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

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - MERGING (Housing for immigrants and community integration in Europe and beyond: Strategies, policies, dwellings, and governance)

Reporting period: 2021-01-01 to 2021-12-31

The arrival of migrants contributes to diversifying European cities, suburbs and rural communities. It represents an opportunity, but also a significant challenge if taking place in an unorderly manner, as occurred in Europe since 2014.
In view of their magnitude, these phenomena generate two major sources of tension. They destabilize countries of origin because of the flight of talent abroad and challenge countries of arrival to welcome and integrate migrants. They challenge social services to support populations suffering from deep trauma. They challenge politicians and elected officials to maintain the unity of populations in a context of a deep social divide. They challenge urban planners to host migrants in cities already under stress in terms of housing.
In this context, the main challenge is to provide stakeholders with effective proposals to address socio-economic integration. This includes sustainable and participatory strategies, involving citizens, civil society actors, education institutions and the private sector.
The MERGING project is an interdisciplinary study of migrant integration through participatory housing initiatives.
General objectives are to develop, implement and test a participatory housing program dedicated to immigrants involving various stakeholders to propose inclusive measures recommendations and disseminate the findings.
The project gathers 7 disciplines from 10 partners to test an innovative approach aiming to facilitate and ensure the sustainability of migrants’ integration process.
It reviews existing knowledge, integration policies and initiatives across macro and meso levels in which housing occupies a prominent place. This enables us to study the feasibility of participatory pilots in order to implement, test and evaluate them in 3 cities (Gothenburg, Lyon and Valencia). To ensure the success and the sustainability of the project, stakeholders will be involved in the construction (or renovation) of housing. The innovative, multi-method approach provides in-depth analyses of the long-term effects of participatory housing initiatives; the factors fostering or hindering integration processes of migrants; and the way stakeholders can support migrants’ socio-economic integration through participatory initiatives.
Two work packages have been completed and three have been engaged. We identified similarities and differences among partner countries in terms of actors involved, procedures, access to civic rights, immigrants’ freedom of action, difficulties faced and solutions found. We pointed the negative effect of administrative categorization, the existence of discriminatory practices and the high vulnerability of isolated minors and undocumented migrants.
We highlighted the critical nature of housing, as it provides the minimum security to cope with everyday life but remains unaffordable for the most vulnerable ones due to the lack of social housing in cities. For exiled people, a critical moment lies between the moment of leaving the reception centre and the establishment in a home, as there is usually a gap in terms of help from the administration. This gap may be characterized by the existence of formal or informal aid, or by the absence of any kind of aid.
Discrepancies exist among countries regarding immigrants’ decision-making related to housing. Immigrants’ freedom of action is situated on a continuum, from the total absence of decision power to the cooperation of beneficiaries and housing providers, and from decision taken by the central state to local authorities.
We established the methodological guidelines necessary to run the case studies planned in WP3. Five cases have been studied in France, Italy, Spain and Sweden on housing programs selected for their innovativeness and heterogeneity.
It appears that both formal and informal institutions determine housing practices at local level. Refugees housing projects do not only depend on the legal-administrative systems, but also on the different socio-economic, political, and cultural structures and dynamics prevailing in each country, and on how they are articulated at the local level.
The comparison of our five cases also allowed us to identify the similarities, specificities and differences among sites. Participatory initiatives, long-term solutions, external networks and the provision of integration activities proved to be critical to ensure a rapid and successful integration. Based on these comparisons, and on the extensive literature review conducted, we proposed a newly designed canvas and two new typologies of operating models regarding housing solutions for immigrants.
First, we built an integration service governance based on two dimensions: the breadth and the degree of internalisation of the provided services. Second, we built a typology of space for integration based on two variables: the degree of social mixing and the architectural centralization.
The work conducted in WP2, 3 and 7 led us to formulate a set of 12 recommendations related to the design and construction of housing initiatives for refugees.
Finally, WP4 and 6 were initiated, starting with the design of the pilot projects, the definition of the goals and expected outcomes of the pilots.
Several gaps have been identified in our literature review, such as the lack of studies on housing per se, the lack of studies adopting a dynamic perspective. We built a methodology to map stakeholders, select case studies, collect and analyse data. We proposed new typologies combining governance/business models and architectural aspects to analyse housing projects.
Our project intends to improve exiled people’s social inclusion; build inclusive governance models; improve housing and living conditions; and build capabilities. It also aims at developing new methodologies to conduct research on and with exiled people, taking into account the ethical issues related to their vulnerabilities.
The MERGING project contributes to improving the social, institutional, economical and academic spheres. At the institutional and social level, the project aspires to better understand the nature of barriers to the inclusion of migrants to improve integration and supporting policies.
The social fractures and the politization of immigration in Europe show the limitations of our policies while advocating for inclusive decision-making processes. By developing the concept of participatory hospitality, we aim to evaluate the effectiveness of citizen involvement in the reception and acceptance of exiled populations. Our project offers and innovative intervention in connection with current needs: the inclusion of stakeholders in the design and implementation of social policies. It is a unique opportunity to recreate social ties by involving citizens in community life.
At the economic level, it participates in the dynamization of territories through the access to employment for migrant populations.
In terms of training, the MERGING project intends to offer migrants with the support required to access the local labour market, and to strengthen students’ intercultural and operational skills.
In terms of research, we intend to enrich the debates existing in the academic literature regarding 1) immigrants’ access to housing – and its impact on social inclusion; 2) the impact of participatory projects on local inclusion; 3) migration policies and 4) social operating business models and inclusion.
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