ULI Report Calls for Action from the Real Estate Industry to Confront Mass Migration in European Cities

FRANKFURT (27 April 2017) – A new report from the Urban Land Institute (ULI) lays out recommendations for how the real estate industry can help ease the burden of increased migration into European cities. These recommendations include increasing knowledge and collaboration between all stakeholders to successfully integrate migrants into communities; improving planning resources to provide better housing for migrants; using incentives and quotas to encourage mixed-use and entry-level housing; and facilitating cohesion between migrants and existing populations through shared spaces and equitable distribution of resources.

Entitled Mass Migration and Real Estate in European Cities, the report was funded by the ULI Charitable Trust, which encourages charitable giving among ULI’s members and partners to support mission-led programmes and initiatives across Europe. The research was carried out by the Institute for Research into Superdiversity (IRiS) at the University of Birmingham. A steering group of ULI members from Austria, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Turkey, and the UK were instrumental in supporting the research.

The report stresses that while migration brings many challenges to European cities, it also creates an opportunity for the real estate industry to pursue creative and innovative ways to rise to these challenges. However, the report also found a general lack of knowledge and a lack of connection between expertise on migration and expertise on real estate, despite considerable interest from the real estate industry on this topic.

“While the current trend of mass migration puts pressure on European cities, it offers the real estate industry a chance to make these cities a better place for migrants and existing residents to live,” said Lisette van Doorn, Chief Executive, Urban Land Institute Europe. “The influx of migrants creates a sense of urgency that will push the industry to respond immediately to the current and future demands of tenants with mixed-use and affordable housing, all while applying the principles of good density to support the integration of migrants. Under normal circumstances, this kind of change would take years.”

Informed by a survey of and interviews with ULI members and additional interviews with experts on migration, the report finds that 55% of respondents reported overall negative impacts in their respective cities as a result of mass migration. Over two-thirds of all respondents perceived increased pressure on infrastructure, and over half perceived increased social inequality, a deterioration in community relations, a decline in the affordability and availability of housing, and a decline in the affordability of land and real estate.

According to the report, 57% of survey participants indicated that their respective cities are taking actions to respond to migration. The most common examples were the adaptation of buildings, making changes to planning regulations, developing new infrastructure, adapting services, and developing integration programmes. However, over half of survey respondents were unable to comment on how the real estate and land use sectors in particular are working to mitigate the migration crisis.

ULI members were asked which measures should be taken to respond to migration from both a commercial and residential real estate perspective. From a commercial perspective, respondents prioritised increased flexibility in change of use of commercial real estate, the use of vacant commercial real estate, relaxation of building regulations, enforcement of affordable housing quotas, and inclusionary zoning. From a residential perspective, members highlighted the re-use of older properties, more variation in density across cities, more variety in residential units, more flexible informal housing units, and more individual housing units throughout cities.

Study findings suggested that migration was not perceived to have changed local housing markets in any significant way, but was considered to have added to the problems of an already overstretched residential market. In many European cities, ongoing urbanisation processes have led to extreme pressure on affordable housing.

The report offers recommendations—based on three key themes—for the real estate industry to mitigate the challenges presented by mass migration in European cities:

  • Knowledge and collaboration: Increase expertise on the combination of migration and land use/real estate issues; involve the real estate industry, existing residents, and migrants in the planning process; work with local and national media to promote positive outcomes; and actively share best practices in housing and integrating migrant populations.
  • Role of Planning: Implement clearer and more flexible planning guidelines; improve the use of distressed areas and brownfield land; and develop strategies for the vertical and horizontal dispersal of migrants.
  • Infrastructure and Housing: Create spaces for interaction between existing and new residents; ensure equitable distribution of resources between existing and new residents; use flexible housing solutions, incentives, and quotas to insure mixed-use and entry level housing; and prepare for secondary migration.

The report also includes case studies of migration trends in Germany, Sweden, and Turkey, as well as case studies of successful initiatives to house and integrate migrants in Copenhagen, Denmark; Gothenburg, Sweden; Hanover, Germany; Amsterdam, Netherlands; and Brussels, Belgium. Case studies include a housing project in Amsterdam where young migrants and Dutch natives live together, examples of modular housing, and a social investment fund in Brussels focused on developing social housing in deprived neighbourhoods.


About the Urban Land Institute
The Urban Land Institute is a non-profit education and research institute supported by its members. Its mission is to provide leadership in the responsible use of land and in creating and sustaining thriving communities worldwide. Established in 1936, the institute has almost 40,000 members worldwide representing all aspects of land use and development disciplines. For more information, please visit europe.uli.org, follow us on Twitter, or join our LinkedIn group.