale. It is important to have different levels of decision-making and participation, bringing together the entity that owns the land and ideally also governs the neighbourhood with others: home owners’ organisations, cooperatives or tenants, organisations that are in charge of managing their homes, committees in charge of the public space, etc.

One of the positive experience from CLT is the idea of involving the neighbourhood and the residents in the board and the management of the organisation. It is not always easy but it really works. Sometimes in our board meetings we have unprecedented encounters: people who were never in this kind of organisation start speaking with government representatives for the first time. There is certainly a disequilibrium between a poor home owner and a well-educated Ministry officer but having a place where this discussion is possible is an important aspect of governing areas of the city. While in Brussels’ neighbourhood contracts citizens only have an advisory role, in our board they can decide about investment and sales, which gives them a much stronger role in this governance scheme.

Can you diversify your model and combine housing with other uses?
Inauguration of the first homes. Photo (c) CLTB

We do not only want to provide housing:

we want to make the city in a non speculative way. But as of today, we only have nine homes plus a lot of land. Apart from these nine homes, we have 90 more in preparation where we have the money for the land and the agreement to buy it. The first project of nine homes was only residential, because we bought an existing building where there was nothing else but in other projects, we try to integrate other functions. Our biggest project in the plans, with 32 homes, will also include a women’s centre at the ground floor, and almost each new project will include other functions than housing.

One of the difficulties for developing non-residential uses is connected to funding. The subsidies we get from the Ministry of Housing are for housing only, and it means that people who want to buy non-residential units in our projects have to accept the CLT conditions of not owning the land, not receiving the entire resale price, excluding significant financial benefits. We found an association to work with us on this, they believe in what we do and they prefer buying space in our projects to renting properties from private owners. We would like to develop economic spaces and studios for artists but we do not have the funding for this right now. We are currently thinking about adding a third legal body to the existing association and foundation, a cooperative that could work with private investors. We have gathered a group of people, universities and associations to work on this concept and we received funding for the next years.

Interview with Geert de Pauw on 10 March 2017

A resilient EU economy must be built on strong local communities

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By Dirk Vansintjan president of the European Federation of Renewable Energy Cooperatives, REScoop.eu.

The article was published here

 

The political and economic measures taken to revive our economy following the Corona crisis need to ensure long-term resilience of the system. Strengthening local communities will be the key to achieving this objective, says Dirk Vansintjan.

Over the coming weeks, EU leaders will be working on a plan to help rebuild the economy after the crisis brought about by the Corona virus. In a meeting among Heads of State last week, European Council President Charles Michel emphasised the need to “come up with a proposal to ensure we are able to cope with this crisis and to ensure the stability of the EU”.

The current situation is putting our society to a vital test: Are we equipped to develop responses to this crisis that will ensure the long-term stability of our societies?

I strongly believe that the answer can be yes. But this can only be the case if we ensure that the measures taken make our economies and societies more resilient in the long term. Whilst it is crucial to develop solutions that will revitalise our economy following this crisis in the short and medium term, we must not lose sight of other existing threats to our economies and our citizens.

Several experts have pointed out over the past weeks that human health and the state of the environment are inextricably linked – be it through the increased exposure to wildlife, or the threat air pollution poses to our health.

Corona crisis aside, we know that climate change is one of the most severe and urgent systemic threats to our global community. Unless we start integrating the environment into our economic decisions, all we are doing is putting a band-aid on the wound without treating the cause – and hence inevitably setting ourselves up for more crises of this sort.

One promising thing that has come out of the current situation is the evidence that it is possible for governments to allocate resources to solve urgent situations, where they were previously stuck in political disagreements. Our leaders must leverage this newly found level of cooperation to tackle issues such as climate change heads-on, so we won’t have to do it in crisis mode.

The measures taken after the economic crisis in 2008 mainly bailed out the big financial institutions without tackling some of the underlying flaws of our economic system, namely consumerism and the environmental destruction that goes with it, wealth concentration, and lack of democratic control at the local level. It left many citizens disempowered at the time, and once again today, those suffering the most from the economic crisis ahead will likely be the small businesses in our neighbourhoods. The solutions proposed today need to safeguard the livelihoods of European citizens.

A new balance between globalisation and the local economy

One very concrete way to move towards such a society will be to strengthen the growth of energy communities in Europe.

By investing in and operating clean energy technologies and measures, energy communities have been known to strengthen the social and economic welfare of their community whilst taking measures to reduce CO2 emissions and preserve the environment. They hence provide an economically sound model that tackles the exact challenges we need to solve to build a sustainable future for ourselves.

Don’t just take my word for it, let the examples speak for themselves:

For Belgium, researchers estimated that the energy transition will require investment between €300 and €400 billion up to 2050. But Belgian citizens together have about €278 billion of sleeping savings in banks, which could be invested locally. Such investment could create between 20,000 and 60,000 jobs, and save the Belgian economy up to €20 billion a year by avoiding the import of gas, oil, coal and uranium.

