The theme of the Ukrainian Urban Forum 2023 was "Common Home". The event was focused on the recovery of Ukrainian cities with a particular emphasis on housing issues and housing policy. The right to adequate housing is an inalienable human right. Housing is part of the social contract between the state and society in many countries. This means that states committed to create conditions where all people can have quality, affordable and comfortable housing. Article 47 of the Constitution of Ukraine guarantees the right to housing and emphasizes that it is the state's responsibility to create conditions enabling every citizen to build, purchase or rent housing.

Housing policy and its potential for renewal were the focus of a national roundtable at the Urban Forum 2023.  It was joined by Ukrainian and international organizations and institutions interested in the development of housing policy. The discussion was moderated by Anastasia Bobrova, Senior Analyst at Cedos and Coordinator of the Ukrainian Urban Forum. She began with an introductory historical overview of social housing processes in international experience and outlined the challenges of the current Ukrainian context.

"If we look at the history of social housing, what we can call social housing was provided by religious, charitable organisations or employers for many centuries. However, starting from the 19th century, national and local authorities began to play a greater and greater role.
 In many Western European countries, modern systems of social and affordable housing began to develop after the Second World War which brought with it an unprecedented scale of destruction. Various methods were used to increase the availability of housing but local authorities always played an important role. They built housing involving their own resources or created such conditions so that other organizations, independent institutions, could do it.  Moreover, these independent institutions had to prioritize public interests over commercial ones. Despite the key role of local authorities in this process, national level involvement, support and leadership from state authorities has always been a prerequisite.

Different countries had different approaches to how to organise their social housing system. However, the principle was and remains the same: providing decent housing at an affordable price for everyone. This is how social housing policies gradually began to take shape. It's important to note that today the term ′social housing′ can encompass various instruments. When we use it now, we often use it as an umbrella term, which generally refers to rental housing at prices below the market rate.

In some countries, like the Netherlands, social housing is primarily owned by housing associations that are not directly linked to national or local authorities. Housing associations are independent institutions that operate according to specific rules and can receive support from authorities.  In other countries, like the Czech Republic, social housing is primary owned by municipal authorities.

The key distinction between social, affordable, and commercial housing lies in how they are allocated. Commercial housing is distributed based on the ability to pay, while social housing is allocated based on need.  What does this mean? It means that someone has the opportunity to purchase a 17-room apartment in the center of Vinnytsia. But this does not mean that we as a society should create the conditions for this opportunity to be met. This does not mean that we should allocate land in the city centre in order to build such an apartment. However, if people have a need for housing and there is no possibility, for example, to buy a housing at a commercial price, society should create these conditions so that everyone has a roof over their heads.

Returning our talks to Ukraine, we hardly have what we call social housing. We have housing stocks for social purpose, temporary purpose, apartments owned by local authorities own and which are provided for free use. Before the full-scale war there were only a few thousand apartments in such stocks throughout Ukraine. And now these stocks cannot meet all the housing needs we have. We should create clear policies and strategies to develop such housing. There are so many housing challenges in Ukraine right now that no other European country has, a lot of infrastructure has been destroyed, millions of people are homeless, and we need to understand how we can respond effectively to these challenges.

Last year the project of the Recovery Plan of Ukraine, which was developed by the government together with NGOs, recorded the need for the development of non-profit housing that can be owned by both municipalities and private non-profit organizations or cooperatives. However, there are no clear steps to implement this idea yet. How do we see housing policy from these different perspectives and how can we move together to ensure a safe roof over everyone's head?”

Svitlana Startseva, Head of the Department of Housing Policy and Improvement of the Ministry of Communities, Territories and Infrastructure Development of Ukraine, joined the conversation online. She noted that the biggest challenge was the mass privatization of housing after the collapse of the Soviet Union. As a result, most of the housing became the private property of the people who lived there. She also shared information about the Ministry of Restoration’s work on the draft law "On the Principles of Housing Policy" which is intended to be the first step in the process of updating housing legislation. These changes are necessary because the primary document governing housing in Ukraine today is the Housing Code approved back in 1983.  Furthermore, there is no strategy for the housing policy development and

"Thus, when the war forced us to make urgent decisions on the accommodation of internally displaced persons, we found ourselves facing the fact that we had no housing stock to use for this purpose.

Today our priority is to create new approaches to providing housing for Ukrainians based on international human rights standards and the best practices of European countries. This should be done together with experts of international organizations and considering the opinion of the public.

