Czech nonprofit real estate agency helps people facing discrimination find housing
Iveta Horváthová grew up in a children's home in Moravia. After she graduated from high school she moved to Prague in order to work.
Despite promising beginnings, she lost her housing and ended up on the street in the winter - and pregnant. She also had to drop out of her studies.
Thanks to the "Fair Housing" project, a nonprofit real estate office for people in need of housing, she managed to find new housing from a landlord who does not reject Romani tenants. Once her daughter Rebeka is older, she plans to complete college and further develop in her field.
Desire for one's own home
Horváthová was raised in a children's home in Moravia since the age of two and a half and ultimately graduated from a high school for pedagogy. After graduation, she moved to Prague in search of work.
She worked in a call center, in restaurants at the main train station, and in a shop. Thanks to support from the Tereza Maxová Foundation, she then began college, and during her studies started working as a teacher in a nursery school.
Despite that promising beginning, she lost the lease on her housing. It was winter, she was pregnant, and she was homeless and living on the street.
Because of that, she had to abandon her college studies. Even though she was expecting a child, she was unable to find a place in a homeless shelter for quite some time.
After half a year on the street, thanks to social workers from the Prague 9 municipality, she was admitted to a facility in Mladá Boleslav run by the organization R-Mosty. At the time she was eight months pregnant and she says the move saved her life.
"When my beautiful, healthy daughter was born, what I desired most of all was to move into my own home and begin a new life," she recalls. Just like many other Romani women, however, she encountered the fact that property owners and real estate agencies were unwilling to lease to her.
At the shelter she was offered the opportunity to participate in a project involving finding real estate owners who do not reject tenants on the basis of origin. In her case, it took her almost three months to find landlords meeting that description.
Thanks to her new housing, her elan and optimism have returned. The relationship with her landlord is a good one
She is also glad that she can live there together with her boyfriend, who has a full-time job, and that they can raise Rebeka together in dignified conditions. Once Rebeka starts going to nursery school, her mother plans to complete college and further develop in her field.
Horváthová is one of the clients who have managed, thanks to the Fair Housing project, to find an apartment to lease. The project has been running since April 2016 under the direction of R-Mosty, which for many years has been offering professional aid to people endangered by social exclusion.
Fair Housing functions like a real estate office serving households facing a housing shortage, and reaches out to private property owners who are willing, for standard rents, to lease apartments to people who have been endangered by social exclusion, especially people in acute need of housing, including Romani families and single mothers. The program assumes affordable housing is a basic prerequisite for preventing social exclusion.
Only if families or individuals are housed can they solve their other problems, such as their children's education, their own indebtedness, their lack of qualifications or their unemployment. Residing in standard rental apartments also prevents the development of excluded localities where pathological phenomena become concentrated and can be intergenerationally transmitted.
The Fair Housing project has been running for two years and was first implemented under the name "Housing First" (Bydlení především). During that time, 12 families or single mothers managed to find housing.
This follow-up project, Fair Housing (Férové bydlení), provides a broader range of possibilities for reaching out to the owners of apartment units and other real estate and involves a public information campaign thanks to which individual landlords have begun to contact the project on their own. Staffers with the project broker contacts between clients and those with apartments to lease and facilitate the agreement on rental conditions.
The project staff also monitor how the tenants perform as tenants when it comes to following the building rules, paying their rent, and performing normal upkeep of the units, and if the tenats do not meet the agreed conditions, the project staff aid with their relocation to a shelter or other temporary housing. Thanks to property owners who have registered their apartments with the project, another family has also been housed just since last month.
Landlords Honza and Veronika have now leased an apartment to a young Romani family with children. The family used to live in a residential hotel.
Because the conditions there became unbearable over time, the couple decided to temporarily separate and each move back in with their own parents. Thanks to their new lease, thought, the family is reunited and preparing for the birth of a new child in May.
Overcoming the barriers of fear and prejudice
The project staff encounter cases of Romani people undertaking desperate measures when seeking housing. For example, Romani renters may offer property owners or real estate agencies disproportionately high deposits, or even offer to pay higher rents.
In other cases, the employers of Romani people have aided them with finding housing by providing guarantees for them, while in mixed families the non-Romani partner is the one who views prospective properties. One property owner described a situation to the Fair Housing staffers where a prospective tenant arrived very well-dressed and wearing light-colored makeup so she would not be recognized as Romani at first glance.
Frequently, after experiencing rejection, Romani tenants are ultimately forced to accept any housing they can find, even in excluded localities with substandard conditions. "We want to facilitate a chance at fair housing for people who, despite their complex living situations, have not lost the capability and the determination necessary to living with dignity in a responsible way. We also want to take advantage of their potential for our society and contribute to overcoming the barriers of fear and prejudice between landlords, the prospective renters who are our clients, and the other tenants who become their neighbors," the R-Mosty website says.
By leasing to these tenants, the owners of apartment buildings or apartment units involved in the project receive, in addition to regular income from rent, the opportunity to personally contribute toward reducing discrimination and prejudices and to thereby cultivate society. "I would like, through this route, to call on all socially responsible property owners not to hesitate to make an appointment with us so we can give them specific information and references from other 'fair landlords' in the project. We offer landlords full service - we find them tenants from among our discriminated clients, including Romani people, we broker the signing of a proper lease, we cover the agreed deposit, we facilitate the handover of the apartment, and then we assist the clients with their needs so the rental relationship can function correctly for a long time," said project manager Adam Pospíšil.
First published in Czech on the website of the Czech Government's HATE FREE CULTURE project.
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