A German study reveals the return for the local economy and communities is up to 8 times higher if these renewable production facilities are owned by local citizens, local energy communities, and other SME’s. In particular, income from local renewable energy production can provide an indispensable basis to make the necessary investments in energy efficiency in buildings, and empowers citizens to get involved – thus strengthening not only our economy, but also our European democratic model.

In 1988, the small Austrian town Güssing had no significant industry or trade business. It is now thriving thanks to a consequent transition to local renewable resources. Instead of high unemployment, more than 1,000 jobs were created. An annual bill of €6 million for imported fossil fuels was turned into a revenue of €14 million from local renewable energy production.

Leading by example, the municipality reduced its energy expenditure by almost 50% through energy efficiency, and the citizens and businesses followed. Following Güssing’s example, more than 15 regions in Austria are now energy independent with regard to electricity, heating, and/or transportation.

How can the EU help strengthen energy communities?

The potential of local communities has already been recognised by EU leaders in the Clean Energy Package through the concepts of citizen and renewable energy communities.

As the EU works on developing follow-up legislation in the coming years, it must ensure to truly empower local communities. This can be done for instance by facilitating access to larger funding sources such as the EFSI investment tool and other EIB tools (such as ELENA or guarantees).

Citizens across Europe stand ready to contribute to and lead the societal transformation needed in our communities. We urge our elected representatives to make smart and courageous decisions that will enable humanity to move to a truly sustainable, healthy, and resilient way of life.

If we are to build a truly sustainable society for the long term and for future generations, we need to make these changes now. Let’s stay in the cooperative mode. There is no other way.

#StayAtHome and Europe’s housing crisis

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Housing Europe: a position paper: The COVID-19 pandemic exposes the shortcomings of our housing policies

Public, cooperative and social housing providers are mobilising to protect vulnerable people and the local economy in this time of crisis. Strong public support for essential services; housing, health, education, transport from governments and international bodies now more vital than ever.

#StayAtHome, #ZuHauseBleiben, #ResterChezVous, #RestateACasa, #QuédateEnCasa #MenoumeSpiti… the language is not so important, but the message is clear. Citizens around the globe are ordered, requested or recommended to stay at home- depending on the level of the measures taken by each government- contributing thus to the universal effort to flatten the curve of the COVID-19 spread. Confinement and social distancing are considered by most national authorities and by the EU Institutions as an effective way in getting this extraordinary global health crisis under control. Such a decision to implement a lockdown, keeping people at home, surely has multiple consequences but also brings to the  surface, once again, Europe’s housing crisis.

Concretely, #StayAtHome is easier said than done for a very large part of the EU population:

Housing Europe President, Cédric Van Styvendael stresses that:

“Anyone can easily understand that within this housing crisis that Europe has been confronted with for many years now, asking people to stay at home is far from than simple for many of them. We are proud that our sector plays the role of a much-needed safety net during this pandemic, while we also add our voice to international calls to stop evictions anywhere for any reason. More than ever, we are mobilized to make access to decent and affordable housing an essential right. We strongly believe that Europe’s Green Deal must be a social one and must imperatively integrate the challenge of reviving the production of social housing to accompany the unprecedented crisis we are facing.”

The UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, Leilani Farha urged on March 18th governments around the world not to allow any evictions, anywhere for any reason as “housing is the front line defence against the COVID-19 outbreak”.

COVID-19 and the public, cooperative & social housing sector

Within this new global reality that impacts directly and hits hard the everyday work of public, cooperative and social housing providers, they are the safety net that millions of people around Europe desperately need at the moment. Below, we put together an overview of the actions taken so far to deal with these tough circumstances:

GdW, the Federal Association of Housing and Real Estate Companies, the umbrella organization of the relevant sectors in Germany along with their real estate sector partners issued a joint statement, stressing how coordinated partnerships are now more vital than ever. They have also called together with the Tenants’ Union for the introduction of “Secure housing funds” in times of crisis. Tenants who are not able to pay their rent or part of it due to COVID-19, should be eligible to apply for support on this new online platform that will be set up.

The Italian Cooperative Housing sector proposed exceptional preventative measures to support low income families paying their rent. In this difficult moment Legacoop Abitanti, one of the Italian Associations of Housing Cooperatives, expressed solidarity towards the most affected people and gratitude to those offering their commitment, including the Social Cooperation sector that has been close to the most vulnerable also during this state of emergency.

The Inhabitants Cooperation is playing its role at the service of the members, keeping some essential services and activating new forms of community resilience, which represents a distinctive sign of our history. #IoRestoaCasa (#WeStayAtHome) truly underlines the HOME question, and the need to re-think it. From an economic point of view, Legacoop Abitanti believes that the impact of the COVID-19 crisis will lead to further difficulties for vulnerable families to pay the rent, causing a very negative social effect in the medium term.

