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Tijn Croon

ESR11

Tijn Melle Croon embarked on his PhD journey at Delft University of Technology in 2021, focusing his research on the impact of energy spikes on housing affordability for disadvantaged households. Drawing on interdisciplinary methods from economics, geography, political science, and development studies, Tijn's work delves into how targeted policies can alleviate energy poverty at various governance levels. He has regularly collaborated with national and local governments, NGOs, planning agencies, and social housing providers across France, Belgium, the UK, and the Netherlands, engaging in professional publications with organisations like Housing Europe and the European Federation for Living. Tijn actively contributes to the European Network for Housing Research and has conducted reviews for journals such as Energy Research & Social Science and Housing Studies. His research on the utility of poverty gap indices in energy policy design and evaluation, co-authored with his Delft supervisors Professor Marja Elsinga and Dr. Joris Hoekstra as well as TNO supervisors Dr. Peter Mulder and Dr. Francesco Dalla Longa, has been published in the peer reviewed Q1 journal Energy Policy. During the 2023 Michaelmas term, Tijn visited Professor Minna Sunikka-Blank at Cambridge University, collaborating on a paper exploring the driving characteristics and health outcomes related to the prebound effect. This phenomenon involves households rationing their energy consumption in inefficient dwellings due to financial concerns. Before embarking on his doctoral studies, Tijn worked as a consultant at Springco Urban Analytics, a Rotterdam-based research and advisory firm specialising in urban development and housing. In 2020, Tijn earned his M.Sc. in Sustainable Cities from King's College London, receiving the Best Thesis Award in the Geocomputation and Spatial Analysis research group under the guidance of Dr. Jon Reades. During his master's programme, Tijn and his fellow students won the Bank of England's annual Technology Competition, where they developed an idea for digitising debt counselling. In London, he also gained experience as a trainee at the Siemens Centre of Competence for Cities. Prior to these endeavours, Tijn obtained his B.Sc. in Political Science and Public Policy and an M.Sc. in Political Economy from the University of Amsterdam.

Research topic

Updated sumaries

September, 11, 2023

November, 22, 2022

September, 17, 2021

The Governance of the Just Transition:

Targeting Energy Poverty across Europe

 

Energy price volatility is expected to remain high due to geopolitical uncertainty and the ongoing shift towards low-carbon energy generation. However, the impact of price spikes varies across society, with households having lower incomes, limited savings, and less energy-efficient homes experiencing a disproportionate burden. Energy poverty, the inability to secure sufficient domestic energy services, can have deteriorating effects on livelihoods. Consequently, addressing energy poverty has become a critical focus in policymaking and research, particularly within the context of the European Green Deal. This PhD project delves into how European policymakers can effectively target vulnerable households at risk of energy poverty to ensure that the transition towards low-carbon housing is perceived as a 'just transition.' It seeks to contribute to our understanding of 'recognitional justice' in several ways. Firstly, it highlights the added value of poverty gap indices in assessing the intensity and inequality of deprivation stemming from energy poverty. Additionally, it examines various strategies employed by government and social housing providers in France, the UK, and the Netherlands to alleviate energy poverty. Finally, it develops a multilevel governance framework that identifies and discusses the roles and responsibilities of different actors in European energy poverty alleviation. This project uses a combination of quantitative and qualitative research methods to provide a comprehensive overview of how recognitional justice can be integrated into policies across various levels of governance. Through these efforts, it aims to enhance the identification of energy poverty, improve the efficiency of alleviation policies, and bolster public accountability among the responsible stakeholders.

The Governance of Energy Poverty Alleviation:

Comparative Analyses of Targeted Policies and Strategies across Europe

 

Energy price volatility is likely to remain high due to geopolitical uncertainty and the transformative transition towards low-carbon generation. However, the consequences of price peaks are unevenly distributed across society as households with low incomes, little savings, and inefficient dwellings are disproportionately affected. Energy poverty – the inability to secure sufficient domestic energy services that allow for participation in society – can have deteriorating effects on their livelihoods. Therefore, energy poverty alleviation has become an important policy and research area, not least in the context of the ‘Renovation Wave’, the European transition towards low-carbon housing. This PhD project explores opportunities for European policymakers to target vulnerable households at risk of energy poverty so that the Renovation Wave is perceived as a ‘just transition’. It aims to contribute to an understanding of ‘recognitional justice’ in several ways. First, it explores the added value of the energy poverty gap in assessing the intensity and inequality of deprivation caused by energy poverty. Moreover, these dimensions are used to identify driving household, dwelling and spatial characteristics of energy poverty in the Netherlands. Subsequently, it suggests targeted interventions housing associations could implement to support those in need and assesses the target efficiency of state-level support policies in France, the UK, and the Netherlands. Finally, it develops a multilevel governance framework indicating and discussing the roles and responsibilities of actors in European energy poverty alleviation. The project uses a mix of quantitative and qualitative research methods to provide a comprehensive overview of how recognitional justice can be integrated into policies across governance levels. By doing this, it aims to enhance identification of energy poverty, efficiency of alleviation policies and public accountability of actors responsible.

