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Czech Labor and Social Affairs Ministry responds to the myths now multiplying about social housing

10.8.2016 17:14
A 2013 demonstration by the Platform for Social Housing in front of Prague's main train station. The sign reads
A 2013 demonstration by the Platform for Social Housing in front of Prague's main train station. The sign reads "Social Housing - Right to a Home". (PHOTO: Jan Čonka)

The Czech Labor and Social Affairs Ministry has responded to the distorted information and multiple myths that are currently spreading about the law on social housing. The ministry has published a list of "Eight Delusions" about this law that describes it in detail, including how it will be applied in practice.

According to the Government's original plans, the law was to have taken effect in January. Despite the fact that its design is being delayed, it is probable that it will be adopted before next fall's elections.

Eight Delusions about Social Housing

1. "Apartments will be given away on a conveyor belt. For free."

Nobody will become the owner of an apartment as a result of this law, whether free of charge or in exchange for money. The social housing system is just supposed to support access to rental housing, not apartment ownership.

The purpose of the bill is to support access to rental housing for the homeless, persons living with disabilities, senior citizens and young families with children. It is designed for people who otherwise cannot afford the usual market rents and who therefore unnecessarily end up living either in residential hotels or on the street.

The social housing program will be a safety net that will aid people with getting a roof over their heads in exchange for a proportionate monthly rent. Since the people living in these units will pay "social rents", the state will pay far less in housing benefits than it currently does.  

2. "People will get an affordable or social apartment for the rest of their lives."

The entire system of social housing is based on the idea that if people who pay rent for an affordable or social apartment are able to sufficiently increase their incomes, they will then move onto the regular commercial housing market. Nevertheless, we are counting on the fact that, for example, people living with disabilities and senior citizens, unless they inherit significant assets or win the jackpot in a lottery, should be provided with an open-ended lease for an affordable apartment with rent control, as long as they meet the criteria.  

3. "The social housing system will not motivate tenants enough."

This system will motivate tenants. It will clearly establish the conditions that people must fulfill in order to access support in the form of affordable or social
housing with lower rents.

The law targets people who need aid with finding and maintaining independent rental housing. Many people cannot cope with this process on the commercial market, so they just wait to be awarded benefits or for those who traffic in poverty and create ghettos in their communities to offer them a place to live.

The law will also aid with the prevention of the creation of ghettos or socially excluded localities! Municipal social workers will motivate these renters to find
employment in order to resolve their indebtedness and pay off their debts, will aid families with their childcare needs, etc.

The household receiving aid will have to meet the system's requirements. Its members will be motivated to gradually move into an affordable apartment where they will be able to live without being supervised by a social worker.

4. "Social housing is an experiment invented by bureucrats who are out of touch with reality."

Social housing exists in countries throughout Europe (e.g., Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland, France, Great Britain, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, etc.). In the Czech Republic, social housing has only ever been "discussed", and now, after more than 20 years, an integrated bill has been drafted based on this country's actual options, one that also learns from the mistakes committed in this area abroad.

The bill is one of only a few that has been consulted with economists, lawyers, mayors of cities and municipalities, and with people who have many years of practical experience in the field. In order to fine-tune it, representatives of cities and municipalities have been given the extraordinary opportunity to comment on it twice, as have the Office of the Government, the Regional Development Ministry, the Interior Ministry, the Finance Ministry, and the Office of the Public Defender of Rights.  

5. "The bill tasks municipalities with absolutely new obligations. It is an assault on their autonomy."

On the contrary. Municipalities have been obliged since the year 2000 to satisfy the needs of their citizens in the area of housing and the development of social care.

The law on municipalities has said this for 16 years. The social housing law will not make the lives of mayors more difficult, but will offer them a way to fulfill their existing obligations.

Under clear rules, and with guaranteed money, the state will aid municipalities with building a network of affordable and social apartments. The municipalities will continue to hold the main decision-making powers concerned, and will decided to whom, when and how the units should be leased.

6. "Municipalities will have to pay for social apartments from their own resources, many of them will be ruined financially because of it."

The bill takes into account the possibility that municipalities might incur financial losses as a result of securing the entire social housing system on their territory. Should such a loss arise, the state will bail the municipality out and the municipality will be able to claim subsidies designed for that purpose.

Municipalities will have a statutory legal entitlement to subsidies for the construction, repair, rental and operation of social and affordable housing, as well as to subsidies for social work. Financing for this system cannot be guaranteed to municipalities in any other way besides this law.

7. "Mayors will have to provide housing for hundreds of thousands of people in the short term."

It will take five years for this law to apply in full. All municipalities will have enough time to prepare.

According to our calculations, the law might affect a maximum of 350 000 people, but a large number of these people will not actually move house. Local Labor Offices will aid people with finding appropriate housing, including on the regular commercial market, so that problems do not arise, mainly for small communities where there will not be enough appropriate apartments or where nonprofit organizations are not active.  

8. "Municipalities will be fined millions for failing to uphold the law."

The law counts on the fact that some municipalities will not have enough options available for ensuring the appropriate units and therefore is introducing a restraint system to relieve such municipalities of this obligation. Fines will be levied only against municipalities that do not want to obey the law as an expression of their political will.

The amount of the fine will depend on the seriousness of the offense. It will operate on the same principle as when drivers exceed the maximum permitted speed while driving through a particular community.

When drivers are fined, the amount of the fine depends on how many kilometers above the speed limit they were driving. Negotiation of the fine begins with a verbal agreement, but it can end with the driver losing his or her license.  

bau, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Housing, MPSV, social housing, Sociální dávky, Sociální vyloučení, zákon



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