Housing in Europe: outlining the problem 

Publish date: February 20, 2024

To assess the state of the housing situation of a particular area (be it a country or a city), several metrics can be considered to understand the availability, affordability, quality, and accessibility of housing. Commonly used metrics include:  

  1. Housing affordability: housing affordability refers to the ability of households to face the housing costs, which are often the largest share of expenditure for many [1]. This is often assessed by considering the median home prices or rents compared to the median household income; and the housing cost overburden rate, which measures percentage of the population living in households where the total housing costs represent more than 40 % of disposable income, including utilities. 
  1. Housing availability: when talking about housing availability, one then looks at the vacancy rate, which is the percentage of buildings in the market that are currently unoccupied or available for rent. The vacancy rate (the amount of living space available) determines the supply and demand in the real estate market – the less there is good quality housing available, the higher is the demand for one-unit housing. 
  1. Tenure status: the homeownership rate is the proportion of households that own the home in which they live. Tenure status relies on the rental market dynamics, i.e. the interactions and adjustments that occur between supply and demand in response to various factors. These factors range from competitive forces, technological advancements and regulatory changes to consumer preferences and economic trends.  
  1. Housing quality: There are multiple aspects that contribute to the quality of housing, for example overcrowding, energy efficiency, and energy poverty. The overcrowding rate is determined by the percentage of the population residing in a dwelling with an insufficient number of rooms, based on household size, family composition, and the ages of its occupants. High energy efficiency effectively means using less energy to perform a task and thereby eliminating energy waste and reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) emissions, while lowering energy bills and strengthening energy security. Closely tied to energy efficiency is energy poverty, which occurs when a household must reduce its energy consumption to a degree that negatively impacts the inhabitants’ health and wellbeing. Energy poverty is mainly driven by a high proportion of household expenditure spent on energy, low income, and low energy performance of buildings and appliances.  

The situation in the EU 

1. Housing affordability 

In the EU in 2021, 10.4 % of the population in cities lived in a household where total housing costs represented more than 40 % of disposable income. In 2022, the housing cost overburden rate amounted to 8.7 % for the whole EU population [1].  

In 2021, on average 18.9 % of disposable income of people in the EU was dedicated to housing costs [2]. For people having a disposable income of below 60 % of the national median income, i.e. people who could be considered as at risk of poverty, the share of housing in disposable income was 37.7 % on average [2]. All the while residential property prices and rents have been continuously rising – between 2010 and the second quarter of 2023, house prices increased by 46% and rents by 21% [3]. 

2. Housing availability 

The average number of dwellings per thousand inhabitants in EU in 2020 was 495 [4]. In the same year, the vacancy rate reached almost 40% in some EU countries [5]. Simultaneously, European office vacancy rates increased by an average of 60 bps from 7.7% to 8.3% during the past twelve months [6]. This indicates that the real number of unoccupied buildings is even greater than previously identified, as the existing data on vacancy rate only considers buildings dedicated for housing and overlooks the number of empty buildings with different assigned purposes. Therefore, in order to address the housing crisis, there is a need to consider the sufficiency approach, which includes repurposing empty buildings, promoting shared spaces, just space allocation and using existing empty (renovated) buildings more efficiently. 

3. Housing tenure: Renting and owning 

Eurostat’s numbers show that 69.1% of the EU population lived in owner-occupied dwellings, while 30.9% resided in rented accommodation [7]. Another important consideration in this respect is social rental housing, which refers to the stock of residential rental accommodation provided at submarket prices which is allocated according to specific rules rather than market mechanism. The houses and flats are owned by local government or by other organisations that do not make a profit out of it, and that are rented to people with low income. Social housing accounts on average for 7% of the total housing stock in the OECD but there is still a huge unmet demand for social housing in Europe [8].  

4. Housing quality  

In 2022, 16.8 % of the EU population lived in an overcrowded household, with some countries having the overcrowding rate higher than 40% [7]. 

In 2022 9.3 % of the EU population could not afford to keep their home adequately warm, a percentage which had rose by 2.4 percentage points from 2021 [7]. Whether it is possible to keep a home adequately warm depends on several factors, including the condition of the building, the temperatures outside and the cost of energy. The latter links back to energy efficiency, as the poorer is the energy efficiency of a building the more energy (and money) will go to waste for the consumers.  

85% of EU buildings were built before 2000 and amongst those, 75% have a poor energy performance [9]. Acting on the energy efficiency of buildings is therefore key to saving energy and achieving a zero-emission and fully decarbonised building stock by 2050. However, in 2017, over 97% of the building stock needed to be upgraded to comply with the 2050 decarbonisation goal of the European Union [10].  

In upcoming publications, we will review the latest EU legislation and how it interplays with these factors. 


[1] Eurostat. 2020. Housing in Europe. European Commission. Accessed on the 19th of February 2024. Available at Housing-DigitalPublication-2020_en.pdf ( 
[2] Eurostat. Quality of housing. European Commission. Accessed on the 15th of February. Available at Quality of housing ( 
[3] Eurostat. 2023. House prices and rents increased in Q2 2023. Eurostat. Accessed 19th of February 2024. Available at House prices and rents increased in Q2 2023 – Eurostat (  
[4] OECD. 18.10. 2022. Housing stock and construction. Accessed 19th of February 2024. Available at [Title] (  
[5] Housing Europe. 2023. Tools to deal with vacant housing: New Housing Europe Observatory brief tackles one of the hottest topics of today. Accessed on the 15th of February. Available at Tools to deal with vacant housing | Housing Europe 
[6] Savills. 2023. Spotlight: European Office Outlook – December 2023. Accessed 19th of February 2024. Accessible at Savills | Spotlight: European Office Outlook – December 2023  
[7] Eurostat. 2023. Living conditions in Europe – housing. European Commission. Accessed 19th of February 2024. Available at Living conditions in Europe – housing – Statistics Explained ( 
[8] OECD. 15.03.2022. Social rental housing stock. Accessed 20th of February. Available at [Title] ( 
[9] European Commission. Energy Performance of Buildings Directive. Accessed 20th of February. Available at Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (  
[10] Buildings Performance Institute Europe. 2017. Factsheet: 97% of buildings in the EU need to be upgraded. BPIE. Accessed 15th of February. Available at State-of-the-building-stock-briefing_Dic6.pdf ( 

Other sources that have informed this article: 

Housing Europe. 2023. The state of housing in Europe 2023. Accessed 13th of February 2024. Available at 
Eurocities. 2020. Access to affordable and social housing and support to homeless people. Eurocities. Accessed 15th of February 2024. Available at Housing and homelessness – Eurocities 

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