Written by: Pola Zabuska
Edited by: Alessia Calarese


As the housing crisis affects more and more citizens, the topic is gaining in importance around Europe. Nevertheless, the solutions proposed by governments and the EU have not been effective so far. In this context, this paper examines the housing crisis from the perspective of the human rights framework and argues that applying this approach is the right answer to fulfilling social needs. Moreover, it analyses the commodification of accommodation, and its impact on certain groups, while proposing measures that aim at long-term solutions to the problem and ensure the right to adequate housing for all Europeans.


The right to housing is one of the most basic human rights that almost everyone in Europe enjoys without thinking about it. Nevertheless, with the recent housing crisis spreading across Europe, and many people across the societal spectrum struggling to pay their rent, the topic is increasingly more relevant in public debate (Lima, 2021; Potts, 2021; Schmid, 2022). While housing is nowadays being treated as a commodity, it is important to highlight that the right to adequate housing is part of international human rights obligations. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that everyone has the right to a standard of living that ensures individuals’ physical and mental well-being, specifying housing as a key component of it (United Nations, 1948, Art. 25). The same is reaffirmed in the International Covenant for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), with an additional point highlighting state responsibility in providing this standard and advising international cooperation on the matter (United Nations, 1966, Art.11(1)). Consequently, one can see that the housing crisis can not only refer to the physical shortage of apartments but also needs to include affordability, safety standards and comfort.

This article will analyse the current situation regarding the housing crisis in Europe through the Human Rights framework. Accordingly, it aims to highlight the commodification of the housing process, which leads to violations of basic rights and puts certain groups of people in disadvantaged positions. The main argument of the paper emphasises the need for governments to reframe their approach towards housing, to make it more focused on social needs, thus adhering to the human rights framework.  The essay will be divided into three sections. Firstly, it will analyse the roots of the housing crisis considering the rise of neoliberalism. Secondly, it will examine the current state of affairs. Finally, it will argue for the implementation of a human rights approach as a possible solution to the issue.

The Roots of the Housing Crisis

While the intersection between neoliberalism and human rights is still a matter of discussion in academia, many scholars highlight how the two are intertwined, with neoliberal policies exploiting human rights as a tool to achieve socio-economic and political goals such as economic growth (O’Connell, 2007; Ozsu, 2018). Thus, it is no surprise that many scholars find neoliberal ideology one of the major causes of the housing crisis in Europe (Fishman, 2018; Morris, 2021; Rolnik, 2013). After World War II, policymakers across the European continent recognised the role of accommodation as a shelter, which is safe and accessible to everyone (Hearne, 2020,). At that time, access to housing was treated as a social right, following what was prescribed in UDHR (Hearne, 2020). Consequently, the key principles of the UDHR, namely safety, affordability and comfort constitute the human rights framework for housing policy. This policy approach was abandoned during the 1970s neoliberal turn in most of the Western European countries, especially the UK. This was when houses became commodified and private companies overtook the state’s role as the main supplier, leading to increasing prices and insecurity, and in the longer term feeding into the financial crisis of 2007 (Hearne, 2020; Kemeny, 1981). In this period, governments started to adopt the neoliberal theory of supply and demand, believing these forces would ensure an equilibrium in the market and affordable housing would be available to everyone (Hearne, 2020). As neoliberalism puts the individual at the centre, fostering the value of working hard and buying your own house with no help from the government, this turn to commodification and privatisation has its justification (Hearne, 2020). Nevertheless, with a lack of government oversight, after the 1970s the private sector in the majority of European countries steered away from affordable, safe, and comfortable housing, prioritising financial gains from the investments. Therefore, considering the impacts of the neoliberal ideology, one can clearly see how it steers away from the framework of human rights and from treating housing as a right. As states gave away their responsibilities affirmed in ICESCR, the private sector was free to exploit the situation, with no respect for human needs.

Current State of Affairs

As per Eurostat data (2024), from 2014 to 2022 the housing cost overburden rate has been ranging from 11,5% to 8,7% in the European Union (EU) member states,  with a slight increase visible in the period after the start of the COVID pandemic. With the turn to commodification of houses, one can also see that the effect on the people who earn 60% below the median equivalised income, is disproportionately higher than on wealthy people. In 2022 the number for the latter was 33,1% and 3,9% for the former in regards to housing cost overburden rates (Eurostat, 2024). Individually, the countries running the highest numbers over the years are Greece, Bulgaria and Denmark (Eurostat, 2024). Furthermore, both prices of houses and rent have significantly increased in the period between 2010 and 2022, with a rise of 47% and 18% (Eurostat, 2023). Homeowners are also not protected from this raise, as the mortgage payments have grown by even 100% in the majority of Europe as well (Valderrama et. al., 2023). Unfortunately, the increase in prices does not go in hand with raising standards of living, as in 2020 17,4% of the EU population was residing in overcrowded spaces, while 14,8% was struggling with faults such as leaking roofs or damp walls (Eurostat, 2022). Analysing the data, it is clear that the current situation in Europe regarding housing is far from adhering to international human rights standards. Therefore, accommodation is unaffordable, resulting in price insecurity affecting people’s mental health. In addition to that, the safety standards are also poor, having a possible impact on physical health.

