ERA Architects

Learning from Europe

Over the past several years, the Tower Renewal team at ERA and CUG+R have conducted a series of study tours throughout the European Union, visiting numerous cities and neighbourhoods, and meeting with local experts to learn about best practices in tower refurbishment and neighbourhood revitalization. Many of these findings have been compiled in the report Tower Neighbourhood Renewal in the Greater Golden Horseshoe, and its accompanying International Best Practice Research Highlight.

This past weekend, The Toronto Star featured highlights of this research as part of an ongoing series looking into the future opportunities of Toronto Community Housing. Featured in the article are selected best practices found throughout the EU related to social housing. These include:

Foster a learning environment by promoting local entrepreneurs, social enterprise, local service delivery and general economic development. A noteworthy example is the UK’s Idea Stores in East London, which are integrated into council housing estates and provide services to the ethnically diverse residents. The Idea Store includes a library, meeting rooms, adult education classes, career support, training, community meeting areas, cafes and facilities for arts and leisure pursuits.

Diversify neighbourhoods through a range of housing types and tenures. In many European countries, public housing companies produce co-ops, rent-to-own models and market housing. The development of market housing creates a revenue surplus that is reinvested in the existing housing stock and used to build new supported housing.

Don’t single out the poor: In Scandinavia, public housing companies exclusively produce market housing and operate at a profit. Those in need of housing support are provided with a rent supplement and able to stay in their current housing or offered units in market rent buildings owned by public housing companies. Building managers aren’t made aware of which residents receive the subsidy. As a result, there aren’t acute concentrations of poverty. It’s also said to improve upward mobility.

Let communities take the lead: In the UK, local Housing Associations develop new housing, raise financing, and push for land use and zoning changes with the City. Proposed neighbourhood changes are done under the guidance of active tenant associations, to help them steer the development of their own communities.

Green up existing buildings: Many European housing districts are doing eco-friendly renovations and encouraging tenants to keep track of their energy use by providing them with information and tools, such as energy metres in their units.

The full text of the article can be found here.