How habitable are the homes of European citizens

According to estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO) for 2013, European citizens spend about 90% of their time indoors. Much of this time is spent inside one’s home, which for this reason plays a fundamental role in each and every one of us.

Over the years, awareness of the importance of living in a healthy and dignified environment has grown. Living in a house equipped with all services, with sufficient space for all members of the family is therefore a social priority of great importance.

In fact, the EU promotes the right to housing, and although it cannot implement housing policies in individual Member States, it favors their harmonization so that this right is ensured uniformly throughout the territory of the Union. To date, however, the situation is still very diverse from country to country.

The right to housing in the European Union

The right to housing is enshrined in the European Social Charter. In particular, Article 31 identifies 3 objectives in this sense:

  • ensure that the house is qualitatively at a sufficient level (that it is therefore habitable);
  • prevent and reduce until complete elimination of the status of “homeless”, an expression of the fundamental principle of the UN Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 “no one lives”;
  • to ensure that there is affordable housing for those with insufficient resources.

It is a fundamental right to be protected to guarantee dignity by any citizen of the Union. In fact, the consequences of living in inadequate housing conditions are manifold and harmful on many levels. First of all, the people who suffer from them end up in vicious circles that bring them closer to poverty and social exclusion.

Poor housing conditions are not only associated with lower levels of health and well-being, but are part of a vicious circle that increases the risk of poverty and social exclusion.

But the quality of life is also affected in general. There is above all consequences from a health point of view, due to the strong influence on psychophysical well-being. Precisely for this reason, the effects in the long run affect the whole society and not only the people who are directly affected because they generate large social costs.

194 billion euros the economic losses caused in the EU by inadequate housing, according to Eurofunds estimates.

In that sense, we are talking about both more direct costs, such as health and welfare costs, and relatively indirect costs, such as the general productivity loss of the population and the reduction of opportunities.

The importance of space for the habitability of the dwelling

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCR) includes “habitability“Among the basic criteria for defining the adequacy of a home. In the description of habitability, there is also the spatial requirement. First of all, it is actually essential that a person has at his disposal enough space to live in.

Eurostat defines housing overcrowding as the state in which a house that does not have:

  • a room for the family unit;
  • a room for each pair present in the core;
  • a room for each adult;
  • one room for every two people of the same sex between 12 and 17 years;
  • a room for each person between 12 and 17 years old, which is not included in the previous category;
  • one room for every two children under 12 years.

From this point of view, the situation is diversified within the EU. Our country has a higher rate than average and has not seen any improvements in recent years.

28.3% people in Italy who lived in overcrowded conditions in 2019 (about 13 percentage points above the EU average).

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Eurostat considers “overcrowding” as the condition in which a house does not have a minimum number of rooms corresponding to: a room for the family unit; a room for each pair present in the core; a room for each adult; one room for every two people of the same sex between 12 and 17 years; a room for each person between 12 and 17 years old, which is not included in the previous category; one room for every two children under 12 years. The EU average for 2020 is not available.

SOURCE: openpolis deepening of Eurostat data
(last update: Thursday, May 5, 2022)

In 2011, 16.8% of the citizens of the Member States lived in a state of overcrowding. In Italy, on the other hand, the figure was 24.5%, with a difference of 7.7 percentage points compared to the EU average.

In the EU, the situation has improved on average, while in Italy there has been a slight deterioration.

Over the years there has been one general improvement in the EU, until it reached a minimum rate of 15.3% in 2018 (then increased slightly in 2019). In Italy, on the other hand, there has been a reverse process: a gradual deterioration. In 2019, the overcrowding rate on housing was 28.3%, about 4 percentage points higher than in 2011 and 13 percentage points above the EU average. The distance to Europe has therefore gradually increased.

The housing situation in the Member States

The frequency of housing overcrowding varies considerably from one EU country to another.

Important differences exist, as is conceivable, also at the level of different income groups. But also from this point of view, the situation is heterogeneous: there are countries where overcrowding is very clearly a social problem, and therefore the gap between wealthy citizens and the most disadvantaged is large, and those where the gap is more satisfied.

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Eurostat considers persons earning less than 60% of the average equivalent income to be at risk of poverty.

SOURCE: openpolis deepening of Eurostat data
(last update: Thursday, May 5, 2022)

IN Latvia for example, we find one of the highest housing overcrowding rates, both in the population at risk of poverty and not. Therefore, although the numbers are high, the difference between the two bands is almost non-existent: in both cases the frequency is between 42 and 43%.

Among people at risk of poverty, defined by Eurostat as those receiving an income of less than 60% of the median income, even higher percentages report Romaniawhere over half of the poorest citizens live in overcrowded houses, Slovakia (47.8%), Bulgaria (45.3%) and Greece (43.9%).

54.1% of Romanian citizens at risk of poverty live in overcrowded conditions (2020).

While the lowest rates, always among the poorest sections of the population, are recorded Cyprus (4.3%), Malta (8.5%) and Ireland (9.2%).

In Sweden, Austria and Denmark the largest difference in the housing occupancy rate by income.

The largest difference between the percentage reported by people at risk of poverty and those earning more than 60% of median income is reported by Sweden. Here, about 40% of the poorest citizens live in overcrowded houses, a figure that drops to 11% for the richest. A small but still significant difference is also registered in Austria (34% against 11%) and Denmark (28% and 7%). In addition to the aforementioned Latvia, it is in Cyprus and Croatia that we find the smallest gaps.

Finally, if we analyze the number of available rooms on average for each citizen, this is it Malta to report the highest figure with 2.3 rooms per. per capita in 2020.

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The data relate to all houses, not only those in urban centers but also those located in rural areas.

SOURCE: openpolis deepening of Eurostat data
(last update: Thursday, May 5, 2022)

In this respect, it is followed by Ireland and Belgium with 2.1 rooms per. person. While the lowest figures are recorded by some Eastern European countries and especially Romania (1.1). Our country reports a figure that is only slightly higher, with an average of 1.4 rooms per. person.

But the space available to each member of the household is only one of the dimensions to be considered. The habitability of a house also depends on the condition of the house - for example, whether it has a bathroom or whether it is heated. There energy poverty it is actually a problem in many countries of the EU. We will talk about this in the next survey on the housing issue in the EU, on 1 June.

Photo: Ruben Hanssen - license

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