Tapping into rising interest in European housing, EFL aims to step up knowledge transfer

Joost Nieuwenhuijzen © Twitter

With a shortage of housing challenging most nations in Europe, interest in affordable homes and the intersect of social and private sectors is growing fast, says the head of the association European Federation for Living. EFL aims to step up its networking this year to boost cooperation, exchange of knowledge and membership.

Started some 10 years ago as a forum for a small group of Dutch and German housing companies, EFL today counts 55 members drawn from social housing providers and private firms managing around 1m residential units - plus universities, banks and intermediaries. Along the way EFL has attracted members from 11 countries including France, Britain, Belgium, Denmark and Finland. After an extensive restructuring in 2017, EFL’s consultancy arm EFL Expertise became largely independent, taking on new shareholders. Among these is the German financial consultant group Dr. Klein.

EFL's overall mission is, "to assist its members in working together to be at the forefront of economical and sustainable social housing community development in Europe through quicker and better access to research, innovation and funding."

"The goal of EFL is mainly exchanging expertise, working collaboratively on topics and sometimes on EU-funded projects," Managing Director Joost Nieuwenhuijzen told Business Immo Europe."Almost all members work in housing management, housing development, innovation management, IT, home demotics and new financing solutions - so everything in which these big housing companies need to gain and share knowledge... But even if each is very present in its local market like London, Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris, Helsinki or Copenhagen, they all share common elements in their business - and improving their business is exactly what EFL does."

EFL also gets involved in identifying solutions to the general European housing shortage. "That’s what we do, the whole urban growth challenge - everything that has to do with enormous pressure on the housing market: prices, maybe the shortage of capital from within the sector," Nieuwenhuijzen says. "We see more and more companies becoming interested in the affordable housing sector and that's where we are most active: this shortage and also the solutions offered in international markets... And with our members from the commercial side, most are very innovative so we can all learn from this, while the universities in our group can offer their academic expertise, doing research, and presenting new thoughts in working groups and conferences and so on... Organizing a system of effective sharing, that's mainly my day-to-day job."

Looking ahead, Nieuwenhuijzen says members made clear in the last general assembly that the challenges in their cities include transformation of housing stock to low energy consumption as well as issues with financing - looking at alternative financing alongside government funding. "You see pressure on the residential market everywhere, so the production of new homes is the big issue and this is what we will address in the next few years," he adds.

Hendrik Cornehl, director financial consulting at EFL Expertise and chairman of the EFL Working Group Finance and Investment, adds that change in use from commercial to residential is rising fast as a relevant topic for members. This is particularly relevant in The Netherlands where the government has been permitting more of its subsidised housing stock to be taken over by the private sector. In financing, low German lending rates attract a lot of envy. "Everyone is saying that German financing rates are so low, can I have some?" Cornehl told BIE. "That directly correlates with one of Dr. Klein's interests - to challenge other European markets and see if we can combine cheap long-term German interest rates and offer our solutions in other national jurisdictions."

EFL's primary aims for 2018, says Nieuwenhuijzen, is to grow further in Europe, and to win more housing companies as members. Aside from a content switch toward the challenges of big residential firms, EFL aims to offer more events for exchange and networking. "The value of the members meeting each other within but also outside the official meetings is growing by the day," he says. "The value of the EFL membership is being part of this big group - and an even bigger group that is part of our target for this year."