Top 10 European cities where it is easiest to find good and affordable housing

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According to the United Nations, 15 years ago the world has achieved a significant milestone: for the first time in history, 50% of the human population was living in urban areas. In 2020, 56.2% of the world population was populating urban centres and by 2050, it is estimated that nearly 7 of 10 people in the world will live in urban areas.

In 2017, The European Parliament, the Council and the Commission proclaimed the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR), a set of 20 principles to serve as guidance towards Europe that is inclusive, fair and full of opportunity.

The principle number 19 says that “Access to social housing or housing assistance of good quality shall be provided for those in need”. However, this has nowadays become more difficult than ever.

Since 2011, housing prices have been continuously rising. The European Parliament report on access to decent and affordable housing for all which was released in 2020, showed some really worrying facts: 25.1 % of European tenants are paying the rent price that is over 40% of their income, while 21,7% of the low income population lives in “unlivable” conditions with, for example, leaking roofs, damp walls or rot in window frames or floors. Furthermore, approximately 50 million households in the EU are experiencing energy poverty. These issues are most spread in the CEE region where 15% of low-income households don’t even have basic sanitary facilities.

In the period of 2010 – 2020, homelessness trend has been evidently on the rise in the EU. 24 countries have reported an increase of it in the aforementioned period, while the only country which experienced homelessness decline is Finland.

With the covid-19 pandemic, the situation only got worse. Kim van Sparrentak, a Dutch lawmaker who authored this report, stated at the Europe Housing Forum 2021: “The pandemic put a spotlight on the housing crisis. “More and more people can’t afford a decent home from Warsaw to Athens, Dublin to Lisbon. Throughout Europe, housing prices rose 7% last year. In the Netherlands by 16%”.

The key for the solution to this problem is the commitment by all the national governments to increase their support to supply affordable social and public housing. Housing Europe, the European federation of public, cooperative and social housing which gathers 46 national and regional federations and 43.000 housing providers in 25 countries, proposed a 10-point plan to tackle housing exclusion, high prices and homelessness. They propose, among other things, an EU-level disincentivization of housing financialization through a review of the impact of the EU policy framework, the increase of the funding for housing and facilitation of the access to it.

In 2019, Eurostat conducted a perception survey to explore in which cities it is easy to find good and affordable housing. A total of 103 cities participated in the survey and the Spanish city of Oviedo ranked first (27,40%).

With a little over 220,000 inhabitants, Oviedo is the capital city of the Principality of Asturias. In 2019, the city also ranked first in a study regarding the cleanest cities in Spain, which was conducted by the Organization of Consumers and Users (OCU). Oviedo made a score of 7,9 out of 10.

According to University of Oviedo, the standard price for a room in a shared apartment is 200-250 euro per month, while a two-room furnished flat costs some 600 euro. Although it is difficult to calculate an average minimum rent in the whole Spain since prices in metropolitan areas are much higher than in small towns, InterNations estimates it on approximately 650 euro for a small apartment of 45 m2. Therefore, the prices in Oviedo are below the Spanish standard.

Although the percentage of Spanish homeowners is higher that the OECD country average (75% to 60%), the percentage of households that rent their homes in Spain is on the rise: from 16% in 2013 to nearly 18% in 2018.

The second place where, according to the residents, it is easy to find good and affordable housing is the most populous city in Northern Finland, Oulu (27%). In 2017, the population of Oulu surpassed 200,000. This made it the fourth Finnish locality with over 200,000 inhabitants after Helsinki, Turku and Tampere.

According to the Oulu official website, the city aims to ensure the availability of a versatile selection of affordable housing alternatives for local residents including possibility to upgrade and renovate. There are plenty of different housing types available in Oulu and the city is also dedicated to developing housing for groups with special needs and promoting the possibilities of the elderly to live in their own homes.

The Turkish city of Diyarbakir got placed on the third position of this survey (25,80%). It is the second-largest city in the Southeastern Anatolia Region with the metropolitan province population of 1,791,373 inhabitants (2021). Although the housing can sometimes be a bit challenging, the average costs in Diyarbakir are very low. The standard monthly rent for a one-bedroom flat in the center of the city is some 150 euro, while a three-bedroom apartment cost is approximately 260 euro.

25,60% of people said that it is easy to find a good and affordable housing in the Spanish city of Málaga. This percentage was enough to place this hit tourist destination on the fourth place. However, Málaga is so much more than a tourist spot: it is also one of the best cities in Spain to live in, but it was also proclaimed by InterNations as the second best city for expats in 2021.

There are many reasons why so many people choose Málaga to live in: besides great quality of life, it is also a very safe city. Málaga is also more affordable than other large Spanish cities, and in comparison with London, the average rental prices are almost 195% lower than in the capital of UK. According to Housing Everywhere website, the monthly studio rent is approximately 670 euro, a two-bedroom apartment costs less than 800 euro, while a private room is some 340 euro.

Belfast rounds up the top five list with 24,60%. In 2021, the Government of Ireland presented their plan “Housing for All – a New Housing Plan for Ireland”, which has a goal of improving the country’s housing system and deliver more homes of all types for people with different housing needs. Their official website says their objective is that every citizen in the country should have access to good quality home at an affordable price. Ireland’s vision is “to achieve a steady supply of housing in the right locations with economic, social and environmental sustainability built into the system”.

Belfast, as many other Irish cities, has a lot of housing associations which are continuously addressing the growing need for quality affordable housing in the city. In May 2022, an investment of more than 19 million euro in east Belfast development was announced. This investment will provide 63 units for social housing and 27 units for private rent. These will be largely split between two- and three-bedroom houses, and two-bedroom apartments, states the Inside Housing official website.

From sixth to tenth place are positioned: Aalborg, Denmark (23,30%), Tyneside conurbation, UK (21%). Irakleio, Greece (19,50%), Piatra Neamț, Romania (18,50%) and Athens, Greece (17,40%).

The lack of quality, affordable and energy-efficient housing in Europe impairs the overall quality of life, increases the carbon emissions because of long commutes, but also causes social divide and poor public safety. Although cities play the crucial part in housing policy, the national government must define them and increase their support to supply social and public housing which is affordable and suited for everyone. (photo credit: pch vector/Freepik)