Targeting energy efficiency renovation to improve housing conditions of the most vulnerable

Avoiding social risks and ensuring the benefits

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Evidence points out that most vulnerable households face major challenges in the renovation of their homes. Lowest-income families live in most energy-inefficient homes, according to research by the Vlaams Steunpunt Wonen. This means that the cost of reaching renovation energy efficiency standards ends to be highest for those with the least. The Social-Economic Council of Flanders concludes in its report on Flemish climate policy that lowest-income groups therefore ‘deserve priority’ targeting in renovation, because of this strong link between the socio-economic profile of residents and the quality of the houses and apartmentsin which they live in.

Low-interest rate loans, one stop shops, specific renovation schemes, are some of the common programs targeted towards most vulnerable groups such as low-income households, to support them in the energy transition. But the reality is that energy poverty still affects about 50 million households in the EU, some of them living in completely inadequate housing conditions, with 4.3 % of the EU-27 population experiencing severe housing deprivation in 2018.2 Existing mechanisms often fail to reach those most in needs. These policies are often inadequate due to lack of ambition and lack of resources allocated. These instruments are particularly ineffective at targeting and impacting poorest households.

While buildings account for 36% of the energy-related GHG emissions in the EU, the energy transition the European Union has committed to is both a challenge and an opportunity to address inadequate housing. The European Commission seems to have grasped the essential role of housing for living up to its Green ambitons but has so far missed out on delivering the decisive instruments to support lowest-income groups.

While many (NGOs, trade unions, academics) have expressed strong concerns about the social costs of the energy transition, Frans Timmermans, the European Commission’s executive vice-president for the European Green Deal, insists that the EU’s “commitment is that no-one will be left behind.”

This report aims to highlight examples of successful targeted energy efficiency renovation towards vulnerable and lowest income groups. Its objective is to demonstrate how the Just Transition Mechanism and Renovation Wave should be targeted to become decisive instruments of the energy transition, ensuring the transition towards a climate-neutral economy will be a fair one. To do so, the Just Transition Fund should have been clearly targeted, not exclusively towards training and employment opportunities but also towards the eradication of extreme forms of poverty through investment in adequate housing for low-income and vulnerable groups.

Most projects highlighted in this report can appear to be small scale compared to the extend of the challenge. The idea for FEANTSA is to highlight the importance of small, tailor made, grass roots projects that are often the most adapted to reach out to energy poor. If policies and funding are to reach out to the most vulnerable, it will require direct funding and support deliberately targeting them, empowering actors at local level.