The Governance of a Just Housing Transition: 

Targeting Disadvantaged Households within the European ‘Renovation Wave’

 

As residential energy consumption constitutes a significant share of Europe’s carbon emissions, the European Commission aims to establish a ‘Renovation Wave’ by incentivising energy efficiency measures and renewable energy sources while discouraging the usage of fossil fuels. However, even though it is generally accepted that this can lower housing expenditure in the long term, policymakers are becoming increasingly concerned about the short-term negative effects that retrofit costs and levies may have on the position of disadvantaged households. This research seeks to provide insight into the effects of sustainability incentives on their ability to afford housing and explores the embeddedness of ‘just transition’ principles within multilevel housing governance. The overarching principles of recognitional justice, procedural justice and distributional justice will be conceptually deepened and empirically assessed in different housing contexts. To that end, I first intend to determine specific vulnerabilities that arise in this transition by quantitatively assessing microdata. Identifying the characteristics of those households at risk could help to comprehend differences and subsequently design policies that accommodate specific needs. In the following phase I will focus on case studies at different levels of housing governance, looking at the application of just transition principles on different levels, but also evaluating how municipalities, housing associations and other local actors identify inequitable transition outcomes and incorporate fairness within their policies. Besides scientific publications, the project’s output will include policy recommendations with guidelines for housing governance actors to address vulnerabilities and deliver a just housing transition.

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Recent activity

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Collaboration transcending the secondment

Posted on 17-10-2023

In the course of my doctoral research journey, the European Federation for Living (EFL) emerged as an extremely valuable secondment partner. This collaboration has been instrumental in shaping my research and fostering a mutually beneficial relationship, which I am eager to share in this blog post.   Building a network in social housing   EFL has been as an important platform for professionals in the European social housing sector for quite some time. It caters to those keen on staying updated with innovations in policy, finance, and construction, while building an international network. About a year before my official secondment began in July 2022, I had the privilege of being invited to present at their summer school in Bochum, Germany. The fact that the event was particularly tailored for younger professionals in the sector allowed me to blend in very easily. The constructive feedback I received on my early-stage work during this event proved invaluable in understanding how to practically apply the academic literature I had been exploring in my first year, and the connections I made during those days have remained a valuable part of my network.   Facilitating my focus group study   One significant aspect of my collaboration with EFL was the establishment of a focus group study involving social housing professionals from England, France, and the Netherlands. These in-depth discussions, spanning several hours, allowed us to gather crucial insights into their the sector's efforts to address energy poverty. Specifically, we delved into their perceptions of targeted approaches for the future. While I was already familiar with individuals at Ymere in the Netherlands and Clarion in England, it was through EFL's chair Ben Pluijmers' introductions that I was able to connect with key figures at Peabody (England), Havensteder (Netherlands), Paris Habitat, and Polylogis (both France), who played a pivotal role in this study.   Sharing insights and disseminating results   The collaboration with EFL presented various other opportunities to share my findings with a broader audience. I had the opportunity to present preliminary findings at two webinars hosted by EFL’s 'Social' topic group, graciously invited by Anita Blessing and John Stevens. Building on this, I shared valuable insights during EFL's Spring Conference in Paris in May 2023.   The pinnacle of this dissemination effort comes in the form of a comprehensive 20-page whitepaper that synthesises key learnings from our focus groups, focusing on energy poverty alleviation in the social housing sector. Collaborating closely with EFL and co-authors Joris Hoekstra and Ute Dubois, this whitepaper has been a collective endeavour. It is now scheduled for printing and will be shared with those interested at EFL’s upcoming Autumn Conference in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in early November. I am eagerly anticipating this event, and I am grateful to have been invited by EFL’s director, Joost Nieuwenhuijzen. In other words, stay tuned for updates on this page or join us during EFL's conference, because this collaboration is far from over!   Click here for a draft programme of EFL's Autumn Conference that takes place from 8-10 November in Belfast.

