With the Third National Housing Forum held in 2019, Habitat Bulgaria has put a strong emphasis on the growing need to secure access to housing and renovation of the poor neighbourhoods. This year, the organization builds up these issues by organizing the Fourth National Housing Forum “Overcoming the housing and energy poverty – a prerequisite for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals”. The forum is implemented within the Build Solid Ground project, approved and funded by the Development Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development (DG DEVCO) under the Development Education and Awareness Raising (DEAR) strand.
The UN Agenda 2030, called “Transforming the World: Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development”, lays out the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Bulgaria’s first Voluntary National Review (2020) of the implementation of the SDGs has presented a valuable opportunity to take stock of the progress made, to identify challenges and to map out future steps for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. It covers all 17 Goals. Bulgaria shares the main message of the 2030 Agenda for “leaving no one behind” and strongly advocates the link between the implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the protection of human rights. Several goals are directly related to the right to adequate housing and the right to energy:
Goal 1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere, Target 1.4.
“By 2030, ensure that all men and women, in particular the poor and the vulnerable, have equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to basic services, ownership and control over land and other forms of property, inheritance, natural resources, appropriate new technology and financial services, including microfinance.”
Goal 7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all, Target 7.3.
“By 2030, double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency.”
Goal 11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable, Target 11.1.
“By 2030, ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums.”
These urgent global goals determined the main highlights of the forum agenda. The event was opened by Mr Benov, National Director of Habitat Bulgaria, who delivered a welcome address.
The online meeting was divided into three panels:
• Panel I. Agenda 2030 in Bulgaria – national strategic documents pertaining to the right of access to adequate housing and slum upgrading.
Speakers: Ms Lachezara Stoeva – Head, “UN and Cooperation for Development” Directorate, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Bulgaria; Ms Rositsa Ivanova – Secretary and Senior Programme Officer of the NCCEII, Secretariat of the National Council for Cooperation on Ethnic and Integration Issues, Council of Ministers and Mr Ivaylo Stoyanov – Head, “General Strategic Planning and Programs for Regional Development” Directorate, Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works.
• Panel II. Agenda 2030 in Bulgaria – national strategic documents pertaining to the energy poverty of households and increasing residential energy efficiency.
Speakers: Mr Dragomir Tzanev – Executive Director, EnEffect; Mr Ivan Ivanov – Director, “Central Coordination Unit” Directorate, Council of Ministers and Ms Tsvetomira Kulevska – Director, General Directorate “Coordination and Management of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Sources “, Sustainable Energy Development Agency (SEDA).
• Panel ІІІ. Closing discussion: How to overcome housing and energy poverty? The experience of the Bulgarian municipalities.
A total of 90 participants united in their position that Bulgaria, as a Party to several international agreements, has committed itself to achieve the set goals, but five years after the adoption of the UN Agenda 2030, the level of implementation is unsatisfactory. Key challenges to SDG implementation persist. One of the most important tasks ahead is the creation of a national mechanism for coordination and implementation of the SDGs. Such a mechanism should be located within the executive power. Among its main objectives will be monitoring SDG implementation, ensuring coordinated dialogue and designing sustainable development policies.
The discussion showed the urgent need to address all the following issues:
• Housing poverty in neighbourhoods with a predominant Roma population, lack of an Integrated Development Plan for Roma neighbourhoods that prevent municipalities from providing design and construction of sustainable infrastructure to deliver basic services like access to transport, water supply and sanitation, waste management, street lighting, landscaping, etc.
• The long-standing tolerance of the institutions to illegal construction and the need for a one-time “amnesty” for buildings under the indefinite status that are the only housing for their occupants.
• The low housing mobility and the growing share of homeowners who could not afford to keep their home adequately warm have stood out as one of the major problems facing the Bulgarian housing system. According to estimates from EU statistics agency Eurostat, Mr Benov quoted in his presentation, over 30% Bulgarians cannot afford to heat their homes sufficiently, the highest percentage in the European Union. “This is a worrying rate and means tackling housing and energy poverty is more urgent than ever”, said Mr Benov.
• Poor residential energy efficiency has been addressed as one of the principal causes for most of the adverse effects of energy poverty. Furthermore, it leads to critical levels of air pollution from uncontrolled sources combustion, mainly waste, using for the production of heat and hot water. A precise definition, observable criteria and defining the most vulnerable target groups need to be identified to measure energy poverty.
• Bulgaria’s Recovery and Resilience Plan, released for public consultation, presents the views of the Government and the society on how structural problems in the economy should be addressed, through an internally coherent and consistent combination of reforms and investments. However, a large part of the proposed reforms follows old models, for example, the same inefficient and non-market mechanism for 100% grant funding to homeowners for energy-efficient home renovations. The participants have put forward several suggestions such as establishing a differentiated approach that allows different types of homeowners to take part in the process, as well as defining clear obligations applied to all owners to achieve the decarbonisation targets by 2050.
All recommendations prioritised by participants will be issued in a formal statement to help developing sound and pragmatic long-term national policies. The forum ended with the good news that on the same day the Council of Ministers adopted а draft of the Long-term national strategy for support for national residential and non-residential building stock renovation with an implementation horizon until 2050. The strategy envisages renovating 60% of the housing stock and nearly 17% of the non-housing by 2050.