2021 | May
The most common form of public housing provision in Greece, and specifically in the Athens, was the construction of social housing estates, as was the case in the rest of Europe. These estates were designed by public agencies mainly from the interwar period to 2004. This study aims to indicate the context within which social housing in Athens was developed, its evolution and the analysis of the causes that led to its decline. Thus, through the study of the Athenian case, in the context of being an ineffective model of housing provision, the main research question of this paper, regarding housing estates, is: What are the current challenges the housing estates are facing? 
Social housing policy in Athens
In Greece, there was no official definition of social housing (Dimitrakopoulos, 2003).
The concept of social housing has historically been shaped in Greece according to the needs and purposes it would serve as well as the beneficiaries (to whom these houses were provided). So, there was housing for the refugees, the popular class and the working class, respectively (op. cit.). In this paper, we use the more general term ‘social housing’, which includes all the previous types.
The type of social housing in Greece has always been residual. It targeted specific groups of the population (refugees, internal migrants, salaried workers and residents who lived at old estates in inadequate housing conditions) who were not property owners and was directly associated with slum clearing programmes (part of them) and construction of social housing estates. Also, the apartments were given to beneficiaries for homeownership, not for rent (Kandylis et al. 2018). In fact, Greece remains the only European country whose housing model is characterized by the complete absence of the social rental sector (Pittini and Laino, 2011). Therefore, the Greek social housing policy was and continues to be aimed at urgent temporal needs, for example, the housing of victims of wars, natural disasters and earthquakes (Kandylis et al., 2018).
The historical review of social housing development in Athens concerns the following four periods: 1922–1939, 1950–1974 and 1975–2012. These periods are closely related to various events, such as huge population exchanges during 1920s, wars, migration flows etc., which changed Athens’ demographic and social profiles and usually induced important housing needs. These needs were urgent or less urgent as will demonstrated in the analysis that follows.
The interwar period (1922–1939)
The sector of social housing was developed for the first time after the Asia Minor Catastrophe and the need for housing large numbers of refugees from Asia Minor, Eastern Thrace and Pontus due to the defeat of the Greeks in the Asia Minor Campaign in 1922 and the subsequent signing of the Lausanne Treaty in 1923. The housing of a large number of refugees was difficult for the state to accomplish due to three factors: a) lack of previous experience in the field of housing rehabilitation, b) absence of public policy for the housing of vulnerable social groups and c) limited available financial resources. The reason was the two Balkan Wars and WWI that had preceded the Asia Minor Catastrophe (Γκιζελή, 1984).
During the 1920s, the Refugee Care Fund (TPP, in Greek, or Fund) and the Refugee Settlement Commission (EAP, in Greek, or Commission) were the two institutions that acted in the field of the refugee housing. The TPP was established by the Greek government, while the EAP was autonomous from the state but was supervised by an international organization, the League of Nations. More specifically, the TPP (began the construction of new settlements on the outskirts of Athens and Piraeus) was the first institution to that point which had dealt with the housing of vulnerable social groups, in particular, refugees. Hence, the Fund laid the foundation for the creation of a social housing sector after housing thousands of refugees (Γκιζελή, 1984). Also, the ΕAP continued the refugee housing work until 1930 (Λεοντίδου, 2001).
Despite the action of the public agencies some refugees who remained homeless settled on vacant land and formed makeshift accommodations (Leontidou, 1990). Particularly in the city of Athens, the refugees self-promoted their housing near the existing settlements that were built by the state or wherever they found vacant land (Παπαϊωάννου, 1975).
In total, for the refugee housing rehabilitation project during the interwar period, 12 principal and 34 secondary settlements were built outside the existing urban tissues of Athens and Piraeus. Eventually, this led to developing several suburban areas uninhabited before 1922 (map 1) (Παπαϊωάννου, 1975).
Map 1: Refugee settlements built after 1922 and until the end of the 1930s on the outskirts of Athens and Piraeus
Source: Παπαϊωάννου, 1975:15
The activity of the central government through the Ministry of Welfare began in parallel with the action of the two institutions. However, from 1930 onward, the Ministry continued as the only actor housing refugees (Leontidou, 2001). More specifically, during the decades of 1930 and 1940, the Ministry constructed housing estates in slum areas, after the demolition of the shacks, or near them (Vasiliou, 1944). The housing estates were influenced by the modern architecture of the time (Bauhaus School) (Kolonas, 2003). The beneficiaries of the apartments were the Asia Minor refugees who were the residents of the shacks. Four of the estates were located in Athens (Alexandras Avenue, Stegi Patridos, Erythros Stavros, Dourgouti and Kaisariani), one in Piraeus and the rest in the wider Piraeus region (Nea Kokkinia, Rentis and Drapetsona). They were built in two periods, 1933–1936 and 1936–1939, and were given to beneficiaries exclusively for owner-occupation and not for rent (Georgakopoulou, 2003, Vasiliou, 1944).