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Summer in the City

Posted on 13-06-2023

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the International Social Housing Festival (ISHF) in Barcelona alongside fellow network members and 2,000 (!) other participants. The event encompassed a remarkable week filled with seminars, keynote addresses, and informal discussions centred around the core themes of RE-DWELL: housing affordability and energy renovation. I would like to dedicate this blog to a particular question posed during a panel discussion I took part in, which explored the intersection between alleviating energy poverty and mitigating heat stress, as it truly sparked some thinking.   On the final day of the conference, a warm Friday on June 9th, I had the privilege of participating in an event organized by Diana Yordanova from Housing Europe. The event, titled 'Working Formulas and Question Marks for Pathways Out of Energy Poverty,' kicked off with Alice Pittini, Housing Europe's research director, sharing insightful highlights from this year's State of Housing report. Additionally, a panel discussion on effective strategies for alleviating energy poverty took place, where I joined the stage alongside esteemed experts and practitioners such as Eleni Kanellou, Anu Sarnet, Sven Van Elst, and Sergi Delgado. During the event, I had the opportunity to present some of the findings from a collaborative research paper I am currently working on with Joris Hoekstra from TU Delft and Ute Dubois from ISG Paris. Our paper focuses on how social housing organisations can effectively reduce energy poverty among their tenants.   Then, moderator Diana, posed a twofold question: "What were the most efficient measures implemented by housing organisations to shield tenants from the energy crisis during the past winter? And as the hot months lie ahead, what should social housing organisations in countries like Spain, Portugal, and Greece keep in mind as they prepare to support tenants and residents in dealing with heat stress?"   Now, while I know that the energy poverty literature increasingly looks at the lack of insulation and appliances that prevent households from cooling their homes sufficiently in summer, most of the research (including my own) currently tends to focus on the inability to heat during cold winters. However, upon reflecting on these questions, I came to realise that many measures taken by housing providers to address energy poverty in winter months would also contribute to the prevention and mitigation of heat stress.   First and foremost, it is crucial to to identify those requiring urgent assistance, specifically the most vulnerable tenants. Having a clear understanding of where to concentrate efforts, particularly during periods of crisis, is vital for short-term interventions. In another enlightening session at the ISHF, focused on climate justice in the Mediterranean, I had the privilege of listening to Eleni Myrivili, the current Chief Heat Officer of the City of Athens. She eloquently elucidated how heat exacerbates inequalities and lays bare the disparities among various socio-economic groups. This resonates with our observations during the previous winter, as the brunt of these extreme weather events is borne by (largely the same) low-income households residing in energy-inefficient dwellings. Therefore, the initial step is to identify the most vulnerable tenants. Who are they? And where do they live?   Another interesting approach that emerged during the previous winter, particularly in the United Kingdom, was the establishment of warm hubs by social housing organisations and their charitable arms. Warm hubs are essentially community centres where individuals can gather, find comfort, receive blankets, access food, and, most importantly, avoid the need to excessively heat their homes and risk high energy bills. It requires little imagination to envision that warm hubs could serve as cool hubs during heatwaves, providing air-conditioned environments to those most susceptible to heat stress.   Hence, resident engagement represents a critical aspect for both cold winters and hot summers. When executed effectively, resident engagement can significantly reduce vulnerability and foster trust between landlords and tenants. Particularly after retrofitting measures, it is essential to educate and promote sustainable behaviours. New technologies can be challenging to comprehend, especially when individuals are already facing difficult circumstances or language barriers. Improving short-term resilience is thus facilitated by fostering engagement.   And finally, when considering long-term resilience in both winter and summer seasons, it is essential to address the most decisive solution: renovation. Particularly in Mediterranean regions, where extreme heat reaches unprecedented levels, the implementation of green roofs and facades becomes crucial to alleviate such conditions. Additionally, measures such as insulation and double glazing play a pivotal role in reducing vulnerability during both winter and summer months, and their implementation can be achieved within a relatively short timeframe. Therefore, accelerating Europe’s Renovation Wave should be an absolute priority.   This introspection has pushed me to expand my thinking beyond the confines of Western European countries and delve into the diverse contexts in which housing providers operate throughout Mediterranean Europe. Moreover, it has reminded me of my master's dissertation at King's College London, written during the strange (and hot) summer of 2020 amid the Covid-19 pandemic. In that research, I examined the vulnerability of residents in the Metropolitan Region Rotterdam The Hague to heat stress, considering numerous variables (find the output below). Perhaps it’s about time for me to revisit and re-evaluate this work once again!

Conferences

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Thriving Through Crises

Posted on 22-11-2022

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, used the word ‘crisis’ ten times in her latest State of the Union. As one of her distant predecessors, Jean Monnet, once said that “Europe will be forged in crises”[i], I could hardly think of a more interesting time to be seconded in Brussels. Whether crises relate to housing, climate, energy, cost-of-living, or the war in Ukraine, they necessitate representatives to go beyond their own interests and come together in a constructive matter. I greatly appreciate the opportunity to take a closer look at this political dance during my secondment at Housing Europe.   Brussels comes with a unique dialect, often ridiculed and currently under scrutiny after a study (Rauh, 2022) showed that it baffles anyone except technocrats who use it on a day-to-day basis. Frankly, I did not have a clue what a ‘trilogue meeting’ consisted of before starting here, but now I have become fascinated by this closed-door negotiation process between the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Council (i.e. national governments). In the past few weeks, I have tried to follow talks on the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) revision and the Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) extension for Housing Europe.   Once you find your way through the EU’s web of acronyms, it is rather engaging to read through related documents and visit relevant events. They allow you to identify trends that will be further developed across the continent in the years after. While discussions about the promise of ‘one-stop-shops’ and ‘energy communities’ are not new, recent emphasis on these terms in European corridors suggest that a surge of policy incentives is to be expected in the near future. Another ubiquitous term, at least since last year’s surge in gas prices, lies at the heart of my research: energy poverty.   During Housing Europe’s annual Renovation Summit, held last week, energy poverty was even designated as one of the most pressing issues of our time by Alessia di Gregorio, deputy head of Social Economy at the European Commission. She urged member states to both monitor it continuously as well as address it with adequate retrofit policies. Marcos Ros Sempere, an MEP who serves as EPBD ‘shadow rapporteur’, referred to energy poverty alleviation as one of the main pillars of the Renovation Wave, emphasising the need to allocate funds to “the people who need it most”.   It strengthens me in my belief that national governments and other stakeholders (such as housing associations and energy suppliers) need to monitor which residents are most at risk. Not only because the revised Electricity Directive (Article 29 in Directive 2019/944 for EU insiders) and upcoming Social Climate Fund require them to, but because recognitional justice is a prerequisite for distributional justice. The only way to make the ‘just transition’ more than another empty shell is by identifying the disadvantaged, having them participate in the legislative process, and drafting policies that genuinely benefit their livelihoods.   [i] The original quote was "L'Europe se fera dans les crises et elle sera la somme des solutions apportées à ces crises" which would translate into "Europe will be forged in crises, and will be the sum of the solutions adopted for those crises" (Monnet, 1976).   References   Monnet, J. (1976). Mémoires. Paris: Fayard.    Rauh, C. (2022). Clear messages to the European public? The language of European Commission press releases 1985–2020. Journal of European Integration, 1-19.

