Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion criticizes housing benefit-free zones
The northern Czech city of Ústí nad Labem has become the most recent local government to announce its entire territory is a housing benefit-free zone. Anybody who newly takes up residence there as of 4 March will not be entitled to apply for housing benefits from the state.
The Agency for Social Inclusion is now taking a very critical stance on this development, as it has in the case of other towns that have adopted such measures. The Agency posted its critique to its Facebook profile.
"We comprehend that cities and municipalities are attempting to minimize the concentration of sociopathological phenomena and segregation, but we do not consider this procedure an appropriate way to accomplish that. In our opinion it is more important to undertake preventive work on the basis of an ongoing assessment of data and of the situation, because the consequences of that approach are much more effective," Agency director David Beňák said.
The introduction of housing benefit-free zones is considered by the Agency to be a dead-end approach because it is incapable of responding to the specific situations of families or individuals. "Steps like this can, in reality, harm the most vulnerable groups, such as parents with minor children, single mothers, senior citizens, and people living with disabilities. Domestic violence victims who decide to emancipate themselves from their situations and who, in the beginning phases of their 'new life', are depending on exactly this kind of benefit will now face even more of a problem," the director said.
The Agency is against housing benefit-free zones in principle. Recently the Government department publicized its reservations about the announcement of housing benefit-free zones in Liberec.
That city requested permission to declare a specific building as one such zone in September 2018. The structure has been in the hands of a private owner for more than 10 years, one who owns dozens of similar properties in the region.
The building is in a poor state of repair technically and has not had water service for some time. Most of the tenants living there draw the welfare benefit of aid to those in material distress.
"That locality has long been a problem, the municipality's social services and social workers have been collaborating with the building's inhabitants and there have also been crime prevention assistants on the street there since the summer of 2018. The city has now decided to address the situation by announcing housing benefit-free zones. In our opinion, that will just move this problem elsewhere," the Agency director said.
In the Czech Republic, according to the director, there does not yet exist a complete analysis of all the impacts of the housing benefit-free zones being declared. Essentially, of course, there are two possible alternatives for the residents of such zones.
One solution is for residents to attempt to pay their rents without accessing the benefits. Given the economic situation of those who draw on aid to those in material distress benefits like the housing benefit and the high percentage of such persons who are indebted, this could mean these people might move into the "gray" economy, working informally and without reporting their income to the state, or into committing criminal activity in order to earn money, or they might stop paying rent and end up even further in debt to the owner of the property.
The other alternative is for such renters to move to an address where they can still draw the benefits, which means the problem of spatially concentrating impoverished tenants will just be moved into a different community, as mentioned above. "For that reason, the Agency does not support housing benefit-free zones and sees the solution rather to lie in coordinated, long-term, systematic social work with the inhabitants of excluded localities," David Beňák said.
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