David Beňák: Affordable housing policy would eliminate need for special welfare
The general affordability of housing in the Czech Republic varies widely. There are also many problems on the housing market, including discrimination.
Many discussions have been held on the topic of whether housing must be provided to everyone or not and what the European Social Charter's formulation of "Everyone has the right to housing" means. The result of those discussions is that to this day we have not yet succeeded in providing it.
This is sad and tragic. Many families and individuals are forced to live in unsuitable residential hotels, where their rents are comparable to those for apartments in the centers of big cities. Unfortunately, there is no direct correlation between the rents in these residential hotels and the quality of the housing provided.
Previous governments used an ineffective remedy
This tragic state is the result of the insufficient vision of several previous governments. The deregulation of rents, which was supposed to be the essential remedy, hasn't much worked and we can rest assured that the sickness in our system persists.
What's more, in many localities, municipalities and regions the situation has deteriorated. Why?
Our housing policy, as currently conceived, is of poor quality. The existing concept fails to cover the most fundamental thing, namely, the people who need somewhere to live.
The Regional Development Ministry and the State Fund for Housing Development have failed across the board. They have merely become distributors of money for construction projects.
Affordable housing vs. social housing
I am intentionally not using the very widespread concept of "social housing", as it completely fails to capture the basic need and reduces the discussion to a certain population group. The term "affordable housing" requires us to imagine a much broader area than just the so-called "awarding" or leasing of apartments.
In the first place, it is necessary to support accessible, adequate housing, not just by building it, but also by leasing it. In the second place, housing policy must eliminate homelessness by preventing it from developing and stopping it once underway.
Homelessness is a broader concept than just the image of what we can see, for example, at the main train station in Prague. The homeless include many families with children, individuals, medically disadvantaged people, seniors and young couples living with friends and relatives, often in cramped conditions.
In the third place, this is about the cost of housing. Prices should not be an obstacle to acquiring housing. In the case of the most impoverished, welfare should help them afford it.
How housing can become affordable
If we would like to draw some inspiration from abroad, there are many interesting models to choose from. However, many of these models cannot be used by the Czech Republic.
These models are based on different cultures, economies, kinds of legislation, solidarity and traditions. The essential player in them is the state.
The Czech Republic, as a state, is leery of owning and leasing housing. That is its basic mistake - in many localities, this is exactly the help that is needed.
A second route would be to establish partnerships with the private owners of apartment buildings. Property owners would definitely be willing to strike some kind of agreement with the state, but no one is negotiating with them.
A third route would be to support programs run by non-governmental, non-profit organizations. There has been a certain amount of experience with such programs in the Czech Republic, and it is therefore possible to learn from that experience and implement something that will be effective and make sense.
A fourth route is municipal support. In addition to those municipalities that are basically not implementing any housing policy, there are many that are doing their best to implement one.
The current state support provided for housing, however, is neither efficient nor flexible enough. If the responsible authorities and politicians really were to give affordable housing some thought, we might not even need special housing welfare benefits.
David Beňák is a member of the Czech Social Democratic Party. He is candidate number 9 for the Chamber of Deputies of the Parliament of the Czech Republic for the Prague electoral district.
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