Regarding what was touched upon earlier, this situation has major implications for people from disadvantaged backgrounds and minorities, as their right to adequate housing is not upheld and at most risk. For low-income people, the COVID pandemic and the War on Ukraine meant that their basic expenses rose, while their salaries stayed the same, with negative repercussions on the income-spending ratio (Valderrama et. al., 2023). Therefore, their ability to pay their rent or debt may be decreasing, putting them at a very high risk of being evicted (Housing Europe, 2023; Valderrama et. al., 2023). Additionally, the intersection of class with race and ethnicity also comes into play, as minorities, and especially migrants who are in many cases already marginalised, may be facing even more difficulties in finding affordable housing (Harrison et.al., 2005). This is not only challenging for refugees or economic migrants but also increasingly for incoming international students. The Netherlands, which is known to be one of the best European countries when it comes to affordability and quality of higher education, is currently reviewing the possibility of introducing quotas for international students (The Economic Times, 2024). One of the quoted reasons is the competition between Dutch and international students for accommodation in the overpopulated student cities and the unwillingness of migrants to assimilate into the Dutch culture. Consequently, the housing crisis has a significant impact on increasing socio-economic inequalities, as well as, underlying patterns of poverty and discriminatory behaviour. Thus, these factors underline the significance of analysing this issue from a human rights perspective.

Solutions and Future Developments

Although many European countries and institutions, especially after the outbreak of the War in Ukraine, have attempted to put in place measures to ensure the availability of affordable housing, their effectiveness can be questioned as the housing crisis persists. For example, Poland has opted for providing a 2% mortgage programme, which aims to allow purchasing homes for first-time buyers (Ptak, 2023). Nevertheless, this solution does not target the main issue causing the crisis, as it does not increase the supply of available affordable housing. Quite contrarily, the private investors took this opportunity to drive the prices up. Similarly, Hungary, Romania, Spain and Portugal introduced measures such as limits on interest rates, restructuring or temporarily postponing mortgage payments (Valderrama et. al., 2023). While these policies certainly put some homeowners at ease, they do not address the issue of people who cannot afford to buy a house and struggle with renting prices. Moreover, as in the case of Poland, these measures do not solve the situation in the long term, as more houses are not being constructed. Therefore, as the population size increases, more people will face a lack of available appropriate accommodation and houses will be even more overcrowded.

At the EU level, the issue has been acknowledged by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) which in 2020 expressed the need for “Universal access to housing that is decent, sustainable and affordable over the long term” (EESC, 2020). However, it was not until the crisis deepened in February 2024 that the EESC organised a conference where the need for concrete EU legislation aiming to ensure a universal right to housing was upheld (EESC, 2024). Furthermore, many cities have urged the EU to act upon the short-term rental market destabilising the prices and limiting the supply of houses available for long-term periods, thus negatively affecting the residents (Bei and Celata, 2023). In response, in early 2024 the European Parliament adopted regulation about collection and data sharing by short-term rental corporations such as Airbnb. Although it is not a complete ban, it constitutes a hopeful step for the future, as it gives city authorities more insight into the work of these companies (Halsema, 2024). On the one hand, it may negatively impact tourism, as these types of short-term rentals are often occupied by foreign visitors. On the other hand, it prioritises the well-being of residents, whose lives are affected by noises and damage created by tourists, as well as, the increasing rents forcing them to move away from their communities. Therefore, one can see that at the EU level, the matter of the housing crisis is moving very slowly and there is a lack of direct solutions that would ensure the right to adequate housing is protected in each member-state.

What needs to be implemented are solutions that aim to, at least, a partial decommodification of the housing market, and an increase in social housing funded by the government, which would be an important step in upkeeping the human rights frameworks. Indeed, while the private sector is concerned with short-term monetary gains, public policy should aim to provide long-term solutions, thus fostering housing security (Bowie, 2017). To do so, the main goals in the fight against the housing crisis should be focusing on affordability, availability and sustainability of accommodation, as it would guarantee its long-term reliability (Housing Europe, 2023,).


To conclude, it will not be easy to solve the housing crisis in Europe and the attitudes of the European policymakers need to significantly change. This article touched upon the neoliberal roots of the crisis and presented statistical data concerning the current state of affairs. The analysis of the data helped identify the most vulnerable groups in the situation. Finally, the paper examined current housing policies and proposed new solutions in accordance with the human rights framework.

Most importantly, reframing the right to housing within the human rights framework allows us to put human needs at the heart of the analysis. Therefore, this approach should guide policy-makers to make long-term solutions to tackle the problem and not focus on short-term measures, as the housing crisis is not a temporary issue. As the young generation currently struggles with high rental prices, their increasingly lower savings will not allow them to have a stable housing situation, impacting their mental health and safety. Therefore, unless the European governments and EU take the situation seriously, the rising prices and increasing demand for housing stemming from future challenges of population growth will only exacerbate the crisis.


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