Legacoop Abitanti, through its President Rossana Zaccaria, expresses a positive evaluation about the effort of the Italian Decree “Cura Italia”, in order to face the public health emergency and to preserve both families’ and workers’ safety. However, concerning the Home question, the Decree provided measures referring exclusively to the mortgages (Art. 54) and the suspension of evictions until 30 June 2020 (Art 103, Paragraph 6). Legacoop Abitanti, together with the Alliance of Italian Cooperatives – Housing sector, proposes exceptional measures to support low-income tenants who will struggle in paying rents. Concretely, with an amendment to Art. 54 at the “Cura Italia” decree, they propose an increase of 50 million Euros of the existing “Fondo per morosità incolpevole” (Fund for tenants arrears – due to loss of income ) for year 2020: this can be done with a specific additional spending chapter, with an extension of the pool of the beneficiaries, including families renting both social housing and cooperative undivided property dwellings, since these perform a welfare function allowing the access to the renting market. This provision shall be a preventative measure, using the same operating procedures as for the management of the Fund, therefore with the immediate disbursement of the contribution directly to the landlords in order to avoid eviction procedures – a condition provided by the current mechanisms – for a maximum period of 6 months and covering 70% of the total amount of the rent and related costs. Legacoop truly believes that now the containment of the increase of social fragility is necessary, maintaining access to housing as an essential hub of welfare and community resilience.

Community Housing Cymru in Wales published a guide for housing associations coping with Coronavirus (COVID-19), which is continuously updated. From advice on managing availability of supplies to essential services to flexibility in grant & funding processes.

Union Sociale pour l’ Habitat in France issued a statement on the introduction of organizational measures to allow the seamless continuity of the service, announcing to examine the personal situations of tenants and delivery of customized support, likewise rental evictions are postponed. They have also published a Crisis Management Coronavirus Dossier for their members briefing on how to stay informed and communicate and continue support and care activities.

The National Housing Federation in England stressed in their press statement that ‘’No one should lose their home because of coronavirus’’

The Austrian Federation of Limited-Profit Housing Associations (GBV) urges members to follow a full stop on evictions and rent arrears.

Our Swedish cooperative member HSB shared their own coronavirus-related recommendations calling for coordination between housing associations and state responses.

Guidance and advice for the members of the Irish Council for Social Housing (ICSH) includes an extensive list of related resources.

Both in Ireland, according to the ICSH, and in Spain, according to AVS, rents will be adapted automatically based on income.

AVS believes that, now more than ever, having a large stock of public, social, and affordable housing, with professional and specialized providers, will be key to prevent thousands of families from being at risk of losing their homes. AVS sends a message of tranquility to the thousands of families who live for rent in the houses of the public park. Its members are taking measures in favour of tenants who have had a significant reduction in their income, due to the state of emergency in Spain.

In the Netherlands, the Association of Dutch Social Housing Companies, Aedes advised its members (managing more than 1/3 of the total housing stock in the country) to seek solutions for tenants who experience payment difficulties as a result of the corona crisis, to avoid evictions and to allow construction and maintenance activities to continue as much as possible, but only if health is guaranteed.

Macroeconomic responses and the housing dimension

The European Central Bank has announced a €750bn bond-buying programme. The central bank said all the extra asset purchases would be carried out this year and cover both sovereign bonds and corporate debt. This so-called Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme will last until the coronavirus crisis is judged to be over. For the purchases of public sector securities, the benchmark allocation across jurisdictions will continue to be the capital key of the national central banks. The Governing Council of the ECB committed to support all citizens of the euro area through this extremely challenging time, ensuring that all sectors of the economy can benefit from supportive financing conditions that enable them to absorb this shock. This applies equally to families, firms, banks and governments.

The European Commission agreed to loosen the State Aid rules, enabling Member States to be more flexible and effective in their support measures. The new Temporary Framework will enable Member States to (i) set up schemes direct grants (or tax advantages) up to €500,000 to a company, (ii) give subsidised State guarantees on bank loans, (iii) enable public and private loans with subsidised interest rates. Finally (iv), the new Temporary Framework will recognise the important role of the banking sector to deal with the economic effects of the COVID-19 outbreak, namely to channel aid to final customers, in particular small and medium-sized enterprises. The Temporary Framework makes clear that such aid is direct aid to the banks’ customers, not to the banks themselves. And it gives guidance on how to minimise any undue residual aid to the banks in line with EU rules.

Finally, the Eurogroup (ministers of the euro area member states) acknowledged in its statement the need for flexibility in the Stability and Growth Pact “to cater for unusual events outside the control of governments”.

This newly introduced flexibility is welcomed but must be extended to essential services such as housing providers whose value to society is clearer than ever at this time of crisis.