Riga’s revival: From minuses to pluses

About the Affordable Cities blog series and #BetterUrbanHousing
People living in cities across the world are facing the effects of the housing affordability and cost-of-living crisis. OECD Champion Mayors recently endorsed the new “OECD Brussels Blueprint for Affordable cities and Housing for All” at the Brussels Urban Summit where they shared innovative solutions to tackle these challenges and drive more inclusive economic growth. They continue to drive efforts that shape a more affordable, equitable and resilient urban future. www.oecd-inclusive.com/champion-mayors/

Riga City Council is taking unprecedented and innovative steps at the municipal and national levels to ensure housing affordability in the city. Delving into the statistics will help us answer the question: is housing accessible for all the residents of Riga?

A declining population, but increasing demands

As a result of emigration, a declining birth rate and relocation to the suburbs, Riga has lost a third of its population since 1991. Although the pace of decline is now slowing, Riga’s population is still decreasing.

At the same time, the demands of its residents are rising. They are seeking high-quality services and energy-efficient housing. This demand is particularly evident among the younger generation, who prefer these modern housing options.

That creates a thorny set of housing challenges for the city to manage. In 2021, around 53,000 or 16% of Riga’s dwellings were vacant. There is limited investment in new, modern housing.

New apartment construction ranged from 1,260 to 1,537 units per year from 2018-22, and Soviet-era housing continues to dominate the housing landscape: only 9% of the housing stock was built after 2000.

Supporting the vulnerable

Our priority is to assist vulnerable residents with their housing needs. Riga has implemented a procedure to register eligible residents based on income, health, household size and other criteria. While the waiting list for municipally assisted housing is falling (with 1,937 families registered as of April this year), the wait times remain lengthy.

The municipality can provide housing support to specific groups, including young professionals, teachers, municipal police officers and repatriates. However, the limited housing stock poses challenges in accommodating these groups.

Turning minuses into pluses

To tackle these issues and transform our challenges into opportunities, Riga is developing a medium-term housing plan for 2024-30. Riga is seeking to incentivise new, modern housing developments, working with the nation government to shape legal and financial frameworks. The city is taking a proactive approach by tailoring developments to the needs of different groups, including by specifically identifying the number of new apartments required for young professionals within the municipality.

Riga is also seeking to upgrade its existing housing offer through co-financing programmes. These will support building improvements, façade restoration, courtyard landscaping and the renovation of residential housing, connected plots of land, as well as culturally significant historical houses and residential building facades. The municipality actively supports the formation of apartment associations, serving as a catalyst to encourage housing renovation. This involves creating additional financial support, advice and training for homeowners.

Meanwhile, the municipality has embarked on an ambitious programme to renovating existing municipal housing and acquire new properties, with a preference for high-quality, newly built units. Riga aims to become a national leader in housing projects implemented through innovative public-private partnerships (PPP). Through these innovative approaches, Riga City Council strives to address its unique housing challenges and revive Riga, paving the way for a more positive future.

About the OECD Champion Mayors Initiative
Created in 2016, the OECD Champion Mayors for Inclusive Growth Initiative is a global coalition of mayors who meet on a regular basis to share their experience in the pursuit of inclusive growth in cities. Since its inception, over 100 different mayors from around the world have joined the Initiative, contributing their voice to the global debate, and making major strides in their cities toward youth empowerment, sustainable climate policy and support for SMEs. The Champion Mayors will meet at the Brussels Urban Summit on 13 June to drive change on improving housing affordability and cost of living for residents in their cities.

Mayor of Riga | + posts

Mārtiņš Staķis has been the Mayor of Riga since October 2020. He is leading the new ruling coalition which aims to modernize the city and to provide sustainable development solutions.

The new coalition is particularly focused on areas of urban development that received less attention during previous municipal administrations: attracting sustainable investments, implementation of good governance practices, and moving towards climate-neutrality and digitalization.

Riga Investment and Tourism Agency was founded under Staķis' leadership, thereby launching a new era in the city's relations with investors and international business. The reorganized Riga Energy Agency is committed to the goal of making Riga the first climate-neutral capital city in the Baltics.

Mārtiņš Staķis is liberal and advocates for modern patriotism by serving on the Latvian National Guard and inspiring young people as a volunteer coach. Mayor Mārtiņš Staķis has a strong background in entrepreneurship and he has served as a member of parliament from 2018 to 2020. He is married to Ilze Staķe-Paidere, and has of two sons – Edvards and Lūkass.