We will consider a public-private partnership in the formation of accessible housing stocks together with the World Bank. Of course, special attention will be paid to the realization of rights of vulnerable population, as well as safeguarding of housing rights of military personnel and the families of those who have suffered losses. All processes related to resolving housing issues should be transparent, and there should be a digitization of the housing needs assessment."

Ivan Parukh, First Deputy Chairman of the Board of the State Fund for the Promotion of Youth Housing Construction (State Housing for Youth) spoke about the possibilities of preferential lending.

“Currently the main focus of our activities is providing housing for internally displaced persons. Given the fact that state budget expenditures are now directed to budget items related to our country defence, we focused on working with international partners and donors.  The first project is to provide loans to internally displaced persons using the funds of the German bank 'KfW'. The first mortgage loan issued in Ukraine by our institution was funded by our German partners.  We aim to use the funds from international partners to provide the opportunity for all economically active internally displaced individuals to access a preferential loan service.  

The development and adoption of the draft law "On the Basic Principles of State Housing Policy" will mark the beginning of a new housing policy.  I would like the public, state institutions and international partners to get involved in the development and advocacy of this project.

Since the full-scale war, Vinnytsia has welcomed 46,000 internally displaced persons and the city's population has grown to 405,000 people.  Andriy Ocheretniy, Deputy Mayor of Vinnytsia, shared the information on challenges and processes the city is working on.

Regarding the provision of urgent housing for internally displaced persons (IDPs), Vinnytsia first of all equipped dormitories and renovated spaces for accommodating people.  Another issue is the need for the relocation of businesses.  317 enterprises from Kharkiv, Kherson, Zaporizhia, Donetsk, and Luhansk regions to Vinnytsia managed to relocate  We have created a registry of these private enterprises. We see 1,680 new job opportunities solely from relocated businesses.

As for our local capabilities, since 2009 we have been running the Municipal Housing programme. In April 2022, for the first time in Ukraine, these categories were included the members of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, combatants of the Russian-Ukrainian war and internally displaced persons to these categories. Currently, two residential buildings are under construction in Vinnytsia and we plan to complete one of them in autumn 2023.  There are specific requirements for this housing. The priorities are barrier-free, affordable, inclusive, energy efficient and most importantly, secure. Almost all buildings include underground dual-purpose parking spaces. We have shifted away from gas in municipal housing opting for electricity and encourage the installation of solar stations.

Fiona Allen, Senior Development Officer, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

“In the process when Ukraine develops the relevant policies, we will be engaged and ensure that the needs of vulnerable populaions, displaced people are taken into account as they are either displaced or currently live in communities that support them and provide access to basic services. We need to organize affordable and proper housing but we cannot develop a housing policy in isolation. The needs and interests of communities should be engaged and taken into account.

We should avoid the practice of placing displaced persons in ghettos. We should ensure that they have access to basic services, create conditions for providing these services and generate employment opportunities. To enhance our work, we require data on the available housing, its condition and its legal status. We should determine what is happening in the housing sector and what is necessary to change in state policy."

Norway Refugee Council has been working in Ukraine for 12 years already and in the international context - for 77 years. Roberto Vila-Sexto, Director of the Ukrainian Office, outlined the main areas of work of the humanitarian organisation. One of the areas is legal aid, especially in the context of housing and property rights. "We are working on a platform that coordinates efforts and links what we do with other initiatives, not only international but also national organisations, especially with civil society, NGOs and others that exist in Ukraine.

Together with the Ministry of Communities, Territories and Infrastructure Development of Ukraine, we are working on developing a housing strategy for IDPs in Ukraine and drafting the law “On the basic principles of state housing policy.” Moreover, we are also focusing on providing urgent assistance. This includes housing repairs, abandoned housing where IDPs can stay. We support some collective sites and university dormitories.

"Housing policy accessibility means systematic access to support through a digital registry that provides information about damaged buildings. The Housing Code should be comprehensive, addressing all issues, including the nature of social housing, rental issues and the possibilities of creating home owners associations.

The World Bank is a key player in the recovery effort. Although now seems to be the right time to develop a housing policy strategy in Ukraine, it is essential to have a short-term urgent measures to support the population affected by Russian aggression, namely in the restoration of damaged property." According to Oleksandrs Shatyrko, social development specialist at the World Bank, a joint assessment by the Government of Ukraine, the World Bank, the UN and the European Commission found that about two-thirds of the damaged housing could be restored or rebuilt in the short to medium term.

"In the long-term perspective, it is crucial to consider actions aimed at creating a modern state: low-carbon, climate-resilient, resilient to natural disasters and with energy-efficient practices. As the burden on the state budget is high, it is important to engage the private sector.

