Czech Platform for Social Housing position paper calls for permanent housing
The stories of people who have found themselves in need of housing were recently heard over the course of two days in Prague by experts on social issues, the ombud, and representatives of the authorities. Homeless men and women and the tenants of problematic residential hotels described their personal experiences at the meeting, which took place at the Office of the Government.
Their comments could affect the design of a planned law on social housing. More than 50 individuals and organizations associated in the Platform for Social Housing have also published their first position paper, the purpose of which is to support the current administration's initiative to adopt social housing legislation.
The position paper includes the key arguments and theses that the Platform will be submitting to the discussion on what form social housing should take. "The aim of a social housing system is to increase access to housing for households that are now homeless or living in precarious or substandard conditions," explains Štěpán Ripka of the Platform.
"We will do our best to work with the outcomes of this meeting when designing the law on social housing. The findings also touch on housing allowances, preventing indebtedness, and providing social services," said Martin Šimáček, director of the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion.
According to the Government's Concept for Preventing Homelessness, there are around 30 000 people without a roof over their head in the Czech Republic. Roughly 100 000 are at risk of losing their housing due to indebtedness or low income.
According to the Platform, that number could be as high as 200 000. Groups most at risk of homelessness are large families, single-parent families, single senior citizens, and unemployed households.
According to those in need of housing, their biggest problems are the lack of social services; residential hotels and the undignified conditions in them; society's animosity and indifference toward them; and the state removing children from their families because of their housing problems. One speaker at the meeting was Gejza Bazika of Brno, whose family has ended up living in a residential hotel.
Mr Bazika wanted his children to grow up in a better environment, so he found a small apartment. "I paid CZK 9 500 to rent a room without a private bathroom or toilet in a residential hotel. The authorities covered CZK 9 000 of that. Now I am paying CZK 10 500 for a small apartment with its own bathroom and toilet, but I am receiving only CZK 5 000 of support from the authorities. The state is punishing me. They are forcing us to return to the residential hotel," Bazika said.
"Homeless people also face social exclusion and their opportunity to return to normal life is reduced even further when they have no housing. The state so far has only addressed the situation through housing allowances, but it is not involved at all in the situation of persons who cannot even access housing. Experts and staffers with nonprofit organizations therefore agree that the Czech Republic urgently needs a Social Housing Concept and primarily a law on social housing. Our position paper summarizes the arguments as to why the situation needs attention and how the state, in collaboration with municipalities, might address it," reads the press release of the Platform for Social Housing.
According to Jan Snopek of the Platform, in recent years political pressure to reduce expenditure on housing benefits has grown. The Platform warns that cutting these supplements altogether means many people now in residential hotels could end up on the street.
Snopek says housing is becoming less and less accessible for many people in the Czech Republic. Foreign nationals, large families, and Romani people face discrimination, as landlords do not want to rent to them.
Impoverished people are moving into certain localities, creating ghettos. "We consider it very essential that the state assume its responsibility in this case and clearly establish what the competencies and roles are of the municipalities and the state in this regard. Right now the state addresses the situation by supporting temporary accommodation and not permanent housing. Temporary accommodation is no solution to this problem, on the contrary, it just intensifies social exclusion," Ripka explains.
For almost a decade now, the Office of the Public Defender of Rights (the ombud) has been calling on the Government of the Czech Republic, through its recommendations, to adopt a law on social housing. "I view the 'Social Housing System in the Czech Republic' position paper as a very good starting point for a Housing Concept in the Czech Republic. The middle and upper income strata of our society have been receiving support for a very long time. The Concept should balance the support provided to homeowners and renters. There is also a need to adopt a law on social housing that defines entitlements and designates who must implement its requirements. When we say social housing, that means housing in apartments, not accommodation in residential hotels," says Czech ombud Anna Šabatová.
According to experts from the Platform, the roles of municipalities, nonprofit organizations, the state and other stakeholders must be distributed such that the state defines and then finances the social housing framework. Municipalities should be responsible for determining the need for social apartments in their administrative districts and guaranteeing their capacity.
The state should ensure the necessary financial resources for acquiring such apartments, managing the social housing, and motivating private property owners to provide apartments for use as social housing. "The backbone of addressing homelessness and exclusion from housing is ensuring a sufficient number of financially affordable, good-quality, unsegregated apartments and related services that will be available to households according to their needs and preferences," Ripka says.
The law on social housing should take effect as of 2017, according to the Government's plans. It should be created on the basis of a concept establishing who will be entitled to social apartments, who will finance them, and who will ensure their management.
The law originally was supposed to be ready for adoption by this September, but the deadline for its completion has been moved to the end of this year. There are reportedly disputes ongoing primarily about whether residential hotels are to be included as social housing and who should be entitled to a social apartment.
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