Secondments

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Bridging research and practice during secondment at Clarion

Posted on 08-04-2022

One of the main objectives of transdisciplinary research is the collaboration between academics and practitioners in trying to solve societal issues. This approach is particularly welcome in the field of fuel poverty[1], as the key role of housing associations generally remains overlooked while a significant share of their tenants cannot afford domestic energy services. In addition, the body of scholarship on fuel poverty measurement has grown rapidly, but its use in practice has hardly been addressed (Bouzarovski, Thomson, & Cornelis, 2021). During my secondment at the research department of Clarion, the UK’s biggest housing association, I have tried to explore and combat these mismatches.   Ever since Brenda Boardman (1991) wrote her famous work on fuel poverty, the UK has been at the forefront of the policy agenda (Middlemiss, 2017). It also has the longest tradition of relevant research with almost a third of scientific publications up to date authored by UK scholars (Xiao, Wu, Wang, & Mei, 2021). In my view, this knowledge advantage is also reflected by the fact that professionals in all walks of the organisation were fully acquainted with the term and Clarion’s predecessor Affinity Sutton had already developed its first ‘fuel poverty vulnerability indicator’ back in 2013. Together with my peers, I examined whether and, if so, how the vulnerability indicator could be aligned and adapted to the latest scientific findings, recent regulatory changes, and daily operations.   Encouraged by my supervisor Dr Elanor Warwick, I started my secondment reaching out to as many new colleagues as possible. This resulted in dozens of very engaging informal conversations that helped me a lot, not only in my investigation for Clarion, but certainly also in my wider academic exploration. I believe these practical insights will steer my research trajectory to a more impactful course. Field visits to Wisbech and Tonbridge, where Clarion’s whole house retrofits are co-financed by the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund Demonstrator, introduced me to day-to-day operations on the ground. The measures consisted of applying triple glazing, external wall and loft insulation, as well as environmentally friendly technologies such as air source heat pumps, solar panels and centralised mechanical ventilation. Besides reduction of carbon emissions, the upgrade will save tenants between £300 and £500 on fuel bills each year (savings will be much higher with the current price peaks).   After six weeks of informal interviews with professionals about the targeting of retrofits, practical barriers in home improvement and energy advice for tenants, I felt that I reached a satisfactory degree of saturation. Gradually it had become clearer that although the vulnerability indicator was very holistic, methodologically innovative, and had provided valuable insights into the fuel poverty experienced by tenants in 2013, its use in practice was limited. In my view, there are various possible explanations for this, amongst which the following: 1.) the used formula was not exactly intuitive and understandable for the end-user, which could have impeded take-up; 2.) heavy weighting of some variables was difficult to justify due to data quality concerns; 3.) low-scale results (preferably building block level) were not easily accessible.   To improve interpretability across the organisation, I suggested to differentiate the vulnerability indicator into two different ones: one easy-to-understand binary indicator based on income and energy efficiency and thus aligned with the LILEE indicator of the Department of BEIS (2022), and one more holistic scale indicator that would also take into account socio-demographic and health characteristics. The results of the binary indicator would be suitable for monitoring and external reporting but could also inform retrofit decision-making, especially when bidding for public funding schemes. On the other hand, the scale indicator promised be an appropriate tool to flag specific households for interventions from the energy guidance team and neighbourhood response officers or for extended support during retrofit works.   To enhance reliability, I recommended the research team to include an indicative proxy question on fuel poverty in the next annual survey. During my secondment I conducted statistical analyses on data from the last conducted survey, and found that the question “How easy do you find it to keep your home at a comfortable temperature?” came closest. However, a more unequivocal alternative would be the question asked to respondents all across Europe by Eurostat (2021): “Can you afford to heat your home?” This way, the response relates directly to affordability, and cannot be interpreted differently (like the user-friendliness of the thermostat). While surveyed responses in the context of fuel poverty remain culturally biased (Thomson, Bouzarovski, & Snell, 2017), comparing the results from both indicators with the perception among those tenants would increase their validity. Together with other qualitative techniques this would also advance the understanding of lived experiences of tenants in fuel poverty.   To conclude, I think the secondment component is one of the greatest things about MSCA-ITNs, because they smoothly blend research and practice together. My future research direction has altered for the better because of my experiences at Clarion, and at the same time I have been able to share academic insights early on in my doctoral programme. Therefore, I am delighted to keep working with Clarion on these topics in the coming months and years, as I will be assisting the team in drafting an updated fuel poverty strategy and will return to London later this year for a comparative focus group study.   [1] Since the term ‘fuel poverty’ is common in the UK, I prefer to use it in this context. Across mainland Europe the term ‘energy poverty’ is increasingly used.     References   BEIS. (2022). Methodology handbook LILEE with projection. Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/fuel-poverty-statistics-methodology-handbook   Boardman, B. (1991). Fuel Poverty: From Cold Homes to Affordable Warmth. London: Pinter Pub Limited.   Bouzarovski, S., Thomson, H., & Cornelis, M. (2021). Confronting Energy Poverty in Europe: A Research and Policy Agenda. Energies, 14(4). doi:10.3390/en14040858   Eurostat. (2021). Can you afford to heat your home? [Press release]. Retrieved from https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/en/web/products-eurostat-news/-/ddn-20210106-1   Middlemiss, L. (2017). A critical analysis of the new politics of fuel poverty in England. Critical Social Policy, 37(3), 425-443. doi:doi.org/10.1177/0261018316674851C   Thomson, H., Bouzarovski, S., & Snell, C. (2017). Rethinking the measurement of energy poverty in Europe: A critical analysis of indicators and data. Indoor Built Environ, 26(7), 879-901. doi:10.1177/1420326X17699260   Xiao, Y., Wu, H., Wang, G., & Mei, H. (2021). Mapping the Worldwide Trends on Energy Poverty Research: A Bibliometric Analysis (1999-2019). Int J Environ Res Public Health, 18(4). doi:10.3390/ijerph18041764

