Goal

HouseEurope! is a citizens’ initiative for an EU-legislation that boosts the renovation of existing buildings and stops their demolition driven by speculation

The Speculation Issue

Today, buildings are treated as investments rather than spaces for people to live. Due to financial speculation, millions of square meters sit empty and ruin, or they are being demolished and replaced: from functioning family homes to abandoned industrial and office spaces. This practice creates social and environmental problems. People are left without livable spaces and resources are unnecessarily strained for new building construction.

While the public eye is focused on areas such as mobility and energy, the building sector plays a significant role in the problems we face today. The building industry accounts for 38% of global CO2 emissions. All the parties involved – from the real estate sector to architects to the con- struction industry – profoundly influence our environment and the fabric of our societies.

We are witnessing the never-ending destruction of our environment and the wasting of valuable resources. Yet, we maintain a system in which buying something new is cheaper than caring about the old. We maintain a system that prioritizes financial profit over the well-being of the people and the planet. A system, in which renovation and adaptation have taken a backseat to demolition and new construction. All in disregard for the dramatic social, economic, and environmental consequences.

Public awareness, our value system, and existing legislation make it possible to sustain this society’s lifestyle.

Awareness, Value, Legislation

In Western markets, buildings have not only become an investment but a focal point for financial speculation. Many investors buy up properties, not with the intent to inhabit or rent them out, but rather in anticipation of financial appreciation. This speculative drive is intensified by various factors, and the ripple effects can be profound.

Our system is designed to demolish and build anew. This worked in the past, when resources seemed in endless supply and new construction was cheaper, faster, and easier than dealing with the constraints of existing buildings. The current material and energy shortages show us that this system does not work anymore and that resources are limited.

It is vital that the building industry’s role in the problems we face today become part of our daily conversations, because its impact on our lives is dramatic.

The intersection of speculation and the needs of communities and ecosystems is complex. While development is essential for a society’s evolution, it's equally crucial to ensure that it doesn't come at the loss of functional buildings and harm to existing communities. Our aim is to shed light on the speculative and harmful practices of real estate development that impact each and every one of us.

Reason 1: Profit Over Community
The lure of significant financial gains can sometimes overshadow community needs or the social value of existing structures. Buildings that serve as community hubs or affordable housing might be sold and demolished to make way for luxury apartments, malls, or offices, changing the social fabric of neighborhoods.


Reason 2: Gentrification and Renewal
As neighborhoods become trendier or targeted for urban renewal, there's a practice to replace older structures, sometimes with historical or cultural value, with new developments that speak to a wealthier demographic. This can push up property values in the area, often at the expense of long-standing communities.


Reason 3: Perceived Modernity
In some cases, new constructions are perceived as more attractive or modern compared to older buildings, even if the latter are structurally sound and functional. The drive for modernity and the desire to attract a certain demographic or clientele can prompt developers to raze and rebuild.


Reason 4: Land Value vs. Building Value
Often in prime areas, the value of the land surpasses the value of the building itself. An older building on a plot may generate less income or have a lower perceived value than the potential new structure that could replace it. The speculative vision often revolves around demolishing existing buildings to make way for denser, taller, or more modern constructions that promise higher financial returns.


Reason 5: Tax Incentives and Breaks
In certain jurisdictions, there are tax incentives associated with new constructions or developments, making it financially advantageous for owners to demolish and rebuild.
 To capitalize on depreciation benefits, functioning buildings are often demolished for new, sometimes smaller, constructions. These new assets enable owners to optimize taxes through their portfolios. This strategy prioritizes financial gains over space utility.

Reason 6: Speculative Bubbles and Risk
When real estate markets heat up, a sort of herd mentality can take over, where everyone wants a piece of the 'next big thing.' In such environments, even properties that are functional and in use can become targets for acquisition and redevelopment, driven by the speculative belief in potential future profits.


The Demolition Drama

By 2050, we will have demolished 2 billion square meters of existing space in Europe. From Amsterdam to Athens, from Riga to Rome, we will demolish the equivalent of half of Germany's building stock and more than Paris or Berlin in their entirety. Instead, we will have built billions of square meters of new space as replacement for what was already there. ​This leads to three main issues: Home Loss, Job Loss and Energy Loss.

Social Issue = Home Loss
We demolish existing buildings that could comfortably house more than 50 million people, while the harsh reality is that every year, countless people lose their homes due to demolition and rising prices of new construction.

There are two unfortunate realities: first of all, existing buildings are most often demolished for no reason other than financial profit. Tenants are being evicted because it is more profitable to demolish and build new housing than to renovate or maintain the existing building. Secondly, even if new housing units are built, the original occupants are often unable to return due to the increase of costs to exorbitant levels.

