Affordable housing, one of the solutions to the urban housing crisis

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Rents are rising to levels that are too high for many city dwellers as our neighbourhoods grow but struggle to accommodate everyone. Constructing new affordable housing in different forms is imperative. Fortunately, says Diane Dupont, president of the Luxembourg Housing Fund, innovative strategies are gradually shaping an urban future in the Southern region where everyone has a place to live and a roof over their heads. François Dorland, Managing Director of AGORA, echoes this vision as he describes his company’s commitment to developing innovative neighbourhoods like Belval and Metzeschmelz. He emphasises the importance of creating high-quality living spaces that address contemporary ecological and social diversity challenges.

How important is the affordable housing initiative for AGORA, and what are the expected benefits for the residents of the future Metzeschmelz district?

François Dorland: “Affordable housing is a key issue for AGORA. This is particularly true of the development project for the new Metzeschmelz district. AGORA has been given the responsibility for piloting the construction of at least 30% affordable housing in this ambitious project, which is in line with the directives of its main shareholders, the State of Luxembourg and ArcelorMittal. This represents a significant intake capacity, with between 3,000 and 3,500 residents eventually living in the district out of a total housing capacity of around 10,000. These figures are not simply demographic units of measurement but embody AGORA’s vision for an enriched and sustainable living environment. Furthermore, future residents of Metzeschmelz will enjoy an environment designed and built to cutting-edge ecological standards, with a view to sustainability and environmental circularity.”

Luxembourg is undeniably going through a housing crisis. What do you think are the main priorities for remedying this?

Diane Dupont: “The significant growth in our country’s population actually leads to a very strong demand for housing, which the supply cannot adequately meet. With the lack of affordable public housing, rents and property prices are increasing, which excludes many people in vulnerable situations from the sales and rental market. We need housing solutions for those who can no longer be owners or tenants on the private market. Consequently, we need a massive increase in the public rental stock. Sites like Metzeschmelz and the “NeiSchmelz” project in Dudelange are part of the solution. They have the merit of being designed according to the principle of increasing density because, in a small country, we do not have infinite land to build on. For example, the “NeiSchmelz” project in Dudelange will ultimately offer 1,575 affordable housing units. There are similar projects in other communities across the country. The “An der Schmëtt” district in Biwer, for example, plans to build 164 housing units over an area of 5.5 hectares. In Wiltz, the “Wunne mat der Wooltz” district is being developed according to the principles of the circular economy and will ultimately have, with the “Haargarten” district, 1,085 affordable housing units on an area of 34 hectares. What is certain is that if we want affordable housing, the State and the private sector must develop the housing supply together.”

In addition to low-cost housing fully funded by the government and low-cost housing provided by the private sector under regulatory obligations, what are other good practices for ensuring affordable housing?

Diane Dupont: “We must not settle for conventional, single-family, low-cost apartments. Affordable housing includes all kinds of housing: shared housing, multi-generational homes, different shared and co-living options, boarding houses, and student residences. Any form of housing that relies on the pooling of resources between residents is often synonymous with affordability and improved quality of life. Our neighbourhoods should encourage the construction of these types of housing. At Fonds du Logement, for example, we work with non-profit organisations which manage the social rental of co-living spaces for young adults who are still partially monitored by an educator. This is just one example among many.”

Let’s take the NeiSchmelz project as a case in point. What forms are envisaged there? How will you go about promoting affordable housing?

Diane Dupont : “The plan is for 55% of the homes at NeiSchmelz to be for affordable rent, 35% for affordable sale and 10% for moderate-cost sale. What is the difference between affordable and moderate-cost sales? It is simply a different contribution from the government based on an analysis of the buyer’s financial situation. This measure will make it possible for our neighbourhoods to be populated by a population with a certain mix of income levels. This is possible, in particular, because the Housing Fund retains ownership of the land with a long lease and repurchase option. At the same time, we must invest in “living together”. A large, new district like “NeiSchmelz”, right in the middle of an existing city, also requires a management and social support concept.”

How can we finance the construction of new affordable housing without neglecting compliance with the highest current environmental and architectural standards?

Diane Dupont: “It is true that the desire to build affordable housing is not a good reason to neglect the investments necessary for sustainable and resilient architecture. It is a priority today, and it is increasingly a legal obligation. Our objective at the Housing Fund is for any construction of moderately priced housing to meet the requirements of LENOZ sustainability certification. This certification takes into account the potential energy costs of housing, as well as the environmental impact of construction materials, and the social functions envisaged within the communal buildings. High standards must also be met in terms of heritage protection. In our case in the Southern region, this concerns industrial heritage as well as issues around cleaning up the land that once housed factories. Obviously, state aid is essential to finance all of this without charging future tenants or owners of the accommodation. It is provided for by law. What is certain is that sustainable and resilient construction is not optional. The right to housing is fundamental, and we interpret it more broadly by considering that we must do everything necessary to create sustainable neighbourhoods of high urban quality. We are working towards this.”

How does AGORA plan to meet the need for housing and quality of urban life through the developments planned for the Belval and Metzeschmelz districts?

François Dorland: “AGORA is aware of its leading role in urban development and is resolutely committed to offering a high-quality living environment for all of its residents, whether this concerns affordable housing or other housing categories. This approach is part of a policy that makes a significant contribution to housing and the urban fabric. In Belval, where 8,000 people currently live, the objective is to accommodate 10,000 inhabitants, a demographic increase which will be absorbed by the planned expansion of the Belval South sector. At the same time, the Metzeschmelz project, strategically located between Esch and Schifflange and in the initial phase of development, also aspires to become home to 10,000 residents by the years 2042 or 2043. Implementing these two major urban projects, in comparison with the current population estimated at 36,000 or 37,000 inhabitants in Esch-sur-Alzette, clearly demonstrates the considerable influence that Belval and Metzeschmelz will have on increasing the supply of housing. This marks a decisive step forward in designing quality living spaces accessible to a broad spectrum of the population.”

Clearly, the housing crisis is a complex challenge that cannot be resolved with a single approach. In fact, it’s an invitation to a radical rethink of our vision of neighbourhoods and urban life! And this is what is happening.

Interview with Agora employees, partners and experts, with the “Défis urbains” series, discover the values ​​defended and implemented by AGORA.

Discover all the articles of this series by clicking on the tag below.

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