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Housing for immigrants and community integration in Europe and beyond: Strategies, policies, dwellings, and governance

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No place like home: innovative housing solutions to help migrants settle

Housing initiatives launched by the interdisciplinary MERGING project in three European cities are helping migrants gain access to services crucial to integration.

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Without a fixed address, migrants can struggle to access essential services such as healthcare, banking, education and employment. “Precarious housing not only keeps people in limbo, unable to exert their rights, but also damages their physical and mental health,” says Noémie Dominguez, Lyon-based researcher with the EU-funded MERGING (Housing for immigrants and community integration in Europe and beyond: Strategies, policies, dwellings, and governance) project. Migrants often face discrimination from landlords due to their ethnicity or economic status. Furthermore, housing for vulnerable groups often sparks tension with locals who sometimes perceive newcomers as competing for scarce resources or ‘spoiling’ the neighbourhood. The MERGING project is exploring different housing solutions that can increase local acceptance of migrants. “We are trialling co-creation and neighbour participation schemes, to see if shared activities can challenge stereotypes and break down barriers,” adds Catherine Mercier-Suissa, MERGING project coordinator.

Innovative accommodation models

MERGING’s action research approach was co-created through workshops with a range of social actors including NGOs, representatives of local citizen groups, policymakers and local authorities. Following an analysis of reception and integration options for migrants in four countries (France, Italy, Spain and Sweden), the team identified suitable housing schemes to pilot. Feasibility studies were then carried out in Lyon, Valencia and Gothenburg, to be implemented this year. Each pilot has been tailored to the local context. In Valencia, the project benefits from strong regional government support, including an offer of eight apartments and a space for project management and common space functions. All are located in the rapidly gentrifying historic city centre, within a 10-minute walk of one another. The beneficiaries have recently been assigned to their flats following a participatory process involving 12 stakeholders (including NGOs and local and regional authorities) and should move in this summer. Once the initial 3-year lease with the University of Valencia ends, beneficiaries who meet the social housing criteria can remain in place, paying a social rent to the local housing authority. “We are proud to provide 18 people with a stable home in a neighbourhood currently lacking affordable housing and cultural diversity,” remarks Carles Xavier Simo Noguera, Valencia team lead. “We are now co-designing their integration programme.”

Floating a novel housing solution

In France, the pilot won the support of local authorities in Lyon to build seven ‘tiny houses’ and a common space on land belonging to Le Foyer Notre-Dame des Sans-Abri (website in French) (FNDSA), a local NGO. The houses will be built and installed by project partner Quatorze, with FNDSA managing the development, beneficiary selection and coordination of social support. “It was challenging to get local community support, due to their prior experiences of squatting in the location,” says Mercier-Suissa, from project host the University of Lyon. “But with mayoral support and by highlighting opportunities, such as getting involved in activities, we succeeded.” In Gothenburg, the reluctance of the local municipality, coupled with construction permit delays, led to the creation of a floating house in Ringön, an area known for its alternative character. The pilot has been integrated into an urban project, Floating Lab, which responds to concerns about rising water levels. It is targeted at young asylum seekers interested in a 6-12 month shipbuilding industry training programme. Each house will be shared by up to four roommates. Nancy Ottaviano, lead architect, explains: “This pilot tackles three concerns at the same time: housing shortages, protection of asylum seekers from expulsion and flooding risks.”

Policy implications

MERGING’s approach could inform implementation of the EU’s action plan on integration and inclusion (2021-2027) which includes ‘access to adequate and affordable housing’, as one of its four central tenets. The Gothenburg team has offered seven housing policy recommendations for better integration: context-aware solutions, linking to labour market integration, local social cohesion activities, diverse habitations, participatory governance, a social business model and governmental and non-governmental organisational collaboration. Andrea Spehar, the project’s research lead in Gothenburg, concludes: “We demonstrate that you need to listen to beneficiaries and engage local community members in housing solutions if integration is to work.”


MERGING, migrant, housing, migration, co-creation, participatory, integration, community

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