GREEN ZAGREB: ENERGY POVERTY AND ISSUES OF HOUSING

In this city labs we discussed several topics that are connected with housing issues and energy poverty. Specifically, we took into account perspective of vulnerable groups: single-parent households, elderly, people in poverty and Roma population. Participants worked interactively whereas first they were introduced to the problems, that worked in 5 subgroups (for an hour) and followed by conclusions in big session.

Virtual Place

12:00 – 12:30: Introduction to energy poverty and housing issues 12:30 – 13:30: sub-group discussions in 5 subgroups Challenges: a) issues of living in the city centre, b) heating costs, c) energy poverty, d) digital exclusion and access to electricity, e) quality of life in Roma settlements 13:30-14:00 Conclusions

Date

Start: 10.11.2021
End: 10.11.2021

Partners

In this city labs we discussed several topics that are connected with housing issues and energy poverty. Specifically, we took into account perspective of vulnerable groups: single-parent households, elderly, people in poverty and Roma population. Participants worked interactively whereas first they were introduced to the problems, that worked in 5 subgroups (for an hour) and followed by conclusions in big session.

Schedule: 12:00 – 12:30: Introduction to energy poverty and housing issues 12:30 – 13:30: sub-group discussions in 5 subgroups Challenges: a) issues of living in the city centre, b) heating costs, c) energy poverty, d) digital exclusion and access to electricity, e) quality of life in Roma settlements

Total participants: 88 Total students: 48 Total Staff members: 13 Total representatives of societal stakeholder: 17 local professionals and 10 representatives of the City of Zagreb

LIVING IN THE CITY CENTER: The broader problem is the living conditions of older people in Zagreb’s Lower town. There’s 3 main aspects of the problem: the safety aspect (it’s unsafe for older people to live in old buildings with no elevators, unstable staircases and apartments where there is a risk of roof and walls collapse) financial aspect (older people’s pensions are quite low compared to the cost of living which includes utilizes and in some cases rent) the infrastructure quality aspect (how does the buildings’ condition, which includes poor quality of the roof, walls, electric installations and inadequate fire escape system, affect the everyday life of older people The more narrow problem of the group is the lack of safety of the apartments in Lower town; the conditions include: visible damage to the outer and inner walls parts of the walls collapsing as a result of the 2020 earthquake lack of elevators questionable fire escape system and electric installations POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS AND DIRECTIONS OF ACTION 1) install elevators in buildings which are appropriate for that type of installation 2) contact the local organizations to find out more about how the revitalization of old buildings is going 3) provide temporary housing for old people who live in exceptionally destructed buildings

