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Tijn Croon

ESR11

Tijn is a PhD candidate at the Delft University of Technology, where he looks into possible tensions between the environmental sustainability and affordability of European housing, with specific emphasis on the risks for vulnerable groups. He conducts spatial and statistical analysis on large data sets and explores innovative policies through case study research. Prior to his doctoral studies he was a consultant at Springco Urban Analytics, a research and advisory firm based in Rotterdam focused on urban development, real estate, and housing. Tijn received a M.Sc. in Sustainable Cities from King's College London in 2020, where he wrote his dissertation (Best Thesis Award 2020) in the Geocomputation and Spatial Analysis research group under the supervision of Dr Jon Reades. During his Masters Tijn won the Bank of England's annual Technology Competition together with fellow students, developing an idea to digitise debt counselling. In London he also worked as a trainee at the Siemens Centre of Competence for Cities. Prior to this period Tijn received a B.A. in Political Science and M.Sc. in Political Economy from the University of Amsterdam.

Research topic

Updated sumaries

September, 17, 2021

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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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

Secondments

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Lisbon as an all-round learning experience

Posted on 29-09-2021

When trying to contemplate the first RE-DWELL workshop in the Portuguese capital, the first thing that comes to mind is that it was such an all-round learning experience. Not just because our joint programme included round-the-clock activities, but mainly because we touched upon so many different subjects, perspectives and case studies. At one moment a philosophical debate arose about flat ontologies, while seemingly the next moment the practical applicability of Building Information Modeling (BIM) would be the subject of discussion.   The more philosophical debate took place during a Roundtable - not pictured on the left, which was a leisurely lunch on our first day - with Professor Clapham (University of Glasgow), Professor Debizet (University Grenoble Alpes), Professor Petrescu (University of Sheffield) and Professor Salama (University of Strathclyde). These renowned academics gave their views on the concept of transdisciplinary research for affordable and sustainable housing, which helped us to grasp the concept even better. But besides a clarification, in a way the speakers also challenged us.   As Clapham (2018, p. 176) puts it: “there is scope to design a theory of housing that may be drawn partly from existing concepts that fit the housing context, as well as through the design of concepts that emerge from the specific nature of housing itself. Although the production of a specific, transdisciplinary theory of housing is not practicable at the current state of knowledge, it should be a major priority to derive and test out the specific concepts that are needed to build the theory.” This is where the RE-DWELL team should pick up the gauntlet, try to overcome monodisciplinary paradigms, work together to redefine key concepts interdisciplinarily and eventually build these up into universal transdisciplinary knowledge.   An important element of a transdisciplinary approach is the integration of non-academic stakeholders, and this first workshop in Lisbon immediately demonstrated how valuable this is. Field visits and guided tours make a research project come alive and inspire you in ways that scientific articles are not capable of. But first and foremost, conversations with practitioners, policymakers and in-house researchers can help ESRs to design their methodology in a way that could truly address societal challenges.   A good example is how a municipality official (affiliated with the pioneering BIP/ZIP programme) contested the notions of ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’ governance, and explained by means of obvious examples how this dichotomy is not found in practice. These conversations are instrumental in transdisciplinary research and make us all look forward to our secondments even more.   Reference Clapham, D. (2018). Housing theory, housing research and housing policy. Housing, Theory and Society, 35(2), 163-177.

Reflections

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Greater than the sum of its parts

Posted on 21-07-2021

A few weeks into the RE-DWELL adventure, I find myself more optimistic regarding the challenges our societies face than I have been in a long time. Having to deal with both a climate crisis as well as a housing crisis at the same time can be quite daunting, especially when time is so short. But getting to know talented and dedicated peers, learning from their personal beliefs and disciplinary perspectives while thinking out loud about research opportunities really cheers you up!   The kick-off sessions helped us to draw connections between each other and between the research scopes we envision. I really liked how the break-out rooms enabled us to have discussions in smaller groups, as this gave the sessions a personal and informal setting. And one look at the Miro boards will tell you that even when the issues at stake may sometimes feel fragmented, the opposite is true. We are all focusing on different elements of Affordable & Sustainable Housing but if we collaborate well the pieces of the puzzle will all fall together nicely.   I genuinely believe the RE-DWELL community is in a unique position to contribute to a better understanding of the way forward, because messy and complex real-world problems call for a holistic approach. In that, I must give it to my old pal Aristotle, the whole could indeed be greater than the sum of its parts.

Workshops

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Case studies

Contributions to the case study library

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Vocabulary

Contributions to the vocabulary

Housing Governance

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

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