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The International Social Housing Festival 2019

Blog by Conor Hill, Research and Policy Officer

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The International Social Housing Festival was established two years ago, with the purpose of making the link between the homes we inhabit, the cities we live in, and our overall quality of life. This year’s festival took place in Lyon, France. Through a diverse series of events, the festival aimed to highlight the importance of access to decent housing for all; celebrate the long tradition of public, co-operative and social housing; and highlight its key role in addressing current and future housing challenges. These aims reflect the aims of SFHA’s Innovation and Future Thinking programme, which brings together SFHA members and other stakeholders to collaboratively develop new ideas and solutions for the future.

I was lucky enough to attend the festival from 4 to 7 June, having been invited to talk about the Innovation and Future Thinking programme at a session on innovation in housing to an audience of housing professionals from all over Europe. During the session, I took part in a panel discussion alongside representatives from Housing Europe and Lyon Métropole Habitat, who shared details of their own work on innovation. Housing Europe’s forthcoming ‘Housing Evolutions Hub’ will act as a database of exciting innovation projects throughout Europe, and I’m sure that SFHA will be particularly inspired by the work of our colleagues across Europe. Lyon Métropole Habitat’s ‘Mur Porteur’ (‘Supporting Wall’) initiative is providing support to help organisations in the region set up innovative initiatives and projects.

The panellists at the session were not the only organisations who shared their work on innovation. By visiting a series of stands, attendees also heard about innovative projects taking place in Lyon and beyond.

Vrac is a food network which promotes the development of purchasing networks in deprived neighbourhoods throughout France, providing organic, healthy produce at low prices. Unis Vers l’Emploi provides employability services, training and opportunities in the housing sector for people who are currently far from the labour market. Homes4Life AGE is an EU-funded project to develop a certification for ‘ageing in place’ – a minimum standard to ensure that housing is suitable for an ageing population. Pôle ESS OPAC 74 has launched its Privi’Loc Club - a programme which aims to encourage the reduction of housing-related bills while improving tenants’ quality of life. Through the scheme, tenants can earn credits by performing tasks in their communities – cutting grass, changing lightbulbs, etc. – which they can then use to access services.

Further innovative projects and initiatives were on display throughout the entire festival. At a session on housing and health, I learned about schemes in Lyon and further afield which are having real positive impacts on tenants. Josh Crites, Assistant Director of the Housing Authority of Washington County, USA, delivered a presentation on the social determinants of health, full of great examples of how integrating health and housing can improve social and economic outcomes. Un Chez-Soi d’Abord (My Own Home First) is a Housing First initiative operating in Lyon which acts as an intermediary to support homeless people back into tenancies, whether private or social. Habitat et Humanisme has established the Espace Emmanuel Mounier – a co-housing initiative in Lyon which houses students alongside people leaving hospital to support them in their recovery.

Exhibitions throughout the festival also showcased the work of social housing providers, both now and in the future. An exhibition on social housing in Vienna demonstrated the profound impacts that social housing providers can have for tenants: close to 60% of Vienna’s inhabitants live in municipal housing subsidised by the city, with the high share of subsidised housing keeping the prices of private housing low and ensuring a good mix of housing options throughout the city.

Finally, an exhibition on social housing in Europe explored the diverse history of social housing in the continent, demonstrating “how social housing has always been an innovative answer to economic, social and environmental issues…” This is a history that we, in Scotland, should all feel proud to be part of, and I’m excited and inspired following the festival to continue working with our colleagues in the rest of Europe and beyond to ensure its legacy.

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