LIFE IN ROMA DISTRICTS Energy poverty is still not universally defined statement. European union didn’t settle around ultimate definition. This creates obstacles in making of programs and initiatives that could possibly solve emerging problems. Professionals in this field of work state that energy poverty is lack of household incomes over household expenses. The price of energy sources has become too high so it creates a divide between households. On one hand, there are high efficiency homes that required large initial investment that later evened out in decrease of household expenses and on the other hand there are homes that are poorly constructed and can even lack basic necessities like water and power connection or illegally built houses. It is very difficult for low-income households to move away from energy poverty to energy efficiency because they need startup investment either on a national lever or supranational level. There is a possible way that people are not thought on the matter of saving money or being energy efficient so there is always room for proper education before any initiatives start to emerge. In a more narrow sense, our problem can be described as “Low housing standard of southeastern localities in the district Peščenica – Žitnjak. The population that this problem is extending to the most is mostly Roma people, who live in a high rate of energy poverty. It is visible that the problem is seen and recognized by NGOs that are working on such topics, but sadly, it remains unrecognized by the local government. Living in conditions of low housing standard, such as living in houses with damp walls, without electricity or poor communal infrastructure endangers the right to a dignified life and health of the inhabitants. It can also be seen in a small square footage, inadequate construction, insulation problems, dampness, lack of electricity, lack of street lightning and potholes. The problem significantly affects inhabitants directly because it makes it difficult to meet their basic living needs, and it indirectly affects health and hygiene, financial situation and education. It significantly affects the southeast of the Peščenica - Žitnjak district. Some of the values that are affected are inclusivity (because we have all isolated them as a society) and equality (they do not have the same chances as residents of other parts of the neighborhood). Low housing standard in this particular area exists for a long time, and the fact that these southeastern localities weren’t connected with the center of the City can attest to that. The pace of problem solving is currently slow (in previous years it has experienced growth, then stagnation). The consequences of the same are poorer health, lower educational status, poorer socio-economic status. Also, at its core, the problem is stable, and it would be possible to control its direction if more measures are taken to solve it. The origin of the problem is in the lack of resourses in a local community. There are only a few organisations and associations which are dealing with the issue and they work on national level (for example Union of Roma in Croatia). Also, Roma people have only one member in Croatian Parliament. He represents their whole population and it’s hard to participate in decision making like that. It’s even harder to display true problems of Roma people or make suggestions of possible solutions. They are excluded from politics. Roma people are discriminated in every area of life and experts and volunteers aren’t interested in working with them. The most important thing is to try to find out what are the real needs of Roma population in Peščenica-Žitnjak. We should also raise awareness about energy poverty and poor housing conditions. Their local boards should pay more attention to using full potential of Roma population and their district. Croatian government has already published energy poverty alleviation program but they are not doing very much to help this specific population. Roma population should be more included in the education system and labor market. Another great solution is energetic refurbishment of their houses and buildings.

DIGITAL EXCLUSION AND ACCESS TO ELECTRICITY Our broader problem/topic is energy deprivation and our narrower topic/problem is energy deprivation of electricity and Internet within the population of elderly people who live in the city district of Gornja Dubrava. Energy deprivation generally affects around 50 million Europeans. It’s a situation in which a household or an individual isn’t capable to afford basic energy services, in our case electricity or Internet, which guarantee a decent way of living. Energy deprivation is a result of low income, high expenses of energy and low energy efficiency of households. The population which is one of the most affected by this problem are the elderly because of their low pensions and high utility bills but also their homes tend to be energy inefficient. As a result of this complex problem there can be consequences of ones health, general welfare, social inclusion and standard of living. Specifically, problems with electricity vary from physical network unavailability in rural areas which still feel the effects of the homeland war to energy inefficient homes and difficulties in paying utility bills. With the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, work and life in general have become practically impossible without electric energy - which has had a huge impact on household budgets. It is important to mention that electric energy deprivation in most cases leads to an inability of Internet use (without which life today in Croatia and the rest of the world is nearly impossible). However, apart from the connection of electricity and the Internet, it is important to mention internet providers’ fees which also largely affect most household budgets. It is also worth mentioning that during the pandemic the Internet has become one of the only ways in which social groups became socially included. Keeping that in mind, statistic data shows that only 28% of the elderly population (age range of 65-74) in Croatia in 2020. uses the Internet – which is at the very bottom compared to the other EU member states. The most widespread reasons of non-use are low computer literacy and inadequate access to technology devices. The listed reason of so-called digital gap lead to social exclusion, and according to data – the elderly are the most affected social group. Digital exclusion of the elderly represents inequal possibility of access to Internet Technology, which prevents them from participating in society. In our country, the problem manifests itself in lack of Internet awareness and Internet use among the elderly population, as well as in shortage of political programs that would deal with the problem systematically. We could say that digital exclusion in Croatia is a result of a variety of causes. First of all, the elderly are in great risk of poverty, and their monthly income often does not cover the expenses of both utilites and Internet service. Furthermore, as it was mentioned previously, the elderly population is more often than not poorly educated when it comes to benefits of the Internet, which, combined with general disinterest from the government, results in social and digital exclusion we are witnessing today. Providing the elderly with access to various platforms would significantly improve their day-to-day life. Even though the elderly are affected directly due to the lack of financial resources and/or eduaction, the long lasting consequences could have a strong impact on society in general, with an increasing number of citizens suffering from social inequality. Furthermore, social exclusion leads to poorer quality of life, which, in addition, could lead to a number of health problems among the elderly. We could argue that, in Croatia, the problem arose some 10-15 years ago, with the creation of various internet platforms, the purpose of which was to enable government services online. The possiblities of the Internet use are expanding and growing rapidly, and in the meantime, the elderly are faced with financial and infrastructural obstacles, resulting in major setbacks. Their quality of life is constantly degrading; discontent and social exclusion are on the rise. However, the problem could become more manageable through better education and by creating more favorable living conditions.

POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS AND DIRECTIONS OF ACTION

  • implementation of WiFi access in the district (free access to WiFi)
  • provide our target group with technical equipment
  • further to our prior solution, ensuring donations of mobile phones and similar devices via civic solidarity, and at the same reducing electric and electronic waste which would contribute preservation of natural resources and environment
  • conducting workshops and training courses (basic IT Literacy, and conscientiously using electricity), all in all educating senior people
  • complete energy efficiency renovation
  • most important solution is welfare system reform

ENERGY POVERTY: The problem of high overhead costs affects all citizens in Croatia. In our work we have focused on the energy efficiency of homes in order to reduce the cost of housing costs because we can’t influence the price of energy-generating products. High housing costs are due to poor housing envelope, poor or old wooden carpentry, energy-intensive household appliances, poor infrastructure in terms of old leaking pipelines or inability to connect to cheaper energy sources. As we said before, this problem is widespread in society, but it especially affects the most vulnerable in society. Therefore, in our work we decided to focus on the users of guaranteed minimum benefits (social assistance) who are most vulnerable in this case because they have no income of their own, so the state gives them a very small amount of money per month to cover all living expenses. This amount is generally not enough to cover all overheads and it isn’t enough for other needs such as food and clothing. Our specific area where we observe this problem is Trešnjevka North. According to the number of users of the guaranteed minimum fee in Zagreb, Trešnjevka comes in a high fourth place in Zagreb, and we believe that this is a large concentration of this problem in one area. Regard that the quality of life is closely linked to the material status of the person, which affects all aspects of life, to combat this problem it is important to inform and advise professionals and the general public, which indicates the need for multidisciplinary action.

This situation is seen by social workers and recipients of guaranteed minimum compensation as a problem of inability to cover overheads due to their high prices, but on the other hand, the government and other citizens do not see this situation as a problem because they are not in contact with this group of people. The problem with this situation is that the recipients of the guaranteed minimum compensation, after paying the overhead costs, don’t have money for all other needs. The problem is that with this help, they can't even fully cover the overhead costs themselves, they are late with payments, they are threatened with power outages and other energy sources. Regard that they don’t have the money for all other needs, after meeting overheads, this vulnerable group faces a lack of friends, a weak social network and severe social exclusion. The problem is known to the general population, but it is hard to notice, so solutions are not a common topic of the public, but we can recognize it by beggars on the street and crowded soup kitchens… The problem of the inability to cover overheads due to their high cost, directly affects the people themselves because they do not have the money to meet other needs after paying the overheads. The problem indirectly affects the fact that people have less social contacts and a narrower social network and they are isolated from society, which then affects the quality of their lives. This situation is ubiquitous in the entire territory of Croatia. People in this situation are threatened by stability, their health, happiness, peace, fulfillment, discriminated, social exclusion and the overall feeling of insecurity and dissatisfaction with their life. High living costs have always been present, and have been growing steadily recently. High living costs have a wide range of consequences that also affect the wider environment of recipients of social benefits. Costs are higher during the winter and there is a problem of inability to survive without adequate heating. The problem is stable and it is difficult to control the direction of cost growth. The only thing we can do with our work is to influence the energy efficiency of the homes of recipients of social benefits in the sense that we carry out renovations, better (heat) insulation, install new carpentry or buy more energy efficient household appliances. As the causes of the problem we see:

