Europe’s social housing sector is in need of renovation, with much of the housing stock being old and inefficient, contributing to unhealthy living environments as well as energy poverty, and often requiring subsidies from public funds. New technologies and materials can be integrated into buildings to improve their energy performance, but numerous barriers stand in the way to their roll-out. 

The Social Green project has been exploring how to green the social housing sector, looking at both renovations of existing buildings and construction of new buildings. The six regions in the project will develop action plans to help to green their own local building stock, and the project has also devised policy recommendations to guide other regions. For more information on the project, see the publication, 'Under One Roof'. 

The project’s policy recommendations have been created drawing on regional assessments of the partners, as well as collected good practices.

  • Develop a co-ordinated strategy on greening social housing

The project partners note that a two level approach should be taken; the first, a European or national framework for funding and guidance, and the second, involving regional and local co-ordination for implementation. The partners highlight that the challenge faced by regions is not access to technological solutions, but a lack of capacity related to project definition and applications for European funding. This could be overcome by having clear policies and strategies at every level.

The project also puts forward a common definition of social housing, to help strategies to keep a focus on the target groups: Housing and associated housing policy serving the needs of low-income and vulnerable residents. Social housing is often built, owned, and/or managed by the public sector, but it also includes privately-owned rental housing or different forms of housing cooperatives.

  • Establish and strengthening partnerships and citizen outreach for greening social housing

Co-ordination at the local level will require the establishment of partnerships under the guidance of the local authority, particularly between local energy agencies, green building councils, and the private sector. Citizen outreach, and involvement of civil society, are essential for informing individuals about energy efficiency and influencing behaviour. Feedback loops between the public and private sectors, as well as consumers, can help to ensure the effectiveness of policies. 

  • Establish consistent and favourable conditions for investment in energy efficiency

Improving energy efficiency of social housing requires large up front investments, so financial instruments and funds are required to make sure that costs do not burden tenants. Renovations should ideally be zero-cost, with energy savings able to cover the cost of the renovation. For social housing, financing should cover renovations that go further than just the integration of new technologies and construction components, but take an integrated approach for full building renovation.  

  • Adapt energy efficiency standards to local reality

The project partners note that it is essential to adapt retrofitting standards to the local reality, and advocate considering issues related to low-carbon societies together with energy poverty and the comfort of inhabitants. Whilst in some countries, the best approach may be to renovate a building to introduce thermal insulation and new heating technologies, whilst in others, passive house technologies may be more suitable.

  • Provide evidence on the results of greening social housing

Finally, the Social Green partners note that better monitoring and evaluation are needed to provide evidence of success from retrofitting and renovation to policy and decision makers, helping to secure long-term commitment and buy-in. The monitoring data can also be used to identify areas where improvement is needed, such as user behaviour.

For more information, check the Social Green recommendations document, visit the project website, or check the project publication ‘Under One Roof: Solving Society’s Most Pressing Challenges through Housing’.

Image credit: Photo by Alena Koval from Pexels