We run housing policy for three European cities. Here's what governments must do next

(Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Alongside cities across the world, Barcelona, London and Paris are dealing with a devastating health crisis, affecting every aspect of our economy and society. The impact of Covid-19 is made all the more dangerous as it magnifies the pre-existing housing crisis.

In 2018 our cities rallied together at the United Nations to denounce the housing crisis affecting cities across the world. The Cities for Adequate Housing Declaration we all signed listed numerous factors that were putting at risk our goal of ensuring ‘equitable, inclusive, and just’ cities. These included a lack of national and state funding, market deregulation, the growing power of global corporations and increasing competition for scarce real estate. All these issues have been made worse by the coronavirus pandemic.

Some work has been done to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on our cities’ housing sectors. In France, Spain and the UK, national governments have banned evictions during the pandemic, and we have all made enormous efforts to provide temporary accommodations for the homeless, with more than 700 accommodated in Barcelona, 1500 in Paris, and 1400 in London. A variety of subsidy schemes are being set up to help households endure the first economic effects of the crisis. However, even if these measures have helped in the short term, much more needs to be done to protect households from the long-term impacts.

Tenant protection and financial support measures need to be strengthened to prevent displacement. The current crisis should not be a pretext to tip the scales in favor of speculative investment but an opportunity to construct a stronger safety net for tenants. We demand more legal powers to regulate the real estate market and increased welfare support in order to fight speculation and provide greater security of tenure for tenants.

The current halt on evictions has demonstrated what governments can do when they put people’s lives first. We ask all levels of government to work together on a plan to avoid a massive wave of evictions after the moratoriums come to an end. It is urgent that we find fair solutions for tenants and homeowners who have accrued rent and mortgage payment arrears as a direct result of the Covid-19 outbreak.

We also demand national governments provide more resources to strengthen the public and non-profit housing stock to ensure our economic recovery. Cities need to play an important role in the stable provision of affordable housing, both through new construction and the preservation and upgrading of the existing stock, as well as in the promotion of local economic development.

Emergency measures such as the temporary mobilisation of hotel rooms and housing for the homeless have shown that ending homelessnesss in our cities is possible. To make this change permanent we need properly funded public services and welfare systems that prevent homelessness and ensure nobody needs to sleep rough.

There is also an opportunity in the conversion of underutilised tourist accommodation into long-term affordable housing for our residents. We ask that the appropriate regulations and funding are put in place to make this happen.

Cities across the world are working together to share knowledge and find solutions to the housing emergency we all face. These issues were discussed at an online seminar on 22 May organised by the UCLG network of local governments. It’s clear that we need the involvement of all levels of government, from the European Union to our nation states, to address the specific needs and challenges we face. The current crisis is both an enormous challenge as well as an opportunity to work across the political spectrum, in partnership with civil society and the private sector, to guarantee the right to adequate housing for all. Local governments from around the world will continue to do everything they can to achieve it.

Ian Brossat is the Deputy Mayor for Housing at the Paris City Council in France. Lucía Martín is Housing Councilor at the Barcelona City Council in Spain. Tom Copley is the Deputy Mayor for Housing and Residential Development at the Greater London Authority in the UK.


Meet Abu Dhabi’s blockchain and decentralisation wunderkind

“All industries are the same – you have to stay away from the people who have a propensity toward jargon and toward trying to create their little islands of expertise. Instead, just think about what a company actually does – there’s no need to complicate it.”

If ever a quote summed up 2020 and the world’s hyper-fast transformation into a more practical approach to employees working from home and the realisation that the building blocks of technology are now the building blocks of society, it’s this wisdom from Derick Smith, founder and CEO of AmmbrTech Limited.

The company, founded in Luxembourg in 2016, has now moved its headquarters to Abu Dhabi, which has been in the news a lot lately for attracting globally enduring technology companies many of which have been snapped up by the likes of Uber and Amazon.

Smith, who opened his first company at the age of 19, says one of the reasons for the move was the UAE’s forward thinking: “I was monitoring the evolution of crypto and blockchain for some years, and as things started to evolve, Abu Dhabi Global Market caught my eye. They have some really elegant, well-thought-out crypto regulations being developed in their jurisdiction,” he explains.

Blockchain in Abu Dhabi

The UAE is the seventh country that Smith, originally from South Africa, has opened up a company in and he says it’s been the best in terms of both infrastructure and regulations.

The UAE has been by far the easiest to do business in so many ways,” says Smith. “Working with Hub71 was absolutely sterling – the support, the speed at which things happen. It was so smooth. The visas, the willingness of people to talk to you, have meetings, assist you – all of that was brilliant.

“The office was ready the day we landed. And to be honest, they’re getting better all the time so someone joining Abu Dhabi’s tech or AI and blockchain scene now would find it even easier.”

AmmbrTech’s offering was intriguing pre-Covid-19, but now with digital transformation and decentralisation at the forefront of most companies’ minds, the move to a country that has a push to create new technology as part of its government’s goals from now until 2030 seems a smart one.

The company’s remit is twofold: firstly, to provide broadband to underserved countries and secondly, developing an edge-cloud infrastructure that’s highly inclusive of local communities and businesses. And it deploys a raft of leading technology, including AI and blockchain to do it.

Smith explains: “We want to get broadband in the hands of people who are underserved today – which is pretty much half the planet – as we enter new markets, if we come across customers or areas where there’s no broadband, we can quickly scale it out.

Edge-cloud solutions

“Regarding the edge-cloud, it’s very much built around the principle of self-sovereign digital identity. Where your identity – the private key that manages your credentials rests with you – our entire organisation is built around those principles and operates on them. We’re able to build hyper-local markets and shorter supply chains. And that’s the big lesson from Covid – you’ve got to shorten the supply chain and become more self-sufficient. The edge-cloud infrastructure and decentralised marketplace allows us to achieve greater diversity of marketplaces, cultures and localities,” says Smith.

And that commitment to diversity is something that both the Abu Dhabi government and AmmbrTech share, he summarises: “Abu Dhabi is doing an exceptionally good job attracting talented people to come here and make sure a lot is happening in the tech scene. The team at Hub71 went above and beyond to introduce us to corporates and decision-makers and to the help us network. The dialogue is there if you want to pick it up, it’s up to you.”