Europe May Have Hit on the Boldest Solution to Homelessness Yet

Europe May Have Hit on the Boldest Solution to Homelessness Yet
Source: AP
Source: AP

With a homeless population exceeding the number of all people living in Los Angeles, Europe is struggling with one of the worst outcomes of the 2007/2008 global recession.

Desperate to get the 4.1 million homeless people off the streets, European leaders just might have a solution right in front of them.

Data compiled by the Guardian reveals that there are enough empty houses in Europe to house all of the homeless on the continent — twice. In other words, there are twice as many spaces available as there are people who need housing. The revelation comes as the EU urges leaders to come up with a solution. 


Image Credit: the Guardian.

Just last month, the European Parliament's Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee overwhelmingly passed a resolution demanding that the EU develop a "homelessness strategy without any further delay." Housing advocates argue that the 11 million empty houses in Europe offer the obvious solution to the continent's homelessness problem.

A consequence of inflation, unemployment and most importantly the relentless subprime mortgage crisis of 2007/2008, millions of houses are empty as they were foreclosed, loans on them were defaulted and their residents were evicted. As a result, the size of the homeless population drastically increased.

The committee continues to emphasize that homelessness is neither a crime nor a lifestyle choice.


Image Credit: Empty Homes.

In today's post-recession market, empty homes are being bulldozed to drive up property values, or are being bought by banks who turn a profit on reselling them. While capitalizing on these homes may drive up local economies (specifically realtor economies), is the cost of not housing the homeless a greater incentive for governments? The European Federation of National Organisations working with Homeless (FEANTSA) argues it is. They assert that the costs of preventing homelessness outweigh the costs of merely addressing its aftermath. 

"Homes are built for people to live in, if they're not being lived in then something has gone seriously wrong with the housing market," said David Ireland, chief executive of the Empty Homes nonprofit.


Image Credit: Flickr/Yndra

According to the MEPs, while most of the burden lies on individual countries, the EU must play a complementary role.

If EU policymakers have the guts to make such a move, hopefully it will mean that major U.S. cities facing similar problems could follow suit.

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Marguerite Ward

Marguerite Ward is a journalist and editor based in New York. Connect with her @forwardist.

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