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Czech Platform for Social Housing says Gov't social housing concept entrenches trafficking in poverty

Brno/Ostrava/Prague, 10.12.2013 20:32, (ROMEA)
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A "happening" convened in 2013 by the Platform for Social Housing, called "Slippers should be worn at home". (PHOTO: Platforma pro sociální bydlení)

The Platform for Social Housing is not satisfied with the new social housing concept drafted by the Czech Regional Development Ministry. News server Romea.cz presents the platform's press release in full translation here:

New social housing concept supports trafficking in poverty!

Despite efforts by many nonprofit organizations and experts on solutions to the problem of homelessness, trafficking in poverty at the residential hotels continues to blossom in the Czech Republic. The draft Social Housing Concept designed by the Regional Development Ministry promises no change in that regard. 

The Platform for Social Housing warns that this material will further support trafficking in poverty. The ministry's plan facilitates the creation of more residential hotels as "social housing".  

The 40-member Platform has been joined by another nine organizations and 39 eminent experts and figures who identify with its opinion of these plans. In an open letter, these civil society members are calling on the ministers in the Government of the Czech Republic, including Prime Minister Jiří Rusnok, not to approve the Social Housing Concept or a related amendment to the Law on Aid in Material Distress.

For many years the nonprofit sector has called on the state administration to anchor the institution of so-called social housing  - i.e., making housing of a dignified standard available to low-income families and individuals - into legislation. While the Regional Development Ministry has now designed a concept, experts say this material will not lead to any essential change.

On the contrary, the adoption of the Social Housing Concept in its current wording will lead to a further boom in the business of trafficking in poverty. The current state of affairs with the residential hotels will be preserved and the segregation of new construction will intensify. 

Theoretically, there is also the risk that this plan will delay the Czech Republic's access to EU funds for social housing, because the European Commission has said it will not finance residential hotels and similar facilities that do not meet their housing criteria (i.e., housing units without their own private facilities for bathing and cooking). "In the Czech Republic several thousand apartments are currently unoccupied, so the government should primarily consider how to motivate those who own them to lease them,  how to supply them with services so they can become sustainable housing units, and how to make sure that the landlords, the neighbors of the properties concerned and their tenants are satisfied. That is the task of national policy, i.e., the government. Instead, we hear from Deputy Regional Development Minister Miroslav Kalous (ODS - Civic Democrats) that the people in the residential hotels are satisfied and cannot be forced to reside in apartments," explains Štěpán Ripka, spokesperson for the Platform for Social Housing.  

Lack of privacy

Petr Bláha, who sells the homeless magazine Nový prostor (New Space), describes life in a residential hotel as follows:  "I had no privacy at the residential hotel. I didn't have basic things like a safe place to leave my most important items and my money. I was forced to share a room with people whom I did not know and I never knew what would happen from one day to the next. Today I live in an apartment, I have a family, and I am gradually beginning to stand on my own two feet."  

The Social Housing Concept now being discussed, according to those who initiated this open letter, does not meet the basic parameters of a government policy. The concept does not define the target group for social housing and does not say who should operate such housing, what it should look like, and who should be responsible for its existence.

"In our shelters and other residential social services there are many people whom we would gladly support in independent housing, but we need social apartments for that. In Ostrava, for example, we manage 37 such apartments. Our collaboration with enlightened town halls, however, will never completely solve such an extensive problem. The rest of the social housing apartments must be provided by the state, but the state prefers to refuse to take responsibility in this regard, and we are concerned that it wants to further support the development of residential hotels," says Jan František Krupa of the Salvation Army, the country's largest provider of services to the homeless.  

Libor Prudký, an expert on the issue of homelessness at the Faculty of Humanities, Charles University, says:  "Every social policy must begin by describing its target group and designating what is to be done and who is to be responsible for it. In the concept that has been submitted, all of that is missing completely. The Regional Development Ministry has wasted a very important opportunity to design the necessary material, even though they had a functional model for one in the design of the government's concept on homelessness. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs brought together experts and representatives of the public to elaborate that material together. You can see that in the final result. Moreover, the draft Social Housing Concept contravenes the Concept for the Prevention and Resolution of the Issue of Homelessness in the Czech Republic by 2020, which this government has already approved. One material cancels out the other - the worse one overrides the better one."

Limitations on welfare would chuck people onto the street

Jan Milota, the coordinator of the Platform, says:  "A related amendment to the Law on Aid in Material Distress, which is also undergoing the commenting procedure now, would limit the disbursal of welfare to the persons living in residential facilities of unsuitable quality, but it does not offer them any alternative destinations. This is completely poorly timed - if the state wants to provide apartments for these people, then naturally we would agree to that kind of amendment, but as it stands there is a serious risk that people will be chucked onto the street from the residential hotels and shelters when their benefits end."   

"We don't want to push either the Concept or the draft amendment to the Law on Aid in Material Distress off the table per se. We have elaborated many other proposals, but none of them have been taken into consideration at all seriously. All we are asking is that sufficient room be made for discussion of such essential questions and that experts and people with direct experience of housing shortage or social housing be involved in that discussion. We want to refine the Concept into a form that will genuinely address these continually growing problems," Ripka says.     

The Platform for Social Housing is a group of 40 members including the Czech Helsinki Committee; the Hope (Naděje), Konexe and ROMEA organizations; the Salvation Army; the Shelter Association (Sdružení azylových domů); and individual members such as the founder of Hope, Ilja Hradecký, sociologist Libor Prudký, and Social Democratic expert and sociologist Martin Potůček. More information and the stories of people living in residential hotels can be found on the website of the Platform for Social Housing, http://www.socialnibydleni.org/.    

Štěpán Ripka, spokesperson, Platform for Social Housing, Jan Milota (IQ Roma Servis), coordinator, Platform for Social Housing
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Housing, Platforma pro sociální bydlení, sociální bydlení, Sociální dávky, Sociální vyloučení



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