SHARE Network Regional Conference "Housing for Refugee Inclusion"

 

Housing for Refugee Inclusion

SHARE Network Regional Conference

Vienna, Austria

March 6-8, 2019

Click here to download the programme and here for the concept note.

 

Access to adequate, secure and affordable housing is an essential part of successful integration. Housing availability also plays a central role in determining how many refugees can be received by third countries offering resettlement and other legal pathways to protection for refugees.

Although states generally maintain national standards for housing for refugees, competences for organising and providing housing most often rests with regional and local authorities. Across Europe, these authorities together with NGOs, housing companies and private landlords, use a wide variety of approaches to organising housing for refugees. 

How can we improve housing availability for programmes to receive refugees in third countries? How can approaches to housing for refugees better facilitate integration and inclusion? What good practice can we identify in this area and how can it be expanded?

 

These and other questions formed the basis for the recent SHARE Network Conference on Housing for Refugee Inclusion, held on March 6-8 2019 in Vienna in the framework of the SHARE Integration project. Facilitated by ICMC Europe in collaboration with the Austrian ARGE Consortium (consisting of Caritas AustriaRotes Kreuz Oberösterreich and Diakonie Flüchtlingsdienst), the 2.5-day conference brought together 55 expert practitioners working on housing and integration for resettled refugees in 17 European countries.

The opening panel of the conference programme set the scene for subsequent discussions. An overview of housing in Europe presented by Housing Europe focused on issues including affordable housing, homelessness, housing supply and security of tenure, identifying particular challenges for refugees and impacts for integration. Using a case study of housing for refugees in Austria, Caritas Austria identified additional national challenges in this area, including differing legal frameworks for housing, housing for larger families and vulnerable groups, and ensuring affordability.

A subsequent panel explored two examples of how European programmes to receive refugees have dealt with these challenges. In France, national authorities have mainstreamed the provision of housing for refugees into a wider, cross-government initiative Délégation interministérielle à l’hébergement et à l’accès au logement (DIHAL) addressing housing for vulnerable groups, directly supporting expanded housing options and linking successful housing outcomes to available integration support. At the city level, Madrid provides temporary emergency shelters to asylum seekers waiting for an appointment to submit their asylum application. Many apartments are empty in cities in Spain because rents are too high and locals prefer to buy: “the problem is not housing but how to afford it”. The city is facing a common multilevel governance challenge, namely the lack of competence to impact national migration policies but at the same time, having to find dignified solutions to accommodate the many newcomers residing in Madrid  while waiting to submit their claim.

Building on these practice examples, a series of breakout groups enabled conference participants to map housing systems and approaches in their national contexts, reflecting on good practice and ways of multiplying it. 

Main conclusions of the breakout groups: 

·   Social housing is difficult to access in most countries due to legal constraints for third-country      nationals or general shortage in public-owned dwellings, 

·   Private market-based housing can have its advantages: e.g. supporting refugees toward independence, sensitisation of landlords;

·   Cities lack budget capacity to house and assist no/low income groups including refugees;

·   Rural areas and smaller cities bring advantages: available housing, less density, more space for bigger families, lower prices, ‘soft landing’ if well connected to bigger city / opportunities. 

 

The morning of day two of the conference programme was dedicated to presenting examples of successful approaches to housing for refugees in urban and rural areas. 

A first panel drew on three programme and practice examples from Austria, at city (Salzburg) and federal state (Upper Austria, Vorarlberg) levels. Panel presenters emphasised the critical role of civil society organisations in partnerships to coordinate integration, including finding and securing appropriate housing, and the benefits of mainstreaming housing provision for refugees into wider initiatives on combating homelessness and boosting housing options for vulnerable groups.

A second panel presented best practices from Bulgaria, Finland, Belgium and Italy. Despite the vastly differing national housing contexts and legal frameworks in which they are taking place, all practice examples emphasised the importance of:

·      Strong partnerships to develop new approaches to housing for refugees that foster inclusion and integration.

·      Effective multilevel coordination of housing for refugees, including through the use of regional coordination models.

·      Support for municipalities newly engaging in receiving refugees.  

·     Finding new ways to improve access to private rented sector housing for refugees.

 

Day 2 of the programme concluded with two study visits to housing projects, hosted by Diakonie and Caritas:

·      Zinnergasse, a Diakonie project providing advice to residents of four districts of Vienna, including housing advice and assistance for refugees and unaccompanied minors. 

·     Haus Romero, a Caritas integrated housing and support project for asylum seekers in the small rural community of Probstdorf outside Vienna.

 

The final morning of the conference programme focused on lessons learned from successful European resettlement programmes. Expert presenters from Austria reflected on lessons learned from the HAP I-III initiatives, three Austrian resettlement programmes that ran from 2013-18, focusing particularly on improvements in partnership working and institutional cooperation, for reception and integration. Contributions from the UK and Belgium emphasised the importance of sensitive placement for facilitating integration for resettled refugees, the need to well prepare and inform local communities before arrivals and the housing and integration opportunities offered by smaller cities and towns.

The conference concluded with a sneak preview of the SHARE Welcoming Communities video series, and a series of informal break-out discussions on key thematic issues for housing for refugees, facilitated by conference participants.

 

A last panel including Housing Europe, the Swiss Institute of Comparative Law and ICMC Europe reflectedon main take-aways and conclusions:

·     Rural areas and smaller cities bring advantages: available housing, less density, more space for bigger families, lower prices, ‘soft landing’ if well connected to bigger city / opportunities. 

·     Creating social mix in the housing estates and local neighbourhood avoids segregation, and enables residents including migrants and vulnerable people to shape the kind of community they      want to live in by participating in the design and implementation of new initiatives. 

·     Assigning a Focal point to establish and maintain contact with landlords builds trust. 

·     Engaging citizens makes a difference and opens a new market: e.g. DIHAL in France: ‘Solidarity Housing’ scheme and Italy Caritas project: ‘Refugee at my home’.

 

For more information about the conference, presentations or speakers and to learn more about upcoming SHARE Network events, email Programme Manager at boehm@icmc.net