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Case studies

Contributions to the case study library

Vocabulary

Contributions to the vocabulary

Energy Poverty

Housing Governance

Just Transition

Targeted universalism

Area: Policy and financing

The in-depth study of energy poverty as a social phenomenon commenced in the late 19th century through the works of British social researchers Booth and Rowntree (O’Connor, 2016). This era was characterised by significant social and economic transformation, and these scholars were troubled by the living conditions and welfare of impoverished urban populations, who were residing in congested and unsanitary environments. Throughout the 20th century, poverty in policy contexts became quite narrowly defined as a lack of income. However, it was another social concern in the UK that led to the development of concepts like ‘fuel poverty’ or ‘energy poverty’ a century after Booth and Rowntree.[i] Following the 1973 oil crisis, the Child Poverty Action Group took the initiative to address how increasing energy costs were affecting low-income households in the UK (Johnson & Rowland, 1976). As essentials like heating, electricity, and fuels became necessary for maintaining a decent standard of living in modern British society, this advocacy group pushed for government financial support. Later, Bradshaw and Hutton (1983) introduced a narrower definition of energy poverty: “the inability to afford adequate heat in the home”. Since then, studies on energy poverty have typically excluded motor fuels, as they fall under transport poverty, a related but separate area of study (Mattioli et al., 2017). Energy poverty, as defined by Bouzarovski and Petrova (2015, p. 33), refers to "the inability to secure or afford sufficient domestic energy services that allow for participation in society." Although the precise boundaries of relevant domestic energy usage are still debated, this definition expands beyond mere heating as it encompasses energy used for cooling, which is particularly relevant in warmer climates (Thomson et al., 2019). Moreover, it enables a socially and culturally dependent understanding of what it means to participate in society (Middlemiss et al., 2019). On 13 September 2023, the European Union (2023) officially defined energy poverty as “a household’s lack of access to essential energy services, where such services provide basic levels and decent standards of living and health, including adequate heating, hot water, cooling, lighting, and energy to power appliances, in the relevant national context, existing national social policy and other relevant national policies, caused by a combination of factors, including at least non-affordability, insufficient disposable income, high energy expenditure and poor energy efficiency of homes”. The doctoral thesis and subsequent book by Brenda Boardman, Fuel Poverty: From Cold Homes to Affordable Warmth (1991), marked a significant breakthrough in energy poverty research. She emphasised the detrimental impact of energy-inefficient housing on health and quality of life. In the decades that followed, substantial literature confirmed her qualitative findings (Thomson et al., 2017). Notably, studies have demonstrated the adverse effects of living in energy poverty on physical health (Liddell & Morris, 2010), mental health (Liddell & Guiney, 2015), stress levels (Longhurst & Hargreaves, 2019), social isolation (Harrington et al., 2005), and absenteeism (Howden-Chapman et al., 2007). Boardman’s work introduced an indicator that has remained influential to this date, although it was not the first attempt to operationalise the concept of fuel poverty (Isherwood & Hancock, 1979). Her ‘2M’ indicator categorises a household as energy poor if it needs to allocate twice the median share of its budget for energy expenses to heat its home adequately. Boardman calculated this threshold to be 10% at that time. Due to its simplicity and ease of comprehension, many governments directly adopted this 10% threshold without considering specific contextual circumstances. Since the early nineties, numerous attempts have been made to develop alternative indicators. Highly influential ones include ‘Low Income High Cost’ (LIHC) by John Hills (2012), ‘Low Income Low Energy Efficiency’ (LILEE) that subsequently became the official British indicator (BEIS, 2022), and a 'hidden' energy poverty indicator by (Meyer et al., 2018). Critiques of these indicators focus, amongst other things, on their simplicity and perceived 'technocratic' approach (Croon et al., 2023; Middlemiss, 2017). This marked the beginning of significant government commitment, initially in the UK and later in other countries to address energy poverty. Although certain forms of cold weather payments had already been introduced by the UK's Conservative administrations, it was under the successive governments of Blair and Brown, following the publication of Boardman's work, that programmes such as the Winter Fuel Payment and Warm Home Discount were implemented (Koh et al., 2012). The UK examples highlight bipartisan support for addressing energy poverty, with both the Conservatives and Labour backing these efforts. This policy objective has also gained momentum in various legislative contexts, leading the EU to incorporate energy poverty alleviation as a fundamental pillar of the European Green Deal and a specific goal of its landmark Social Climate Fund (European Commission, 2021). Over the last three decades, public interest in energy poverty as a 'wicked' problem has surged, particularly during the recent energy crisis. This crisis began in 2021 when energy markets tightened due to a post-pandemic economic rebound, and it worsened dramatically after Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 (IEA, 2023). Extensive research on the impact of this price surge on energy poverty levels has been carried out throughout Europe and globally (Guan et al., 2023; Simshauser, 2023). Consequently, energy poverty has become a significant focal point in discussions related to the 'just transition,' especially within the realm of energy justice, as it serves as a valuable concept for targeting policies towards a specific vulnerable group in this context (Carrosio & De Vidovich, 2023).     [i] ‘Fuel poverty' and 'energy poverty' are used interchangeably, with the former being more common in the UK and the latter in mainland Europe (Bouzarovski & Petrova, 2015). Previously, scholars in the UK used 'energy poverty' to denote a lack of access to energy and 'fuel poverty' when affordability was the concern (Li et al., 2014). However, this distinction is no longer maintained.

