Czech nonprofits welcome abolition of local "housing benefit-free zones", say they made matters worse
Representatives of nonprofit organizations are welcoming the Czech Constitutional Court decision to abolish part of the law on aid to those in material distress that has been facilitating the establishment of so-called "housing benefit-free zones", saying it has been documented that the zones have resolved nothing, have not been improving the situation in socially excluded localities, and may have even made it worse. The director of the Agency for Social Inclusion, a department of the Czech Regional Development Ministry, David Beňák, has also welcomed the court's verdict.
The director of the nonprofit Institute for Social Inclusion (IPSI), Martin Šimáček, told news server Romea.cz that "The Constitutional Court decision, although it has arrived later than we anticipated, is one we very much welcome." The IPSI director said the decision is also important with regard to future interventions by lawmakers into the constitutionally-guaranteed right to aid when one faces material distress.
"Subjecting benefits to collections if the applicant commits a misdemeanor is similarly problematic for those members of that person's household, especially minor children, who have not committed any misdemeanors but who are nevertheless affected by that benefit being taken away by a collections agency," he said. "We also welcome this decision because, in more than 100 municipalities, it has been documented that housing benefit-free zones solve nothing and do not improve the situations in excluded localities and in their neighborhoods, on the contrary, they exacerbate them, and what's more, they have a dramatically unfavorable effect on children, their economic security, and the conditions for their healthy development," the IPSI director told Romea.cz, adding that the consequences of the lack of a law on social and affordable housing, which the Government promised to adopt in its program declaration and then absolutely neglected to draft, have been dramatically demonstrated.
"As the Department for Social Inclusion, we have never promoted that instrument. It has become a whip for cracking down on specific citizens who are labeled by many politicians as 'inadaptables', but it led nowhere and never aided the resolution of a bad situation," the director of the Agency for Social Inclusion said in an interview for ROMEA TV.
"We are of the opinion that this was never the right way, and the Constitutional Court has unequivocally stated that this is an unauthorized violation of human rights, and from the beginning we were convinced of that," Beňák said. The decision was also welcomed by the director of the Romodrom organization, Nikola Taragoš, who pointed out that the benefit-free zones also violated the right to freedom of movement, which he believes was also restricted.
"The benefit-free zones just prevented internal migration, otherwise they were merely a whip for cracking down on impoverished people that resolved nothing whatsoever," the director of Romodrom told news server Romea.cz. "That instrument existed for three years and we have no data to confirm that it ever had a positive result."
"This was just an expression of a need to punish such people extralegally, extraconstitutionally, and it was unacceptable in human terms," Taragoš said, adding that the zones made the situations in socially excluded localities worse. According to Constitutional Court Justice and rapporteur Jiří Zemánek, municipalities must now abolish the measures through which they introduced benefit-free zones to comply with the court's finding.
The zones have now lost their basis in law. Zemánek said nobody will be entitled to reimbursement of housing benefits that were not awarded as a result of such measures.
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