Economic Issue = Job Loss
In the building industry, mainly big players benefit from demolition and new construction. Small and medium-sized businesses have the opportunity to thrive through renovation and adaptation projects.

92% of architecture offices in Europe consist of one to five employees. With a renovation rate that needs to triple in order to house all EU citizens, these smaller practices would financially benefit from the increase in project opportunities.

Ecological Issue = Energy Loss
Our built environment carries a substantial embodied energy, encompassing countless tons of CO2. With each building we tear down, we waste all of the energy already invested in its construction.

The building sector is responsible for 1 degree (out of 3 degrees) or ⅓ of CO2 emissions. Collectively, buildings in the European Union alone are responsible for a staggering 36% of greenhouse gas emissions. But the problem goes beyond emissions.

Let's fix it!

The Renovation Story

We need a social-ecological transformation of the existing building stock. This means we need to change our attitudes and practices by seeing and recognizing the value of existing buildings and supporting their renovation. Renovation is a great answer to ensure affordable living spaces and support small and medium scale businesses in the building sector, all while massively reducing CO2 emissions. The renovation wave, initiated by the European Union as part of the European Green Deal can help people to live in much better conditions, and even be economically preferable in the long run. ​

This transformation takes time, but we came up with a simple yet specific roadmap: Preservation, Adaptation, Renovation, Transformation

Preservation: Reuse, don't demolish!
We call for the preservation of existing buildings and the energy already invested in them. By doing so, we can save valuable resources and maintain social and cultural values. Our aim is to prioritize reuse over demolition, taking the first step towards achieving affordable living spaces for all.

Adaptation: Adapt, don't abandon!
We call for the adaptation of existing structures and underused spaces. In doing so, we can give Europe's building stock a new purpose and narrative, reframing the perception of value in what already exists. We aim to adapt buildings that have fallen out of use, thereby invigorating the potential of the existing building stock.

Renovation: Build for the future!
We call for the renovation, repair, and care of existing buildings. This reduces waste and CO2 emissions. Our aim is to renovate in a future-proof way, meaning we need to (re)build in a long-lasting way, limiting the unnecessary use of additional material and new construction now, and in the future.

Transformation: Shift the Value!
We call for the transformation of existing structures in a social, environmental, and economic sense. Our aim is to implement policies that ensure equity, resilience, and community-building. We need new cultural narratives: from viewing spaces as commodities to seeing them as necessities.

Imagine you apply for a bank loan on renovation. Banks need to reinsure three times more for a renovation than for a new building. Interest rates go up and people are almost forced into building anew. You see: We are in a vicious cycle.

So, how do we achieve a shift and make a change in reality?

HouseEurope! the European Citizens’ Initiative

There are already a lot of people, groups, initiatives, and organizations out there making a difference by advocating for a social-ecological transformation of the existing building stock. We want to support these efforts by bringing our expertise and tools to the table. In more than fifteen years of developing adaptive re-use and renovation projects, we have built a practice that considers legislation and storytelling active design tools.

This is why we decided to start a European Citizens’ Initiative called HouseEurope! Simply put, a European Citizens’ Initiative, or ECI, is a great tool for direct democracy. Much like the Swiss referendums that allow a popular vote on new laws, the ECI enables citizens from all EU countries to propose new laws or changes to existing ones. If one million EU citizens from at least seven countries support the cause, the European Commission must consider the proposal and dedicate a working group. This gives citizens a direct say in the EU policy making process and helps bring attention to important issues.

Together, we aim for an alternative to the current legislation that favors demolition and reconstruction over renovation and adaptation. But to make this happen, we need everyone to understand, join in and support the call. We need each other!

Join, Support, Sign

You rent an apartment? You own a building? You care about the environment? You work in the building sector? Almost everyone is or will be affected by speculative real estate practices and the harm they cause. Because here’s the deal: potentially every building is up for demolition! In fact, speculation fuels demolition and new construction. This comes with a loss of homes, a loss of jobs, and a loss of energy.

You can make a difference​ – put an end to this practice and make a change in reality! With your support, your voice, and your signature we can push for regulations that recognize and protect the value of existing buildings. But this is not just about materials and energy; it is also about the values we hold as a society. By activating buildings that have been abandoned, we will pave the way for a livable future – for ourselves, our children and all future generations.

Status: Currently we are in the process of drafting our legislative proposal. Sign up for the newsletter and receive updates on the initiative and a reminder when the signature period starts.