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Mould, fires: Substandard housing threatens health of Europeans

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A report published by the Fondation Abb? Pierre and the European federation working with the homeless highlights poor housing conditions in Europe and the threat they pose to the health and safety of those affected, including certain cancers.

Read the original French article here.

Overcrowded spaces, mould, poor thermal insulation, non-compliance with safety standards, water seepage, dampness… These are just some of the conditions that lead to housing being classified as unfit for habitation.

Despite this classification in Europe alone over 19 million people live in this type of dwelling, according to Eurostat figures.

“Although the average quality of housing has improved steadily overall over the last twenty years, living in substandard, poorly insulated, non-functional or overcrowded accommodation remains a reality for a significant proportion of the European population”, the Abb? Pierre Foundation and the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless (FEANTSA) point out in the report.

The report, which deals with inadequate housing and homelessness, was published on Tuesday (5 September).

Living in these severely dilapidated homes comes with consequences for the health.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, and particularly during lockdown periods, studies showed that people living in overcrowded conditions were more likely to contract and transmit the disease.

“Overcrowding causes viruses to spread more easily,” Sarah Coupechoux of the Fondation Abb? Pierre told EURACTIV.

Other examples include mould on walls, which can lead to asthma and respiratory problems, while lead and asbestos are responsible for certain cancers and neurological disorders.

In addition to the spread of viruses, dilapidated houses have safety deficiencies that can lead to tragic situations.

For example, eight people died after three buildings collapsed in Marseille in November 2018. Experts appointed by the courts unanimously agreed that the buildings were dilapidated and posed a safety risk to their occupants.

Also problematic and a fire risk in substandard housing are poor heating systems.

According to World Health Organisation Europe, 100,000 deaths a year can be attributed to unhealthy housing.

Social exclusion

Less visible, but just as serious, is the mental health of the poorly housed.

“Poorly ventilated, poorly lit homes with black walls are all factors that contribute to an individual’s social exclusion,” explained Coupechoux.

Conversely, when people are rehoused in decent accommodation and feel better about their environment, the report shows a reduction in episodes of depression.

The results are similar for children, who are even more vulnerable when they are victims of poor housing or homelessness.

“They do better in school when they live in decent accommodation,” said Coupechoux, pointing out that 2,000 children sleep rough in France.

In a report on homeless children published in October 2022, UNICEF France warned that “lack of housing can affect children’s development in the different environments in which they live (family, school, friends), leading to a state of malaise and even the development of mental health problems”.

Europe’s “worrying” homelessness situation

The report also points out that 895,000 people will be homeless in Europe by 2023, with numbers set to rise in many countries, according to the Abb? Pierre Foundation, which describes the situation as “worrying”.

In Germany, 84,500 people are living rough or in a situation of hidden homelessness. In Spain, 28,552 people are homeless, 24% more than in 2012.

Although housing is not an EU competence, Brussels took up the issue in 2021 with the launch of the European Platform against Homelessness, the main aim of which is to put an end to this scourge by 2030.

“This platform will enable us to share best practices and find concrete solutions that can be adapted to each territory,” EU Employment and Social Rights Commissioner Nicolas Schmit said on the sidelines of a meeting on homelessness organised by the French EU Council Presidency in the first half of last year.

“Fighting this phenomenon requires a multidimensional approach, not only in terms of housing but also social services, psychological support and training,” he added.

On the eve of the European elections in 2024, the future European Commission will have to continue the work it has already started, insists Coupechoux, adding that “the crux of the matter is funding”.

Against this backdrop, the Abb? Pierre Foundation and FEANTSA are calling on EU governments and institutions to recognise substandard housing as a public health issue.

In particular, the Commission’s announcement of a wave of housing renovations to improve the energy performance of buildings by 2030 is seen by the report’s experts as an opportunity to eradicate homelessness.

On one condition, however: “To provide sufficient support and financial assistance to the most vulnerable households”.

[Edited by Giedr? Peseckyt?/Zoran Radosavljevic]

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