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November 23, 2020



Commentary: Hypocrisy takes center stage in Czech housing policy across the spectrum

4.6.2015 19:20
On Wednesday 22 October 2014 an international conference on addressing Romani homelessness was held at the Lichtenstein Palace in Prague. (PHOTO:  Platforma pro sociálnmí bydlení)
On Wednesday 22 October 2014 an international conference on addressing Romani homelessness was held at the Lichtenstein Palace in Prague. (PHOTO: Platforma pro sociálnmí bydlení)

Hundreds more people have become potentially homeless in the Czech Republic over the past few days. They are impoverished, and up until now they have been living in residential hotels.

There are many Romani people among them. Municipalities are now able to reject applications for housing benefits to persons living in these facilities as a result of a recently adopted amendment to the law on aid to those in material distress.  

Many local officials are now doing exactly that. They are also giving various reasons for their decisions.

Mayor Liana Janáčková of the Mariánské Hory Municipal Department of Ostrava, for example, has said these applications will be rejected across the board because "residential hotels are not appropriate environments for families with children". There is no point in reviewing in detail the hypocrisy of this particular politician, who has never made any secret of her racism - the problem is that other politicians "across the political spectrum" are proceeding in a similarly hypocritical way, and primarily, that their moves are completely misconceived.  

Various paths to the creation of homeless people

Mayor of Bohumín Petr Vícha (ČSSD) says his town cannot approve these applications because it has long criticized the "poverty business" of the residential hotels. While 

Janáčková is a racist, Vícha is a Social Democrat.

Janáčková gives cover to her moves by professing a regard for children, while Vícha uses the fight against "traffickers in poverty". Each of their decisions will have the same impact:  People in the residential hotels, children included, will end up on the street.

Other politicians are taking similar actions. Mayor Petra Bernfeldová (Ostravak) of the Moravská Ostrava a Přívoz Municipal Department says she will neither approve nor reject these applications because she doesn't have enough information about those applying.  

In practice, her inaction will have the same effect as rejecting the applications would, and the mayor and her colleagues will receive one very clear piece of information as a result, namely, that the occupants of the residential hotels will become homeless. Then there is the Mayor of Ostrava-Jih, Martin Bednář (ANO), who has said he is making this decision according to various criteria (i.e., that the applicant be a permanent resident there, not owe the municipality any money for unpaid obligations, and that the residential hotel itself meet legal requirements) even though he must know that not many facilities or people will meet them.  

"If an exceptional number of cases of families with children turns up, the social welfare department will address that," Bednář says. Of course, he is not offering any guarantees.

The options available to any municipal social welfare department are limited. This means more children will end up on the street.

Notes for the neo-liberals

Many people understand and welcome these arguments and decisions. That doesn't mean they are antigypsyists or racists.

At first glance, these decisions are logical:  Why support "trafficking in poverty" through these residential hotels, which have been spoken of for years as a serious problem? Why give benefits to those who make no contribution to society in return, who are up to their necks in debt, who cannot be expected to change, who don't work, and who are always demanding something of everyone else?

Why should we even speak of these people as homeless at this point? They should just find an apartment and a job like everyone else.

I know that it is basically impossible to hold this discussion with a certain type of person, of a certain conviction. Despite that, I will summarize the situation:  Romani people in the Czech Republic have significantly less of a chance than anyone else to find normal housing.

Romani people here also have a significantly lower chance of finding a job. Moreover, those who are actually in debt, or addicted to one thing or another - or most of all those who are resigned to their fates - will not just change from one day to the next.

These are the people who will be out on the street. They will have almost no chance of leaving it once they are out there.

In the best-case scenario, their children will be placed in a children's home by the state. In the worst-case scenario, they will be delivered by the traffickers in human beings to Great Britain, for example, as slave labor.

A quandary

The entire amendment that has launched this scenario prompts a sense of absurdity, of a real quandary. It was proposed by a right-wing ODS MP against the will of Czech Labor and Social Affairs Minister Michaela Marksová (ČSSD) and was approved by almost the entire legislature.

Either these people did not know what they were voting about, or they all agree that thousands more people must be thrown onto the street. The amendment has now taken effect a year and a half prior to the presumed entry into force of a new law on social housing that is supposed to begin systematically addressing housing opportunities for the disadvantaged and the impoverished.  

The Union of Cities and Municipalities in the Czech Republic is strongly opposed to the social housing concept that has been introduced by the Labor and Social Affairs Minister. She has said she wants to consult with them about the next part of this process.  

"This change to the law on aid to those in material distress was intended to help municipalities exercise regulatory power over the residential hotels. We will evaluate the results after one to three months and meet with the Union of Cities and Municipalities," she said last week.

The only problem is that the results of this amendment now seem clear just a couple of days after it has taken effect. If politicians from the centrist ANO or the left-wing ČSSD parties are proceeding as they are, then we cannot anticipate that the law might be interpreted in any fundamentally different way by the Union of Cities and Municipalities, which is led by Dan Jiránek (ODS).

Lastly, one more significant outcome has become clear from the amendment being in effect for just a few days. Conceptual thinking, a policy focused on long-term solutions, and vision are being replaced here by hypocrisy and quandaries.  

Michal Komárek, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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