Over the years, cities in Europe have handled residential facilities for refugees in a range of ways – from large emergency reception centers with simple partitioning structures to more permanent options constructed within existing neighborhoods, where they would later serve other vulnerable populations in need of a home.

It is clear why housing is placed at the center of refugee integration policies – it is usually the key to accessing other social services and a step toward independent living in a new country.  At the same time, housing cannot be considered in isolation – a lack of legal rights and access to services can prevent refugees from accessing housing, work, or legal representation.

Most cities receiving refugees struggled with housing affordability long before asylum seekers arrived. While there are examples of existing buildings being repurposed to serve asylum seekers, significant preexisting housing challenges such as insufficient housing supply and rising costs in many arrival cities meant there were not many available options for asylum seekers who, in addition to housing, would face other obstacles to integrating into a new society, including immigration status, language, permission to work, and healthcare access.

There are no easy or universal solutions to refugee housing available in Europe or elsewhere. However, cities have developed a diverse set of programs to house refugees, experimenting with a range of physical structures and models, some of which were intended to be later repurposed and used to address pre-existing housing needs of a wider population. Facilities must be understood for their purpose and context: strategies to address temporary flows will look different from those oriented toward permanent housing, for instance. Each of these offers possible lessons for other cities.

The directory of housing projects presented in this document is intended as an informational resource, describing a range of facilities employed by cities to house refugees, including emergency shelters, temporary housing structures, and short-term and long-term construction projects. It is not intended to evaluate their success or effectiveness. This research excludes home sharing refugee programs and focuses primarily on the physical structures employed to house refugees.

One marked contrast between the European examples explored here and the current refugee crisis in New York City is the absence of a significant federal role. In general, the examples in this directory were implemented by local governments with funding from the national government. The national government also played an important role in distributing refugee flows toward cities where housing conditions might better support the absorption of a population influx.

Read about six notable refugee housing projects in Europe: