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Migrants’ access to medium- and long-term housing in the EU: barriers, governance and good practices

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Introduction

Access to adequate and affordable housing for migrants is one of the priorities of the European Commission (EC)’s 2021-2027 actional plan on integration and inclusion. At the same time, securing adequate housing increasingly presents a challenge for local residents across the EU, too. In addition, housing policies often do not fall within the competence of a single ministry or agency but require cross-institutional cooperation. Data on housing and, in particular, on the housing situation of different migrants, is therefore harder to collect and process.

This European Website on Integration (EWSI) analysis looks at some of the challenges and good practices for migrant integration in terms of housing and accommodation.

The analysis explores the main issues third-country nationals (TCNs), including beneficiaries of international protection (BIPs) and beneficiaries of temporary protection (BTPs), face in terms of securing suitable and safe accommodation. It also spotlights good practices in assisting migrants to find such accommodation. The analysis pays attention to mid- and long-term housing solutions, as well as to the work done on the local level, including in rural settings, where possible.

Data for the analysis was gathered through a questionnaire completed by the EWSI Country Coordinators – integration experts from the 27 EU Member States (EU27). The questionnaire included 15 questions; 13 were closed- and two were open-ended, but all necessitated additional comments, sources and elaborations as the subject matter requires a predominantly qualitative approach. Each question examined the situation of three specific groups of migrants:

  • TCNs with short-term residence. Here ‘short-term’ signifies temporary residence issued, for example, based on visas granted for the purpose of studying and seasonal work. Short-term residence is therefore contingent on fulfilling certain criteria such as being enrolled in a study programme or having a temporary work contract. In the context of available social services, including housing, holders of short-term residence tend to have limited access.
  • TCNs with long-term residence. Here ‘long-term’ corresponds to the status under Council Directive 2003/109/EC of 25 November 2003 concerning the status of third-country nationals who are long-term residents, but may also include permanent and other forms of extended residence granted in the EU27. The category signifies a secure form of residence which is not dependent on specific reasons for being in the country (such as an employment contract, enrolment in a study programme or being the family member of a resident, for example). People with long-term residence tend to enjoy access to more social services than those with short-term residence.
  • Beneficiaries of international protection (BIPs). Included as a subgroup here are also the beneficiaries of temporary protection (BTPs) – those displaced by the Russian war against Ukraine. The analysis however does not explicitly focus on them given other studies on housing for BTPs including by the European Migration Network (EMN) and instead provides examples only when specifically relevant to a certain point. Similarly, in some cases, asylum seekers may be grouped with BIPs vis-à-vis initiatives for housing which include them together with recognised beneficiaries of protection.

Context

According to the OECD/EC Indicators of Immigrant Integration 2023: Settling In, in the EU, around one in five migrants spends over 40% of their disposable income on rent, compared to roughly one in eight among the native-born. This EWSI analysis further finds that the lack of affordable accommodation is the most often-quoted hindrance to accessing housing. In addition, according to the Settling In indicators, 26% of immigrants live in substandard housing, compared to 20% of the native-born population.

Migrants are also more likely to live in cities, according to the Settling In report again. While the idea of integrating in rural areas is a promising solution to address overcrowding or lack of housing in bigger municipalities, initiatives in this regard are still not sufficiently large in scope or in numbers to confirm this, as the current analysis later suggests.

The 2018 edition of the Settling In report, in addition, noted that housing is a key factor for well-being. Yet, the unfavourable economic situation of some migrants and their poor knowledge of the rental market may restrict their choice of accommodation. They may also experience discrimination from property owners, the publication reads. This EWSI analysis confirms that perceived discrimination is a major concern across the EU countries, and that limited information on how to benefit from housing support hinders access.

Finally, Eurostat statistics reveal that in 2022, only 23.3% of TCNs across the EU owned a home, compared to 73.7% of EU nationals. For the same period, housing cost overburden was reality for 21.9% of TCNs compared to 8.1% of EU nationals, and 32.9% of TCNs lived in conditions of overcrowding compared to 13.9% of nationals.