The allocation of the apartments was implemented through a lottery, taking into account the members of each family and provided that the beneficiaries’ families had no other real estate property of any sort (Σταυρίδης κ.ά., 2009). These apartment blocks constituted social housing estates, since they were constructed by the state for those who could not access housing on their own (i.e. refugees who lived in shacks). Beneficiaries were required to pay a low price to the Ministry – much lower than market price – in order to attain ownership of the apartment (Σταυρίδης κ.ά., 2009). The Ministry made it easier for them to pay the price by giving them the opportunity to repay 70% of the price that was spent on the purchase of the land and for the construction of the residence within 15 years (Βασιλείου, 1944).
The impact of the state’s action for the housing of refugees regarding the overall issue of social housing is undoubtable. The sector of social housing was developed for the first time in Greece due to the need for housing such a large number of refugees, and this laid the foundation for the creation of a wider social housing policy (Λυγίζος, 1974). Nevertheless, while the task of housing thousands of refugees was in progress, this was not the case for the poor social strata of the native population. Social housing was strictly understood as refugee housing (Γκιζελή, 1984).
Post-war period (1950–1974)
Housing needs after the Civil War, that followed WWII, were also significant. Moreover, in the 1950s, there were refugees for whom the problem of housing remained unresolved. The housing stock decreased due to war catastrophes, and the massive influx of internal migrants from rural areas into the cities (due to various reasons, such as civil war, job searching, etc.) intensified the housing shortage. During the post-war period, most social housing projects were undertaken by the Ministry of Welfare through slum clearance programmes and the construction of social housing estates. These estates were built to accommodate the Asia Minor refugees, as well as the natives who lived in shacks (Βασιλικιώτη, 1975α).
The beneficiaries of the apartments at social housing estates were low-income households who were settled in inadequate houses and were not homeowners or landowners in some other area. The allocation of the apartments was implemented, as in the previous period, by lottery. Again, the beneficiaries could not choose according to selected features (such as the number of the apartment’s floor, the dwelling size, etc.). Thus, the apartment they received was not guaranteed to satisfy their needs (op. cit.).
Also, the beneficiaries bought the apartment from the Ministry for a subsidized price. Therefore, due to the issue of the exchangeable properties (as I have already mentioned), the majority of the Asian Minor refugees and their descendants refused to pay the price for the apartment they were assigned (Σταυρίδης κ.ά., 2009). In contrast, the internal migrants paid for the apartments.
During the demolition of the shacks and the building of the new estate, beneficiaries were given a rent subsidy. In many cases, households were relocated from the neighbourhood they used to live in to another (Βασιλικιώτη, 1975α). These relocations, even though they resulted in better housing conditions, brought significant changes. These changes had to do with the aspects of everyday life amongst residents.
In that period, along with the Ministry of Welfare, the Workers’ Housing Organization (OEK in Greek) became active. The OEK was established in 1954 as an independent agency by the Ministry of Employment and Social Security. Until 1975, its revenue came primarily from employee contributions (Κοτζαμάνης και Μαλούτας, 1985). This organization provided housing for private-sector employees who were not homeowners. The OEK was the first organization that its housing policy meant to be a more comprehensive, mainly as opposed to the state policy which, until that point, gave priority to the housing rehabilitation of refugees, slum residents and other residents affected by various natural or anthropogenic disasters. However, the most vulnerable social groups – such as the homeless and the unemployed – were excluded from OEK’s social housing policy (Σαπουνάκης, 2013).
The beneficiaries were given either loans (for self-housing or buying a new house) or apartments in newly constructed housing estates. The OEK provided apartments to beneficiaries exclusively for owner-occupation and not for rent, just like the other public agencies that had provided social housing since 1922. The beneficiaries had to pay a low price to the OEK in order to purchase the apartment. The apartments were allocated by lottery amongst potential beneficiaries. In comparison with the Ministry’s similar process, the OEK lottery was based on social and localization criteria (Σταυρίδης κ.ά., 2009). For example, two of the main criteria were the distance from the neighbourhoods (without housing estates) and the proximity to potential employment areas (op. cit.).
The buildings constructed by the OEK were two-storey detached houses and three, four, eight and ten storey apartment buildings. In the design of the OEK housing estates, there was a provision for the formation of open spaces and green areas. The apartment buildings were arranged in rows with an appropriate distance between the buildings (to ensure adequate lighting and ventilation for the apartments) (Σταυρίδης κ.ά., 2009).
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