Created on 17-10-2023

Author: T.Croon (ESR11)

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Area: Policy and financing

The shift from ‘government’ to ‘governance’ has been debated since the early 1970s. Whilst state interventionism had been widely embraced within western societies during the post-war decades, governments gradually moved from exercising constitutional powers to acting as facilitators and cooperative partners (Rhodes, 1997). Over the course of a few decades, this resulted in governance as ‘interactive social-political forms of governing’ (Nag, 2018, p. 124).  Hira and Cohn (2003, p. 12), influenced by Keohane (2002), define governance as “the processes and institutions, both formal and informal, that guide and restrain the collective activities of a group”. Its decentralised and flexible nature could still include public actors but would also leave space for private and third-sector parties to provide services in hybrid and temporary institutional arrangements. To formulate one single definition of ‘housing governance’ as a particular mode of governance is however difficult due to its multilevel character. Housing could relate to either a family home, a housing association, or a complete local/national housing governance framework. On a household level, Wotschack (2005, p. 2) defines governance as managing “the daily time allocation of spouses by household rules and conflict handling strategies”. The work of Wijburg (2021) indicates that local/municipal governance entails a set of public interventions, strategies, policies and provisions used to provide local needs (e.g. housing supply). On the national level, Yan et al. (2021) define public rental housing (PRH) governance as “a structure of a wide range of government and non-governmental actors that act in all its phases of PRH provision from policy design to implementation and realisation”.[1] This specific definition on PRH combines the domestic definition of governance with Wijburg’s understanding of governance on the local level. Within the Chinese context, the national government provides policies and creates nationwide operational methods, whilst local governments implement and formulate the policies locally (Yan et al., 2021). Critics point out that a more decentralised governance structure complicates the public accountability of housing provision. Peters and Pierre (2006, p. 40) distinguish problems concerning the ‘isolation’ and ‘enforcement’ of accountability. The former refers to demarcation, as it is easier to measure the performance of a government housing agency directly responsible for new build and operations, than those from the private sector in an indirect role trying to stimulate and facilitate other actors and contracting out construction and operations (Shamsul Haque, 2000). The latter relates to the accountability deficit that arises when responsibility is transferred from democratically governed municipal agencies to actors without a representative institutional arrangement, and thus without control mechanisms for tenants or the wider population (Mullins, 2006). Throughout history, understanding of governing has evolved together with the role of government. The state plays a different role in capitalism, corporatism and socialism, which has varying effects on local and/or (inter)national levels. Whilst the above paragraphs describe housing governance within a democratic governance regime, transferring the conceptual debate to autocratic or hybrid regimes would pose difficulties. Thus, finding a unique definition of housing governance applicable in all spheres remains a challenge, and the specific context must be carefully considered. Important challenges remain, and as housing provision mechanisms evolve, further exploration of housing governance, especially on a municipal level, are likely to gain importance (Hoekstra, 2020). [1] “Housing provision is a physical process of creating and transferring a dwelling to its occupiers, its subsequent use and physical reproduction and at the same time, a social process dominated by the economic interests involved” ibid.

Created on 16-02-2022

Author: T.Croon (ESR11), M.Horvat (ESR6)

