Czech town says it will block housing benefits for residential hotel dwellers
The leadership of the Bohumín town council is threatening to block the housing benefits awarded to those living in residential hotels. As of May, applicants for this welfare benefit will need the consent of their local municipality to receive it.
However, Mayor Petr Vícha (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD) also says the town has practically no information about these housing benefit applicants and would not be able to make a responsible decision as to whom to reject. He said the town has not yet received the necessary information from the Labor Office of the Czech Republic about the exact form in which such opinions should be issued in practice.
The town leadership cannot rule out the possibility that it might reject applicants. The Czech Labor Office says that if a municipality rejects applicants, then it must follow up by undertaking social work with them.
"The municipalities are being asked to agree or disagree with the provision of housing benefits as of 1 May, but the relevant bodies, the Labor Office and the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, are not giving us information about the people we are supposed to decide on," Vícha said. He said there are now 10 residential hotels in the town.
The number of such facilities rapidly rose several years ago. The town hall says this is just "trafficking in poverty", in which the owners of these facilities, with the support of the state's welfare program, are making enormous amounts of money.
"Several years ago this problem with residential hotels and the overcharging of rents by them did not exist. This problem arose during former [Labor and Social Affairs] Minister Drábek, when he moved social work provision into the local Labor Offices, and ever since then that business has blossomed. We have been pointing out for a long time that state money is being wasted here and that the state should resolve this," the mayor said.
In his view, the amendment to the law conditioning the receipt of housing benefits on a municipality's consent to their being awarded was a desperate attempt to do something about the entire situation. "It has been six months since that was adopted, so the Labor Office and the ministry should have been working on this," he said.
In a recent letter, Czech Labor and Social Affairs Minister Michaela Marksová Tominová (ČSSD) tells municipalities that they must make these decisions in such a way as to avoid unjustified differences between decisions where the circumstances and facts are the same or similar. Vícha, however is arguing that this will be rather difficult to achieve if a municipality has no information about the individual applicants.
The letter also calls on the mayors to provide the municipality's consent or lack thereof to the Labor Office immediately upon request. "Our municipal council meets once a month, we certainly aren't going to convene every time the Labor Office sends us a request," the mayor said.
Town councils are also being asked to provide a proper justification for any rejections. Vícha, however, says that without any information about the applicants, this will be impossible, and that at the most the justification might simply report the outcome of the council's vote.
The town of Karviná also considers the new measures problematic. "There are guidelines accompanying this law, so there are no clear rules to follow. We have agreed that our council will decide to restrict residency in any residential hotel to a maximum of six months, and that we will only permit such residency to persons who are already permanent residents here," said Deputy Mayor Miroslav Hajdušík (Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia - KSČM).
Czech Labor Office spokesperson Kateřina Beránková says that if a municipality rejects housing benefit applicants, it will be required to perform social work with them to prevent the possibility of their ending up on the street. "That means having, for example, enough capacity in shelters, social services facilities, etc.," she said.
Occupants of the Grand residential hotel in Bohumín said today that they know nothing about the new bylaw. According to one occupant, residential hotels would not be able to handle a situation in which several of their tenants failed to receive the housing benefit.
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