Czech Republic's governing party tries to spin real estate market fluctuation as proof of its "success" at tackling ghettoes
The entire territory of the northern Czech city of Ústí nad Labem has been a so-called "housing benefit-free zone" as of 1 March. That means people newly concluding rental contracts there cannot claim state housing subsidies.
Disputes are underway about the effectiveness of this extraordinary measure - critics object to it because instead of combating the phenomenon of poverty, the measure means impoverished individuals seeking financial support from the state have become the "enemy". The governing ANO movement is defending the measure - at the price of using arguments that absolutely ignore facts.
For example, in Ústí nad Labem, where the value of residential real estate has long been the lowest in the country, prices rose at the close of last year for the first time in a very long time. After hitting rock bottom, the market began to rebound.
The ANO movement locally immediately exploited that phenomenon on its Facebook page. The claims the movement made there were not entirely factual.
As is symptomatic of most fake news, all it takes is to spin reality a bit and it can be made to look better, more attractive. Let's look at the actual facts.
The reported growth in real estate values is not a consequence of the "housing benefit-free zone", or of the city's collaboration with the local university, or of its support for local athletics, but has to do with the reality that housing prices had fallen so low they could fall no further - and by the way, that decline happened during five years of governance by either the ANO movement or by the various groups that splintered from it locally. "Apartment values did improve the most in Ústí nad Labem," reported the real estate expert Petr Hána of the Deloitte consultancy group, which prepared the price listing being mentioned by ANO.
"That hike was caused, above all, by the general pressure of the growth in real estate prices, and the price level in that city is growing from such a low base that even a small adjustment will subsequently appear significant," Hána said. Moreover - and this is the main point - this data is not about actual prices, but year-on-year growth during the final quarter of 2018, and since the "housing benefit-free zone" was not introduced in Ústí nad Labem as a whole until 1 March, it could not have influenced the pricing map for apartment units at all.
False arguments about crime
This is not the first time the ANO movement in Ústí nad Labem has distorted reality to better serve its own marketing - or to be more exact, it's not the first time the movement has used fake news on its social media profile. On 15 March ANO bragged that its Vice-Mayor for Social Affairs, Tomáš Vlach, had been a guest on the "Duel" program of the Seznam News channel.
In that interview, Vlach highlighted the alleged influence of introducing the "housing benefit-free zone" on crime rates dropping in the city. "Our crime rates are falling," Vlach said in order to praise the decision to make it impossible for new renters to apply for housing benefits - and that is how the ANO movement interpreted his appearance on the program.
The "housing benefit-free zone" had been in effect for the entire city for just two weeks. None of the crime statistics kept by the Czech Police are able to capture any adjustment to the crime rate for such a brief time period, though.
For that reason, crime statistics are issued month-by-month at a minimum. The claimed correlation is false for yet another reason.
Crime in Ústí nad Labem has reportedly been falling steadily for several years. If allegations of growing crime rates have been used to argue in favor of banning housing benefits across the entire territory of the city, then according to the critics of the ban, that would have been unlawful.
News server HlídacíPes.org contacted the ANO movement there and asked for an explanation of both allegations. ANO never responded to our request.
This article was written for the Institute for Independent Journalism in the Czech Republic, an independent, nonprofit organization and registered institute involved in publishing information, journalism and news reporting. Its analyses, articles and data outputs are offered to all equally for use under certain conditions.
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