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Area: Policy and financing

Justice theory is as old as philosophical thought itself, but the contemporary debate often departs from the Rawlsian understanding of justice (Velasquez, Andre, Shanks, & Meyer, 1990). Rawls (1971) argued that societal harmony depends on the extent to which community members believe their political institutions treat them justly. His First Principle of ‘justice as fairness’ relates to equal provision of ‘basic liberties’ to the population. His Second Principle, later referred to as the ‘Difference Principle’, comprises unequal distribution of social and economic goods to the extent that it benefits “the least advantaged” (Rawls, 1971, p. 266).1[1] As this notion added an egalitarian perspective to Rawlsian justice theory, it turned out to be the most controversial element of his work (Estlund, 1996). The idea of a ‘just transition’ was built on these foundations by McCauley and Heffron (2018), who developed an integrated framework overarching the ‘environmental justice’, ‘climate justice’ and ‘energy justice’ scholarships. The term was first used by trade unions warning for mass redundancies in carbon-intensive industries due to climate policies (Hennebert & Bourque, 2011), but has acquired numerous interpretations since. This is because the major transition of the 21st century, the shift towards a low-carbon society, will be accompanied by large disturbances in the existing social order. In this context, a just transition would ensure equity and justice for those whose livelihoods are most affected (Newell & Mulvaney, 2013). A just transition implies that the ‘least advantaged’ in society are seen, heard, and compensated, which corresponds with three key dimensions conceptualised by Schlosberg (2004): distributive, recognitional, and procedural justice. Distributive justice corresponds with Rawls’ Difference Principle and comprehends the just allocation of burdens and benefits among stakeholders, ranging from money to risks to capabilities. Recognitional justice is both a condition of justice, as distributive injustice mainly emanates from lacking recognition of different starting positions, as well as a stand-alone component of justice, which includes culturally or symbolically rooted patterns of inequity in representation, interpretation, and communication (Young, 1990). Fraser (1997) stressed the distinction between three forms: cultural domination, nonrecognition (or ‘invisibility’), and disrespect (or ‘stereotyping’). Procedural justice emphasises the importance of engaging various stakeholders – especially the ‘least advantaged’ – in governance, as diversity of perspectives allows for equitable policymaking. Three elements are at the core of this procedural justice (Gillard, Snell, & Bevan, 2017): easily accessible processes, transparent decision-making with possibilities to contest and complete impartiality. A critique of the just transition discourse is that it preserves an underlying capitalist structure of power imbalance and inequality. Bouzarovski (2022) points to the extensive top- down nature of retrofit programmes such as the Green New Deal, and notes that this may collide with bottom-up forms of housing repair and material intervention. A consensus on the just transition mechanism without debate on its implementation could perpetuate the status quo, and thus neglect ‘diverse knowledges’, ‘plural pathways’ and the ‘inherently political nature of transformations’ (Scoones et al., 2020). However, as Healy and Barry (2017) note, understanding how just transition principles work in practice could benefit the act of ‘equality- proofing’ and ‘democracy-proofing’ decarbonisation decisions. Essentially, an ‘unjust transition’ in the context of affordable and sustainable housing would refer to low-income households in poorly insulated housing without the means or the autonomy to substantially improve energy efficiency. If fossil fuel prices – either by market forces or regulatory incentives – go up, it aggravates their already difficult financial situation and could even lead to severe health problems (Santamouris et al., 2014). At the same time, grants for renovations and home improvements are poorly targeted and often end up in the hands of higher income ‘free-riding’ households, having regressive distributional impacts across Europe (Schleich, 2019). But even when the strive towards a just transition is omnipresent, practice will come with dilemmas. Von Platten, Mangold, and Mjörnell (2020) argue for instance that while prioritising energy efficiency improvements among low-income households is a commendable policy objective, putting them on ‘the frontline’ of retrofit experiments may also burden them with start-up problems and economic risks. These challenges only accentuate that shaping a just transition is not an easy task. Therefore, both researchers and policymakers need to enhance their understanding of the social consequences that the transition towards low-carbon housing encompasses. Walker and Day (2012) applied Schlosberg’s dimensions to this context. They conclude that distributive injustice relates to inequality in terms of income, housing and pricing, recognitional justice to unidentified energy needs and vulnerabilities, and procedural injustice to inadequate access to policymaking. Ensuring that the European Renovation Wave is made into a just transition towards affordable and sustainable housing therefore requires an in-depth study into distributive, recognitional and procedural justice. Only then can those intertwining dimensions be addressed in policies.   [1] To illustrate his thesis, he introduces the ‘veil of ignorance’: what if we may redefine the social scheme, but without knowing our own place? Rawls believes that most people, whether from self-interest or not, would envision a society with political rights for all and limited economic and social inequality.  

Created on 03-06-2022

Author: T.Croon (ESR11)

