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Czech Deputy Ombud says state should run residential hotels for the needy

Prague, 10.3.2014 20:48, (ROMEA)
Czech Deputy Ombud Stanislav Křeček (PHOTO: David Sedlecký. Wikimedia Commons)
Czech Deputy Ombud Stanislav Křeček (PHOTO: David Sedlecký. Wikimedia Commons)

Deputy Ombud Stanislav Křeček believes the residential hotels in which the needy are now ending up throughout the Czech Republic should be run by the state. The facilities should be taken away from private individual owners and should be run as nonprofits offering acceptable housing. 

Křeček made his remarks to journalists today after meeting with the leadership of the Tenants' Association of the Czech Republic. He and the group agree there is a need for the Czech Republic to adopt a law on social housing.

Both the Deputy Ombud and the Tenants' Association believe the state, not local communities, should be responsible for such housing. The Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion estimates that as many as 100 000 people live in residential hotels countrywide.

Tenants of these facilities often live in unsuitable conditions for which they pay exorbitant rents. The state provides welfare support to such tenants, and recent expenditures for that support have significantly grown.  

While in December 2012 a total of 52 900 housing benefits were disbursed, a total of 77 800 were disbursed one year later. During 2013 a total of CZK 2.81 billion was disbursed in housing benefits compared to CZK 1.67 billion in 2012.

According to a report on the disbursal of welfare, the reason for the increase is not just the economic crisis and rising housing costs, but also the fact that some residential hotel owners have begun exploiting the situation. "In order to eliminate this immorality, the state must take over the residential hotels so welfare monies aren't sent into private hands," Křeček said at today's press conference.  

The Deputy Ombud said he sees a state takeover of the residential hotels and their operation as nonprofits "at an acceptable level" to be the only way out of the current situation. Křeček said most of those who end up in residential hotels do so because no one wants to lease them an apartment.

If the housing benefit were to be reduced to an amount equivalent to ordinary rent, the operators would lose their profits and would obviously close their facilities, the Deputy Ombud believes. He also said that after taking over the residential hotels, the state should look for a way to reintegrate their occupants back into normal life.

According to Milan Taraba, the chair of the Tenants' Association of the Czech Republic, the question is whether cohesion among the state institutions that are supposed to oversee the situation has failed in the case of residential hotels. He named the Agency for Social Inclusion, the Building Works Authorities as monitors of the appropriateness of conditions in residential buildings, and the Labor Offices, which are supposed to keep track the conditions under which welfare is disbursed.   

"The point is that the state executive must ensure everything isn't abused," Taraba said. His association met with the Deputy Ombud to discuss the law on social housing, which they believe the state should provide. 

The law would take into consideration people who are incapable of obtaining housing because of their income. This primarily concerns isolated senior citizens, people living with disabilities, single-parent households, and the unemployed. 

"It's enough to undertake measures such that a household is able to maintain its own housing," Taraba said. He pointed out that there are hundreds of thousands of vacant apartments throughout the Czech Republic that remain unoccupied because they are too expensive for many people.

Křeček believes the state should create a separate benefits system to enable low-income people to provide themselves with housing. "Not a social benefit system, these people are not welfare cases," he said. 

The association and the Deputy Ombud agreed that municipalities should not have to address either the problem of residential hotels or of social housing. They believe that all the towns and villages can do is to cooperate with the state to help.

An amendment drafted by the Rusnok cabinet proposed giving residential hotel tenants housing benefits for six months only and reducing the amounts provided. Czech Labor Minister Michaela Marksová Tominová (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD) will not be submitting that bill to the legislature and is instead preparing her own solution.   

Prime Minister Sobotka's cabinet is counting on the eventual adoption of a law on social housing. According to the government's plan, the law should take effect by the end of 2016.

ČTK, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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