Czech town of Kladno: 40 private residential hotels and no other alternative for the poor
The shabby building has been wrapped in tape ever since it was condemned. Formerly an infamous residential hotel called the "Meat Factory" (Masokombinát), it is still standing in the Czech town of Kladno despite four-year-old plans by the town to either demolish or sell it.
The old prefabricated building, which originally served as a residential hotel for the employees of a nearby meat processing plant, was turned into a residential hotel for municipal rent defaulters by the town at the end of the 1990s. News server Romea.cz has interviewed KAROLÍNA FOJTOVA, director of the Kladno branch of the Social Integration Program of the People in Need organization, about the fact that those who ended up in the unpleasant conditions there thanks to the town's policy were far from just debtors; about where the occupants moved after the building closed; and about how Kladno - which calls itself a "town for modern life" in its PR - approaches socially excluded localities today.
Q: Those who initially moved into the Meat Factory were people who owed back rent to the town and whom the court had awarded the right to substitute accommodation after their eviction. However, families living in municipally-owned apartments who had paid their rent properly all along were also evicted and ended up there as well. When the town began to renovate its properties, it moved some tenants into the residential hotel "temporarily", but they were never returned to their original apartments. As many as 200 people once lived at the Meat Factory, most of them Romani. What happened to them when the residential hotel was closed?
A: Most families were no longer entitled to any substitute accommodation. Many left the Meat Factory to live with relatives for a while, but over time they ended up in other residential hotels, this time ones that were run by private operators. Only two of those families live in regular market rentals on a housing estate, according to our information, but there might be more, of course.
Q: Can we say there are cases today of someone ending up in a socially excluded locality thanks the town engaging in such practices?
A: The process you have described was practiced by the town previously. Currently we don't know of any such cases. These "excesses" were connected with the town's interventions into its own housing stock (such as clearances, demolitions, or total reconstructions) and recently those have all been more or less completed. The town has gotten rid of its "problematic" tenants from the 1990s. Rent defaulters were gradually evicted into the Meat Factory and into the "cells" on Vrapická Street, and from there they were "released" onto the open apartment market. The subsequent expansion of these "social residential hotels" can be considered evidence that the apartment market has failed to meet the needs of low-income households.
Q: How many socially excluded localities does Kladno currently have?
A: Twelve socially excluded localities have been identified. In two cases they are just parts of quarters, clusters of single-family homes on neighboring streets, and then there are also the so-called micro-localities - socially excluded households concentrated in a single building. Big localities, like the Meat Factory was (i.e., with 200 or more people) aren't being created anymore, but a possible candidate for such a place is an accommodation/residence building on the territory of another municipality outside of Kladno which is "sucking" people in need of housing out of Kladno through its available, large housing capacity, even though the apartments there are somewhat non-standard.
Q: How many residential hotels are there in town? Does the town itself run any?
A: In Kladno there are approximately 40 commercial residential hotels now, of which approximately 13 are profiled as residential hotels with a predominant population of people dependent on welfare. Our field worker visits roughtly 10 of those. These are residential hotels where entire families with children are living and more than half of the occupants are Romani, for the most part. The town itself currently neither owns nor operates any residential hotels. According to the current Analysis of Socially Excluded Localities, there may be between 700 to 1 300 Romani people in the residential hotels here. Previous estimates stated that there was a total of about 7 000 Romani people living in Kladno.
Q: What kinds of problems bother the occupants of the residential hotels in Kladno most?
A: Each facility has its own difficulties and problems. It is either considered an eyesore by the majority-society inhabitants of Kladno, or living there means absolute separation from the rest of the community. Very frequently their hygienic conditions are alarming, the buildings often have never even been permitted for the purpose of housing. One of many such examples is the residential hotel at the biggest housing estate, called "U Kauflandu" (By Kaufland). It has been in operation since roughly 2010 and is in a very poor state of repair. The building was previously the headquarters of the transport inspectorate for Kladno, and it was altered only for temporary residential use. The frustration of those who have been accommodated there long-term is directly proportional to the growth of problems there with alcohol and drug use, loan-sharking and theft.