It is necessary to analyse the socio-economic indicators and demographic situation in the communities. This should be the guiding principle when planning local recovery. Housing policy should also be aligned with the current local conditions so that communities also participate in its development. People are the key in housing policy. The state should respond to the vulnerability, ensure policy inclusivity and the well-being of the population.

Considering the importance of decentralization and its reform, it would be excellent to define clear roles and responsibilities for local authorities at the national level as they bear a significant burden. This includes the keeping the Registry of Damaged and Destroyed Property, the formation of a commission to assess destroyed property and determining compensation for affected populations. It is necessary to establish a capacity development program, expand and deepen expertise in social and environmental policies, as well as anti-corruption risks."

Nowadays the Ministry of Communities, Territories and Infrastructure Development of Ukraine works on initiatives related to transparency and digitalization. This will allow creating a platform for population engagement, feedback collection and raising questions on adversities in the future."

Oleksandr Anisimov, Head of NGO New Housing Policy, spatial planning researcher at Aalto University (Finland).

A discussion about housing policy should be focused on the mechanisms and institutions that ensure the realization of the right to housing, the construction of these buildings and the public good. Only when we talk about specific organizations, the coordination of these processes, we can truly come to something meaningful in this discussion.

The problem is that municipalities cannot interact with international funds to build social housing.  And the state doesn't intervene in this situation. Moreover, we have an entirely dysfunctional system for managing multi-apartment buildings. This is a social, infrastructural and economic collapse that is looming over us. At some point, buildings will start falling regardless of whether rockets hit them or not. 

The mechanisms for creating social housing are known; we don't need to reinvent them. These are revolving fund mechanisms when money is not lost from the system; mechanisms of effective land policies at the local level where cities control land use. Furthermore, it is strong national legislation that ensures social housing operators that do not take money out of the system and work for the public good. Finally, of course, government officials, effective managers in the state, such as in Finland, for example, are people who are interested in creating social housing in the country, working with national and local funds and financing large scale projects in the interests of the whole of Finland not just individual communities or the interests of certain social groups.

Affordable and environmentally friendly housing should be located in living-convenient areas of the city. To do this, we should strengthen the capacity of local governments, create land banks and plan our territory. We should establish a legislative framework, a national housing agency governance and a national housing development fund that will be interested in working with local authorities or not-for-profit companies. People in municipalities are capable and effective managers who are interested and have the ability to implement projects. And, of course, the people at the center of the system should be protected.

Ivan Verbytskyi, Director of Analytical centre Cedos, addressed the key challenges and problems of housing policy.

We are discussing the need for housing as if it were something finite, as if we can solve this problem at some point and live in a new and happy world. This is an illusion; it is better to seek such solutions that will be sustainable and self-reproducing.

One of the challenges of housing policy is fragmentation. Each ministry and central executive body has its own housing programme. We should have a unified state housing strategy, priorities, indicators and an understanding of what we want to achieve so that we can assess these achievements in 5 years.

Moreover, we need capable institutions to implement this housing policy. These should be institutions at the national and local levels. It seems to me that government is also required more human resources at this time. And this is a challenge for the state, because there is no money to increase the number of civil servants. The problem with housing has increased and we are trying to solve it with the same team involved in previous years.

Another important topic is housing rent and the protection of tenants' rights. When rental prices in the western oblasts (regions) increased 10-fold last year, that was also a problem of the system. There are very large-scale questions that we have to answer. Is preferential lending the path we want to take? Long-term preferential loans, Long-term soft loans, what obligations do we offer people to take on? Are these the best ways we can provide?

We should think about property taxes. In European municipalities, property tax is one of the key parts of local budget revenue. The idea is that the municipality invests money in infrastructure development such as building streets, cultural centers and good school as well as arrange public transportation. As a result, the value of your property increases. And you return this added value together with the tax to the city budget. Ukrainian municipalities do not have such an incentive.

The thesis of inclusiveness, which is about space, is important - so that you can get into your home in any way. However, social inclusiveness is also important to avoid creating ghettos and having separate neighbourhoods for the rich and the poor. Ukrainian municipalities cannot regulate what percentage of housing in new buildings should be social, commercial or for rent. We should think about this.

And the last problem is homelessness. There are large oblast (regional) capitals that do not even have shelters for homeless people In such cities, people have nowhere to go to spend the night. In my opinion, it's a scandal; this should not happen.  This is some basic infrastructure about dignity that we should provide to everyone.

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