Tackling energy poverty in Central and Eastern Europe: Why we need to bring homeowners to the table

In 2023, 41 million EU citizens (9.3% of the population) couldn’t afford proper heating due to a cost-of-living crisis and soaring energy costs. Countries located in Central and Eastern Europe are especially affected by energy poverty. The housing stock is predominantly privately-owned and characterised by a large percentage of multi-family apartment blocks (MFAB). This is the result of its mass privatization in the 1990s, along with the deconstruction of the social safety net: without subsidies, utility and energy costs of the flats soared, burdening the family budgets. With a high share of ownership in MAFB, the process of renovating buildings is complex and can be very difficult to coordinate. 

The ComAct project aims to help alleviate energy poverty in 5 countries in Central and Eastern Europe (Lithuania, Ukraine, North Macedonia, Bulgaria and Hungary), through 3 main pillars: engaging communities and stakeholders; developing and adapting financing tools, and optimising technical solutions adapted to the need of energy-poor households living in MFABs. Its final conference, held on January 24, 2024, at the Committee of the Regions, was a crucial opportunity to shed light on the specific issues faced by Central and Eastern European countries that have been hit particularly hard by the energy crisis.

Building decarbonisation and building renovation need to happen at a much faster pace, but this must be done with a high degree of sensitively towards structural and social inequalities.

We need to go much faster than we ever have before in building decarbonisation and building renovation whilst also addressing very sensitively the significant structural and social inequalities – Louise Sunderland, Regulatory Assistance Project

Energy poverty must be addressed at building level

A multi-family apartment building in Budapest

ComAct partners developed the concept of ‘building level energy poverty to better address energy poverty in multi-family apartment buildings. The concept is based on the fact that implementing energy efficient measures in privately owned MFABs is impossible without the coordinated action of the building community.

Many energy efficiency solutions fall beyond the control of individuals, such as insulating the building envelope, upgrading central or district heating systems, or installing renewable energy sources. In many European countries, policymakers have acknowledged this issue and created mainstreamed support schemes to encourage the energy efficient renovation of privately owned residential buildings. However, a significant share of building owners lacks access to such funding. The ComAct project identified ‘energy-poor buildings’ those that are not able to benefit from these mainstream subsidy schemes and consequently do not provide proper energy comfort for their inhabitants (namely, multi-family apartment buildings with high ownership rates).

Using this concept can be instrumental to transform energy efficiency ambitions into policy actions in this specific region by tackling energy poverty in a way that acknowledges the specificities of the housing stock in Central and Eastern Europe.

Reaching out to homeowners associations through local one-stop shops

Local one-stop-shops (or ‘resource centres’ as coined by ComAct) are key to reach homeowners and homeowners’ associations. The first roundtable ‘Empowering local and national citizen action. How to strengthen local communities?’ was centered on the importance of such centres to effectively engage homeowners and their associations and to give them the necessary tools and support when it comes to renovating MFABs.

Investing in direct contact with homeowners pays off: at local level, in Lodz and Vilnius, both representatives, Adam Pustelnik, Deputy Mayor of the City of Łódź and Eglė Randytė, Managing Director, Vilnius City Building Renovation, shared the same insights: Clear communication establishes trust, and with trust, homeowners can feel confident to take ownership of the decision process.

People need to feel they are part of the solution and that they belong to a project; this sense of belonging is really important – Marine Cornelis, Next Energy Consumer

Two resource centers established in North Macedonia, along with the renovation of three multi-family apartment buildings, have benefited 140 households and resulted in an estimated reduction of 35% in energy consumption per building.

In Odessa, Ukraine, despite the Russian invasion, the resource center continues to welcome citizens looking for solutions. It plays a leading role in empowering communities of homeowners’ associations in Odesa and provides a platform for discussion at all stages of planning and implementation. In 2023, the basements of 39 houses were modernized by insulating pipes, replacing old lights with energy-saving ones, and installing individual heat substations that provide weather regulation, emergency lighting and ventilation. Over 6000 residents are now saving on energy bills while having access to more comfortable shelters in their buildings.

In Burgas, Bulgaria, the resource centre welcomed over 4000 visitors in 2023, which led to the submission of 213 projects for the National Renovation Programme, the highest number in the country.

Odessa Housing Union holding meetings with residents despite the more than challenging context (COVID 19 and Russian’s war)

EPBD implementation: translating complexity into concrete actions at local level

The second roundtable ‘How do EU requirements and obligations for renovation align with realities on the ground?’ focused on EU level policies working towards alleviating energy poverty in Europe.

Looking ahead to the forthcoming agreement on the EPBD in the European Parliament and the Council, discussions revolved around how the EPBD should be effectively implemented at national and local level. Stefan Moser (Head of Unit, DG ENER) stressed that while the European Commission wants to foster more exchange with all levels of governance, it’s crucial to work very closely with the Member States implementing the EPBD.

The complexity needs to be translated on the ground: “We need to calibrate the efforts over the next two decades using a comprehensive and gradual approach” says Stefan Moser. To meet this objective, “we need to tackle the lack of capacity and trained workforce. It is a challenge that requires a continuous pathway of investment, but by building up and spreading the knowledge, the investment will pay off in the long term”.

It is a matter of linking the various levels of governance and ensuring consistency in both policy design and implementation on the ground – Eva Brardinelli, CAN Europe

Unlocking investments for building renovations

During the final roundtable, ‘How to finance energy renovation for energy poor communities?’ speakers agreed that while there is no silver bullet, ensuring continuity & sustainability of long term financing instruments, as well as the combination of different funding schemes is essential to reach energy poor communities.

Bringing information on what type of financing is available directly to the homeowners is paramount, especially for vulnerable groups. In rural areas, getting information is even more challenging (lack of access to financing, construction companies, etc); to bridge the (information?) gap, Slavica Robic (REGEA) explained that building renovation roadmaps developed specifically for vulnerable rural districts is a viable solution, as the Renoverty project has experienced. To reach homeowners, people need to knock at their door and talk to them, as they are not likely to be exposed to other mainstream marketing campaigns, more common in big cities.

Trust is the keyword that we have to pursue here and trust is only delivered through communication, there is no other way to establish trust between different stakeholders – Dragomir Tzanev, EnEffect

Finally, Nicholas Stancioff (Funding for Future) presented the LABEEF fund, that finances the deep renovation of MFABs. LABEEF uses EPC+, an energy performance contract that takes into account benefits such as safety, health and comfort, and not just energy savings. Homeowners are paying on-bill and do not need to take credit.  On-bill financing can be a solution to remove the financial burden and help ‘sell’ the idea of energy renovation to homeowners more easily.

Continuing the collaboration with ComActivate

Partners will further develop and advocate solutions to reduce energy poverty under ComActivate (Enabling Community Action for Energy Sufficiency), a new LIFE project that kicked off in November 2023. Partnering with local municipalities (Burgas in Bulgaria, Józsefváros in Budapest, Hungary and Kaišiadorys in Lithuania), the project will consolidate the Resource Centres to reach energy poor communities and facilitate agreements in Home-Owner Associations (HOAs). Partners will also develop Neighbourhood Energy Sufficiency Roadmaps (NESRs) to address the complexities of renewable energies for MFABs, build capacity for homeowners’ associations, and establish a multi-stakeholder policy and investment dialogue at national and EU level.


  • The full recording of the event is available here.
  • Policy paper on the concept of energy poverty at the building level.
  • Policy brief on financing models adapted to the need of energy-poor households.
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