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Area: Policy and financing

The scholarly discourse on targeting versus universalism in social protection has significantly influenced the evolution of global welfare states over the past century and a half. Recently, surging energy prices across Europe have reignited the debate over choosing between universal household support or targeted relief, mirroring a similar discussion on the trade-offs between efficiency and equity in providing renovation subsidies. This vocabulary entry delves into the advantages and disadvantages of each approach, while exploring various attempts to find middle ground between the two (e.g., ‘targeted universalism’), particularly in the context of affordable and sustainable housing. Historic context In the 1880s, Germany established one of the earliest forms of the modern welfare state with its Bismarckian system (Manow, 2020). It introduced social insurance programmes to address workers' issues such as healthcare, insurance, and pensions for the elderly. While revolutionary for its time, the system was modest in scope and initially limited to workers and their dependents. In the decades that followed, social welfare programmes across Western Europe expanded to cover a wider range of risks, gradually incorporating non-working populations into social protection schemes. The Great Depression catalysed the recognition of the state's crucial role in social welfare, a stance prominently advocated by economists such as Keynes. Following WWII, there was a widespread consensus on the importance of improving working-class living conditions to avert future disasters. The Beveridge Report, authored by Sir William Beveridge (1942), played a crucial role in reshaping the British welfare state and influencing welfare policies worldwide. It proposed an expansive social security system with universal coverage in areas like health and unemployment insurance. Many of the Beveridge Report's recommendations were implemented in the UK and significantly shaped the post-war social landscape after WWII under the government of Clement Attlee (Reeves & McIvor, 2014). Although the Report appeared to favour universalism, it did incorporate means-tested elements for specific benefits, creating a nuanced approach that combined universalism with targeted support to address poverty and meet specific needs. In the latter half of the 20th century, the evolution of different welfare states led to varying housing outcomes. The UK's liberal regime shifted to a more targeted dualist rental system with an increasing focus on homeownership, in contrast to corporatist and particularly social democratic regimes with a unitary rental system that aligned more with universalism (Esping-Andersen, 1990; Kemeny, 2001). Interestingly, housing presented a unique challenge in Beveridge's pursuit of universalism. He dedicated nine pages to the 'problem of rent', acknowledging significant geographical variations in rent levels while recognising that they were often not a matter of choice (Lund et al., 2021). Beveridge considered covering actual rent costs but realised this conflicted with his principle of flat-rate benefits. His solution was to recommend a national average rent allowance, differing only for working and pensioner households. Given the rent disparities, larger families' higher rent needs, and poor housing conditions, Beveridge's plan risked falling short of providing universal subsistence. To address this, he suggested post-war housing improvements in later publications (Beveridge, 1949, 1952), including increased supply and better quality of housing in order  to reduce rent disparities across the UK. He advocated for the creation of New Towns and incentivising voluntary housing associations, hoping that enhancing housing quality would lead to  improvements in relative affordability. Advantages and disadvantages of approaches Beveridge’s ‘problem of rent’ mirrors a core dilemma central to the debate on universalism and targeting. While a universal approach aims for inclusivity by covering all households, ensuring that no one is left out, the support offered in a universal system may not be as substantial as in a targeted approach. This could potentially fall short of providing adequate relief to those with the most significant needs. The universalist approach offers numerous advantages (Thompson & Hoggett, 1996). It not only promises inclusivity but also enjoys greater public acceptance. Furthermore, its simplicity in administration streamlines implementation and reduces administrative complexities. By eliminating the need for means testing or eligibility criteria, it simplifies the delivery of benefits. However, universalism also comes with its share of drawbacks. The cost implications of providing benefits universally can be substantial, potentially straining government budgets, without necessarily providing sufficient support to those in need. Additionally, responding to crises and price shocks with universal support, often referred to as ‘helicopter money,’ can cause substantial inflationary pressure. In the context of affordable and sustainable housing, there is a particular disadvantage to this approach. Universal energy subsidies may diminish the incentive for high-income homeowners, who typically spend the most on energy, to reduce consumption or invest in energy efficiency (Lausberg & Croon, 2023). Simultaneously, low-income households in energy-inefficient dwellings may hesitate to use heating due to leakages and financial concerns (Betto et al., 2020), potentially making them ineligible for support. In his influential essay on the ‘Political Economy of Targeting’, Amartya Sen (1998) describes the pros and cons of targeting. A major benefit is cost-effectiveness, directing resources efficiently to the most vulnerable and ensuring maximum impact for the targeted groups. However, the approach is impaired by potential exclusion errors, wherein genuinely disadvantaged households might be overlooked due to stringent eligibility criteria. Additionally, the stigma associated with being a beneficiary can lead to negative social consequences. Furthermore, the administrative complexity involved in identifying and reaching the right households is a significant hurdle, requiring comprehensive and accurate systems. This final complication is especially evident in the government's response to the energy crisis in Europe, as policymakers have cited a shortage of data, time constraints, and rigid social compensation mechanisms to explain why they could not effectively assist those who are most vulnerable (Natili & Visconti, 2023). Finding middle ground Universal and targeted approaches coexist in most social welfare systems (Jacques & Noël, 2021). Many European countries have implemented a universally accessible pension system, ensuring entitlement to benefits for everyone of a certain age, supplemented by targeted support for elderly individuals lacking private income. Moreover, several European countries approach housing renovation in a comparable manner, offering general subsidies to all residents while also implementing means-tested subsidies for households considered vulnerable. Another branch of public policy emphasises ‘targeted universalism,’ focusing on designing support policies and interventions that prioritise and address the specific needs of disadvantaged households while still providing benefits to everyone (Powell et al., 2019). In other words, these policies are available to all but particularly important to some. One example would be the reduction in the cost of public transport, a service that is available to everyone but predominantly used by households with lower incomes. Other examples include childcare subsidies and job training programmes, which are particularly beneficial for low-income families struggling to access quality childcare and for disadvantaged individuals looking to improve their job prospects, respectively (Coote & Percy, 2020). While the European Commission places a strong emphasis on targeting in its criteria for funding from the Social Climate Fund (SCF), Member States could consider strategies to implement policies that embody the principles of targeted universalism. For instance, in many Western European countries, a potential approach could involve prioritising the renovation of social housing. Given that energy poverty is prevalent among social tenants in these housing regimes, it would be logical to extend financial support or fiscal incentives to their landlords, such as tax deductibility of renovation costs or government guarantees for low-interest loans (Seebauer et al., 2019). On the other hand, the majority of energy poor households in the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe own their homes. In this context, an effective strategy that combines targeted and universalistic elements would entail investing in ‘one-stop-shops’ that offer comprehensive renovation services (Bertoldi et al., 2021). These establishments would provide bundled services such as energy audits, renovation works, and financing. By leveraging economies of scale and specialised expertise, they can effectively reduce costs and offer affordable renovation solutions to disadvantaged groups. Although one-stop-shops are accessible to all, they can be targeted at households experiencing specific information deficits, such as those confronted with language barriers, digital illiteracy, or limited expertise within their social networks. The EU explicitly states that Member States can use the SCF for “targeted, accessible and affordable information, education, awareness and advice on cost-effective measures and investments, available support for building renovations and energy efficiency” (European Parliament, 2023, p. 16)

Created on 03-02-2024

Author: T.Croon (ESR11)

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Publications

Croon, T. (2022, August). The Governance of Energy Poverty Alleviation: Comparative Analyses of Targeted Policies and Strategies across Europe. In New Housing Researchers Colloquium (NHRC) at the European Network for Housing Research (ENHR) Conference 2022, Barcelona, Spain.

Posted on 29-08-2022

Conference

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Energy poverty alleviation by social housing providers: A qualitative investigation of targeted interventions in France, England, and the Netherlands

Posted on 17-07-2024

Article

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