Q: What kind of chance do the tenants of such facilities have to access regular housing?
A: Very limited. The barriers include fluctuations in the cost of living and low incomes - it's impossible for people to save up to pay a brokerage fee or a first and last rent deposit. When tenants are dependent on welfare, landlords don't trust such resources, they don't know how they work, and mainly they want everyone to pay in advance. Welfare cannot be paid retroactively, though. Understandably, families with a lot of children have a problem. Landlords frequently forbid people from using an address as a permanent residence, and then they are not entitled to apply for housing benefit to apply to rent there. People who are already living in residential hotels and Romani people in general are perceived as risky tenants, and neighbors protest against their moving into apartment buildings.
Q: How is the town approaching the issue of housing and social exclusion now? What is its social policy?
A: We have long come up against the fact that the town ignores these problems. There is no concept developed for preventing social exclusion and there is no social housing concept. From the perspective of the previous leadership of the Social Welfare Department at the town hall, there are no excluded localities in Kladno, or they are only ever discussed as part of the crime prevention agenda. That's an exception, by the way - the crime prevention concept has been updated and the concept of socially excluded localities is used there. In its development strategy, as a municipality with expanded powers, Kladno uses the concept of a "physically and socially deprived locality". It proposes certain steps to address these, but we don't know whether they are being taken.
Q: That's an "interesting" approach. Kladno is the biggest town in the Central Bohemian Region and there are many excluded localities there...
A: In 2013 a study was produced of the impact of gaming rooms on the town. They were being addressed in connection with "problematic" residential hotels, as part of a strategy to reduce gambling. The most recent document in the social arena that the town has published is its "Community Plan for Social Services of the City of Kladno 2013+". In the housing area, that plan only addresses crisis housing - there is a lack of hostels or crisis housing for people in acute need of accommodation (last year one such "crisis center" was created by the Red Cross) and there is a lack of related housing for families now living in shelters. The plan was to arrange for five such apartments. According to the current [Czech Government] concept for the prevention of homelessness, however, all persons who have been living long-term in residential hotels are to be considered homeless or in need of housing - and about one-third of them are children. That gives us an estimated 800 citizens to whose situation the town is indifferent.
Q: What about the "famous" project to revitalize the Kročehlavy housing estate? The town raised more than CZK 200 million from the EU to renovate it. In its application it based its request on the fact that part of the housing estate was an excluded locality at the time they applied - namely, the Meat Factory residential hotel. CZK 3 million was allocated for that facility, but in the final result, no money was invested there at all except for what it cost to build a small playground.
A: It's as you say. The project called "IPRM IOP Kročehlavy Housing Estate", as a project focused on integrating a socially excluded Romani locality, de facto did not produce that result. One difficulty is that the social housing system is not seriously defined by Czech law. The representatives of the town of Kladno can say that they consider social housing to be, for example, the crisis housing they offer in the form of two shelters. The capacity of the shelter for mothers with children is insufficient, and there is a lack of a connection between that facility and social housing. There is no shelter that will house two parents together with their children, and there is no shelter for a man with children. Some town councilors also consider the system for awarding municipal apartments through the "envelope method" to be social housing, during which they give preference to socially-sensitive factors (such as the number of children in a family or whether someone is a single parent), as well as the municipal housing provided through a special regime for persons living with disabilities or for the elderly (like the META building).
Q: According to what you say the option of transitional housing isn't even being addressed, is that right?
A: It's being talked about, but not addressed. Allegedly they have to wait for the social housing law to be adopted, without it nothing can be done. One step in a transitional housing system could be the shelters. However, as I said, the interconnecting level is missing, which would be living in an apartment with social service support. In Kladno the discourse about housing places a strong emphasis on a tenant's merit - on not leasing to people with debts. Mayor Milan Volf, in one interview last autumn, said he would never allow the integration of people from the residential hotels "among the decent citizens". In 2012 the town was unable to reach agreement on collaborating with the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion. However, the approaches are changing - we'll see what happens next.
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