Key points

This EWSI analysis finds that:

  • Migrants of all three groups – TCNs with short-, TCNs with long-term residence, and BIPs/BTPs – face various barriers to accessing mainstream housing. Targeted measures, where available, do not seem to be consistent or wide enough in scope to offset these barriers.
  • The top three challenges BIPs in particular face include perceived discrimination, lack of affordable housing, as well as lack of sufficient public housing stock (whether available through mainstream or targeted measures).
  • Migrants appear to be at an increased risk of becoming homeless compared to local and EU citizens in at least half of the EU countries, based on statistics where available, as well as on ad-hoc studies on the ground. A few good practices stand out – see below.  
  • Various issues prevent migrants from taking advantage of mainstream in-cash and in-kind support for housing (‘in-kind’ is understood as non-cash contributions of goods or services, such as the temporary provision of apartments for free or at preferential conditions). The barriers include:
    • several years of residence as a prerequisite for benefitting from such support;
    • long waiting lists;
    • limited availability;
    • complicated bureaucratic practices;
    • lack of information.
  • The provision of specific housing services and advice may be made available through integration centres, usually in countries with a longer history of immigration. Elsewhere, these are often carried out by civil society organisations, which are either mandated to do so by the government or fill in the gaps on their own initiatives, including through EU-funded projects.
  • Measures supporting medium- and long-term solutions for housing specifically targeting migrants are mostly available to BIPs and BPTs. Other TCNs, especially those with short-term residence, rarely qualify for targeted measures. Instead, TCNs are more likely to be eligible for mainstream measures, which are open to people with legal residency regardless of citizenship.
  • Targeted measures for vulnerable groups appear to be rather patchy across the EU, with few groups included in housing provisions among BIPs, and even fewer in the case of other TCNs. Unaccompanied minors and victims of trafficking appear to be the most common beneficiaries of such measures, with services again sometimes provided by non-governmental actors specialising in working with specific target groups such as LGBTIQ+ people.
  • The local level emerges as the most common competent authority for giving access to housing, often in conjunction with authorities at other levels of governance.
  • Where local and regional authorities have the mandate over housing issues, support from the central government tends to be limited in scope. It usually comes in the form of funding schemes which are rarely long-term. For example, in cases of specific emergencies – such as the arrival of large numbers of people displaced by the war against Ukraine – central governments have additionally stepped up, in line with the specific needs of the target beneficiaries.
  • In most countries, local authorities take the initiative to organise their own housing solutions for BIPs, as the latter fall within their competence. There are fewer specific housing policies or measures aimed at supporting TCNs, whether at national or local levels. This is especially true for countries which historically have not seen large numbers of immigrants, such as the Central and Eastern European, and Baltic states.
  • A main cluster of good practices dedicated to medium- and long-term housing solutions focuses on the direct provision of accommodation. These projects are often run by civil society in cooperation with other stakeholders such as local authorities and private actors.
  • Another notable portion of successful practices in housing focuses on providing mediation between migrants and private owners. These practices look to build trust between the two sides, and often create incentives for homeowners to rent to TCNs and BIPs/BTPs.
  • Good practices also tend to fill in various gaps, including in the provision of ‘transitional’ accommodation options, especially for BIPs/BTPs. Thus, often, housing solutions may not neatly fit into the ‘initial’ or ‘long-term’ category, since services try to address various needs on the ground.
  • Crucially, good practices also tend to look beyond fulfilling the basic housing needs of beneficiaries. Most housing schemes mentioned above require migrants to engage in other integration activities such as language and orientation courses, with the goal to become self-reliant and able to move on to private, long-term housing afterwards.
  • While good practices are by nature predominantly local, it is more difficult to identify good practices in housing in rural areas, as migrants still tend to most often reside in urban centres. There are some good examples of housing solutions in places where the need for TCN seasonal workers has been long established. Outside of that context, however, there are few examples of initiatives in rural areas. It appears that unless there is a specific work opportunity for the migrants, such as in agriculture, their employment options are limited, and local authorities and communities lack the incentive to attract newcomers.

Download the full analysis

To read the full analysis, including mentions of over 40 good practices in housing, download the pdf document below.

EWSI analysis - Migrants’ access to medium- and long-term housing in the EU - barriers, governance and good practices
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