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November 14, 2019
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Experts from around the globe speak in Czech capital about affordable housing

17.6.2018 12:01
Members of the Platform for Social Housing protested on 29 September 2015 outside the Czech Labor and Social Affairs Ministry against a draft amendment to the law on aid to those in material distress that is supposed to reduce housing benefits for the impoverished. (PHOTO:  Jan Čonka, Romea.cz)
Members of the Platform for Social Housing protested on 29 September 2015 outside the Czech Labor and Social Affairs Ministry against a draft amendment to the law on aid to those in material distress that is supposed to reduce housing benefits for the impoverished. (PHOTO: Jan Čonka, Romea.cz)

Beginning on 14 June, experts from all over the world have been discussing affordable housing and the future of cities in the Czech capital, Prague. The issue is the main topic of this year's seventh annual international reSITE conference.

The two-day conference at Prague's Fórum Karlín featured 50 speakers, including Mexican architect Michel Rojkin and Richard Burdett, Professor of Urban Studies at the London School of Economics. The Czech News Agency (ČTK) was informed of the conference by its convener, the nonprofit organization reSITE.

"This year reSITE is focused on the connection between housing and quality of life and on absolutely new ways to coexist with each other in cities. We will discuss affordable housing and look for examples of architectural and cultural projects that raise the level of our lifestyle," reSITE chair Martin Barry said.

According to organizers, the question is how to design cities that will serve the needs of all who live in and visit them. Recently big cities have been especially grappling with the problem of affordable housing and gentrification, or the changes brought about when richer people buy real estate in less-prosperous societies and live in it.

"On the one hand we have many people who cannot afford their own apartments. Then there are people here who buy apartment units as investments and leave them empty," Dutch project designer Reinier de Graaf recently said in an interview for the E15 daily, one of the conference's media partners.

Growing interest in buying new apartments as investments was confirmed by developers in a January survey done by ČTK. According to the Central Group, Czechs themselves are more and more frequently becoming investors into apartment units and real estate investment has become like a new national sport here.

The Ekospol company said it is currently selling 40 % of the units it brokers as investments, while two years ago just one-fifth of the units it sold were for that purpose. More than half of their buyers want to lease the units to third parties.

According to the Finep brokerage, growing interest in investment housing is a reaction to the current situation on the market with new apartments. There is an enormous lack of such units in Prague.

The Trigema developer company has data showing that while the stock of older units is declining, the lack of new units is also driving up the cost of living in older units in Prague. The average cost to buy older units grew year-on-year by 11.3 % by the end of March to CZK 82.71 [EUR 3.20] per square meter, which is still roughly CZK 10 000 [EUR 400] less than the cost of buying new constructions.

A new guest curator of the reSITE conference is the author and urbanist Greg Lindsay, who has appeared at reSITE in the past. According to him, affordable housing is the most painful problem of today's cities.

"What we love most about cities has made them items of luxury. The right to the city begins with the right to housing, and therefore we need to develop defense mechanisms, strategies and technologies that will facilitate the creation of housing for all inhabitants that is discrimination-free, fair and sustainable," Lindsay said.

One of the main lectures at the theater in the round at the Fórum Karlín will be by Michel Rojkin, a Mexican former drummer who has been called one of the "150 creators, disrupters and movers recreating the world during the last 15 years" by Wallpaper* magazine. His most recently completed building is the concert and cultural hall called Foro Boca in Mexico, but he drew attention previously with his installation "Portal of Awareness" created from Nescafé mugs.

Architect Jeanne Gang is visiting reSITE from Chicago, where she currently is working on how the American dream is changing when it comes to housing. Mirik Milan, the Night Mayor of Amsterdam, attended to explain how and why the Dutch metropolis has institutionalized its approach to nightlife.

The reSITE conference is attended annually by hundreds of people. This year organizers anticipated 1 000 guests including architects, city leaders, civic initiatives, designers, developers and politicians.

The innovation this year is reduced entrance fees for women. Organizers wanted to contribute to better gender balance in the field by offering the savings.

ČTK, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Housing, Konference, social housing, social issues



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