What housing rights & responsibilities will improve integration?

Written by Thomas Huddleston, MIPEX Research Coordinator, Co-author and Policy Analyst, Migration Policy Group

Non-EU nationals more often live in insecure and overcrowded housing, face greater housing costs, and receive fewer benefits. Often they do not have the same rights as nationals. They may be exposed to discrimination based on their nationality or religion. Often only non-EU long-term residents and families can obtain equal housing rights. Access to these statuses are increasingly restricted in Northwest Europe for migrants who use their right to welfare. Family reunion is limited to those who can meet vague or demanding housing requirements.

Existing in Limbo
Last month, I contributed to the annual conference of FEANTSA, European Federation of National Organisations working with Homeless People. The majority of homeless people are foreigners in several Western European cities, according to estimates collected by FEANTSA’s migration working group.

Surveyed integration stakeholders across Europe
 think that housing and housing services are some of the most difficult services to access for immigrants, particularly for irregular migrants but also for non-EU citizens and to some extent free-moving EU citizens. Most FEANTSA participants were interested in the workshops on the most vulnerable groups who fall between the cracks of EU law–irregular migrants, asylum seekers, the Roma, and free-moving EU citizens.


My workshop summarised immigrants’ legal rights and situation on the housing market. I used MIPEX indicators of housing rights and discrimination law and then suggested relevant indicators for housing outcomes based on EU and OECD reports. You can download my powerpoint here.


Greater housing challenges for non-EU immigrants
Foreigners and foreign-born people, particularly non-EU nationals and newcomers, often live in insecure and overcrowded housing, face greater housing costs, and receive fewer benefits. Since foreign-born people in the EU are three times less likely to own their own home, foreign-born people are more exposed to housing market. Newcomers and non-EU temporary migrants are also often excluded from the social housing market. It is not surprising that first-generation immigrants are generally less likely to benefit from housing benefits; they are more likely to face a housing cost overburden (40%+ of their disposable income spent on housing).


Across the OECD, nearly 1 in 4 people in deprived or overcrowded housing live in an immigrant household. The chart below shows the gap in overcrowding rates between foreign-born and native-born people.


Across these indicators, some of the greatest differences in the housing situation emerge between native- and foreign-born people in the Western Mediterranean, Nordics, Austria, and the United Kingdom.

While immigrants’ housing situation improves over their lifetime and their time in the country, another major factor is their greater exposure to poverty. Across the EU and OECD, foreigners and foreign-born people suffer from higher absolute and relative income inequality and risk-of-poverty. Income and housing benefits often reduce–but do not eliminate–immigrants’ risk-of-poverty and housing costs.

The most housing discrimination is perceived by migrants and minorities in Central Europe and Southern Europe, especially Italy. These results emerge from the groundbreaking EU-MIDIS survey by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency. Although migrants perceived the ‘least’ discrimination in housing compared to other areas of social life, North Africans and Roma people reported the highest levels (around 11%). Moreover, only 31% of all surveyed migrants and minorities knew that racial discrimination is illegal in the area of housing.


Equal housing rights…for those who can apply

Equal access to housing is increasingly required for various categories of legal migrants, according to EU law.

Directive 2003/109/EC secured equal housing rights for long-term residents and opened the social housing market to non-EU citizens in several countries such as Austria. Equal social rights are thus guaranteed for long-term residents in most countries, except for Cyprus due to impromper transposition, Australia due to the 2-year exclusion for most benefits, and the USA due to the 5-year-exclusion.

Non-EU reuniting families have the same housing rights as their non-EU sponsor based on Directive 2003/86/EC. MIPEX also points to equal housing rights for most countries where the Directive applies, except Cyprus, Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia due to restrictions allowed in the Directive. Where the Directive does not apply, Denmark and the United Kingdom restrict access to welfare for temporary migrants, while Ireland has no specific status for reuniting families.

The housing situation of temporary migrant workers, one of the major remaining gaps, will improve over the next few years due to transposition of the EU Single Residence and Work Permit, as my MIPEX blog shows. Member States still need to agree on common standards for seasonal workers, including housing rights and obligations.

Anti-discrimination laws protect all people from racial and ethnic discrimination in access and supply to goods and services available to the public, including housing. Due to EU law to fight  discrimination, countries greatly and consistently improve legal conditions in recent years. However, people are still exposed in several countries to housing discrimination based on their religion or belief or their nationality. The MIPEX map below shows the gaps on both ground (black) or one ground (blue):

Generally, MIPEX suggests that gaps are greatest on the grounds of nationality in around half the EU Member States.


Will new housing requirements improve or worsen the situation?

While non-EU migrants with various legal statuses enjoy equal housing rights, access to these statuses is increasingly restricted in Northwest Europe for migrants who use their right to welfare. Income or employment requirements are frequently imposed for long-term residence or naturalisation.

Access to family reunion is further limited to those who meet sometimes vague and demanding housing requirements. Housing is not specifically required in Finland, Netherlands and Slovenia (like Canada and the US) because the income requirement is deemed sufficient to address the families’ eventual housing needs. 17 of the Member States covered by the Directive impose a basic housing requirement, using equal treatment as the benchmark. Sponsors can use any legal means to prove they have basic accommodation meeting general health and safety standards. Additional bureaucratic procedures are imposed in Austria, France, Italy, and Slovakia:

Several countries refer vaguely to “normal” housing, which may go against EU law. These requirements may have the greatest effect on access to family reunion in the countries where immigrants face the greatest housing challenges. In addition, entities like Flanders and the Netherlands are restricting the general conditions for social housing through, for example, residence or language requirements. These policies need to be evaluated to know whether or not they are really improving access to quality housing in the country.