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Czech Human Rights Minister and Romani advisers visit socially excluded locality without meeting Romani residents

9.2.2017 7:16
The Chanov housing estate in the Czech town of Most (photo:  Lukáš Houdek)
The Chanov housing estate in the Czech town of Most (photo: Lukáš Houdek)

Czech Human Rights Minister Jan Chvojka (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD) and representatives of the Monitoring Committee of the Czech Government Council on Romani Minority Affairs, which reviews the work of the Agency for Social Inclusion, visited the town of Most last month, including the Stovky housing estate and a residential hotel called "Key to the Heart" ("K srdci klíč"). The minister did not, however, hold any official discussions with local Romani residents about the situation at the housing estate.

Chvojka plans to visit 40 cities and municipalities that are collaborating with the Agency's Coordinated Approach to Socially Excluded Localities. "Nobody officially spoke with Romani people from the locality. Currently there are no Romani men or women among the people involved in the [Agency's] local partnership with whom to speak. We discussed the topic of social inclusion generally," Jan Balog, vice-chair of the Czech Government Council on Romani Minority Affairs, who is a member of the Monitoring Committee, told news server

In addition to Balog, the delegation included other Monitoring Committee representatives such as its chair, Emil Horvát, who is also a Council member, and Štefan Lukáč (Regional Coordinator for Romani Affairs in Ústecký Region), who is also a member of the Monitoring Committee and tapped to become a future member of the Council. Inhabitants of the Stovky housing estate have long grappled with bad smells in the units, bedbugs, debts they owe to the companies or cooperatives that own the units, high rents, neglected maintenance by the owners, and overcrowding.

Increased security in the at-risk locality is supposed to achieved by beefing up municipal police patrols and by local ordinances banning the consumption of alcohol in public or placing anything unauthorized (such as a barbecue or chairs) in public spaces, as well as very disputable ordinances banning anybody from sitting on parts of buildings or equipment in those localities. A local strategic plan is also supposed to aid with solving other problems.

Local assembly members will discuss that plan this month. The town could qualify to draw more than CZK 92 million [EUR 3.4 million] for projects connected with support for crime prevention, employment, family services and housing as a result of that plan.

"The Agency for Social Inclusion introduced Most's strategic plan to us, which has yet to be adopted by the local assembly. It looks very hopeful and I believe the plan will actually be adopted," Balog told news server

The town undertook extensive audits of the Stovky housing estate last year. The joint visits by people from the Labor Office, the Social Welfare Department and the town hall are supposed to continue now.

Municipal Police Director Jaroslava Hrvola says the number of misdemeanors committed in the locality of the Stovky housing estate and the Domina residential hotel exceeds the average for the rest of the town by three or four times. High unemployment of up to 25 % among the roughly 3 000 inhabitants of Stovky is a big difficulty.

Human Rights Minister wants a social housing law

Chvojka wants to have the law on social housing discussed by the lower house this spring, ideally next month, along with an amendment to the law on bankruptcy and a law on social enterprises. These three legal norms are supposed to aid with addressing the country's problems with socially excluded localities and situations in which people are at risk of having to live on the street.

The Human Rights Minister told the press about his legislative plans during his trip to Most, the location he chose for his first visit to the regions. "This issue does not, unfortunately, have an easy solution, this is a long-term process," he said after visiting a shelter and the Stovky housing estate.

Chvojka said he believes an amendment to the bankruptcy law should make it possible for debtors to pay off their debts over a longer time with lower installments, and that a law on social housing would aid in combating "trafficking in poverty". "Social housing should be affordable for senior citizens who live alone and are unable to afford the cost of housing, for single mothers, or for women who have become the victims of domestic violence," Chvojka said.

The third piece of legislation he is focusing on is the law on social enterprises, which is meant to facilitate the creation of companies employing persons living with disabilities or socially excluded people. "In exchange, [the companies] get certain advantages, such as being preferred during procurement procedures or tax write-offs," the minister said.

In his view it is necessary to submit all of this legislation as soon as possible so it can pass before the autumn elections. "At a minimum I anticipate a big debate about the law on social housing," Chvojka noted.

Most is one of the most structurally-deprived places in the Czech Republic. High, long-term unemployment, a housing market that is extensively oriented towards the socially excluded and vulnerable, and indebted residents represent the town's biggest problems.

ČTK, adg, voj, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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