  1. financially insufficient resources by the users themselves, but also by the state,
  2. poor infrastructure: lack of external building envelopes, old pipelines, inability to connect to the city network, old carpentry,
  3. Insufficiently sensitive policies that are not tailored to the needs of users,
  4. users narrow social networks, they have no one to turn to for help,
  5. existence of consciousness, but lack of action / reaction,
  6. Insufficient information of citizens on how they can make their home more energy efficient,
  7. there is no communication between citizens in need and experts who have knowledge about energy recovery. As one of the long-term solutions to energy poverty, we see the reduction of living costs through the renovation of buildings, which would be co-financed by the state. As well, the City of Zagreb plans Energy renovation of buildings that would be financed from its own funds, more precisely the city budget, national and European grants, favorable bank funds and other financial models that would prove acceptable for local use. Energy renovation of buildings means the complete energy renovation of energy-inefficient buildings using renewable energy systems and the application of integrated energy efficiency measures in buildings. Renewable energy sources would include heat pumps, photovoltaic systems and solar collectors, and integrated efficiency measures include heat insulation of the building envelope, replacement of existing lighting with more energy efficient ones, installation of recuperation, modernization of heating and cooling systems, energy replacement, remote reading of energy consumption and more. Furthermore, one of the actions that can be carried out is the replacement of carpentry, because old and damaged wooden carpentry leaks a lot of energy into the environment. It is also possible to install blinds or shutters that contain insulating materials. This would prevent heat loss in the winter and protect from the sun in the summer months. We would acquaint the users of social benefits with these goals of preventing energy poverty and the actions by which we would implement them. We would find out about companies that deal with the installation of blinds or shutters and carpentry and we would contact them for the renovation of buildings. Of course, we would ask the user for consent for the renovation of their homes, but also from the apartment owner if the tenants are renting. If necessary, we would convene a tenant council where we would present our plan, goals and steps for their realization, in order to provide them with lower living costs. We would finance the companies with the reconstruction funds available to the city. It is important to note that there are a large number of social benefit users, so we could not help everyone immediately. We would try to realize the project in five years, and we would give priority to the elderly in the reconstruction, since they have the minimum/smallest living income. We would then shift the focus to families with children and single households.

HEATING AND ENERGY POVERTY Poverty is a well-known problem, both in our country and in the world, but it has also changed over time, so there appeared some new phenomena. One of them is the energy poverty which we do not have a clearly established definition, but it can certainly be said that it is the inability of households and individuals to afford adequate basic energy services – heating, cooling, cooking, washing and lighting. Since the energy poverty is a growing problem in Croatia, it is also due to the increase in the price of energy and energy services, as evidenced by the large percentage of citizens who are unable to keep their households warm. Heating is one of energy services contained in term of energy poverty. One average household has a lot of charges by month, but the largest is often heating. In Zagreb it is actual problem and there is a debt of 35 mil. kn of unpayed heating bills. Usually, these households are beneficiaries of the guaranteed minimum fee or they simply have low monthly income. Here should be mentioned one-parent families which are common maternal and suffer of lower life quality in regards to two-parent families. One-parent families mostly have lower month income than two-parent families, but heating bills are same – they won’t be lower because there is one person less in family. Heating bills depend on the size of living/heating space, temperature, energy efficiency of living and other. In Croatia, there is financial compensation for heating, but only if you practice wood heating – you can get money for wood. What is with families who practice district type of heating which is most common in Zagreb? POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS AND DIRECTIONS OF ACTION Cooperation and coordination between associations working with single-parent families and energy experts should be strengthened. And in general, social workers should be more focused on the assessment of the user’s quality of life, with the focus on thermal system. It would be very useful to conduct workshops on energy poverty and practical ways of saving the thermal energy in a household.

Tags

UNIC CityLabs | green city

Themes

energy poverty | Roma community | housing

Type of case

Panel discussion | Workshop

Languages

Croatian

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