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Michal Miko: Czech ministries are boycotting experts' attempts to introduce social housing

29.12.2019 9:28
Michal Miko
Michal Miko

As a society, unfortunately, we are once again witnessing the fact that when it comes to housing, the Czech Government has yet to completely deliver on any of its policy measures. On the contrary, it is clear to see that in the future, some people here will be evicted from their standard housing and then moved into substandard accommodation.

The consequences of integration 

Social integration, or the integration of Romani people into society, is comprehended in the Czech Republic as involving a set of measures designed by bureaucrats in various ministries and, last but not least, by the Czech Government's Council for Roma Minority Affairs. It must be pointed out that the process for designing this integration strategy is an inter-ministerial one, meant to ensure that all involved create measures at national level that are connected to the regional and local levels as well.

The current strategy involves six important measures on housing, which are meant to have the following outcomes:  "The creation of a social housing system in the Czech Republic and the simultaneous elimination of the segment of low-standard residential hotels serving as permanent housing for families and individuals - these are tasks that are of crucial importance to the housing of a significant portion of the Romani population. Creating a functional social housing system is also a basic prerequisite to and crucial milestone in the gradual conversion of the situation of Romani people in the area of housing. It is, therefore, also a key procedural indicator in the field of housing. At the same time, however, more than in any other sector, it is the case that this task cannot be addressed primarily as a matter of Romani integration, but must be comprehensively addressed as part of housing policy... An auxiliary indicator for the fulfillment of the Roma Strategy to 2020 in this area, therefore, would be the number of families living in residential hotels who are then offered genuinely alternative accommodation in apartments, and a trend that shows the number of such families is increasing."

Boycotting experts' efforts

By signing the partnership agreement with the European Commission, the Czech Republic pledged to address social housing policy, but since 2015 we have witnessed how the Czech Labor and Social Affairs Ministry and the Czech Regional Development Ministry have manipulatively boycotted attempts by housing experts to guide the Czech Republic toward adopting a social housing law. Such legislation would not just be for Romani people, but would be meant to aid all who are in the process of figuring out where to live here, which is the vast majority of people in this country, whether they are homeless people, single mothers, children aging out of institutional care, or pensioners.

History is repeating itself - why should we learn from others' mistakes when we can commit those same mistakes ourselves? In 2006, when the Czech Republic had been an EU Member State for just two years, Jiří Čunek came up with an idea (or rather, he saw one abroad, as part of a twinning program) for how, as mayor, he could get rid of the Romani people living on municipal territory by building them so-called "unicellular accommodation" - the kind of structures which, as we all know, are designed to serve construction workers on construction sites or the employees of factories as temporary offices (he then became Regional Development Minister).

To this day such accommodation is being criticized both by the tenants living in it and by experts on housing, and evidence exists as to how economically burdensome and inefficient such "housing" is. The Mayor of Most and that city's local assembly members, however, evidently like the idea of building such accommodation at the Chánov housing estate there.

The Roma never chose Chánov

Residents of Chánov have managed to pose questions to the city councilors (thanks to the interest of opposition parties on the Most local assembly) and to create a community group of people who are not afraid to point out the many deficiencies at the housing estate, such as the water leakage that the city has not addressed for 15 years now. Imagine that you have a water line in the basement of the building you live in, the line through which water flows into the sewer, and it's cracked - thousands of gallons of water are going to waste, but nobody from either the political establishment or the water management authorities takes any interest.

In the case of Chánov, the expectation is that the "inadaptables" living there will pay for this waste - so we shouldn't be surprised to find residents there who owe CZK 1 million [EUR 40 000] for sewerage. At the very least, this is cause to reflect on why those politicians are in office at city hall in the first place.

Another problem is the segregated school at the housing estate, which is not aiding Romani pupils with accessing the same education as other children in mainstream schools, and various other problems there are just due to the inertia and populism of local politicians. All attempts made by local residents to address those problems have been swept under the carpet because the Romani inhabitants, after all, are not those with whom the leadership of Most is meant to communicate.

It is important, I believe, to recall a bit of history:  We Roma - i.e., the people who live at Chánov today - did not freely choose that place as our home, but many were brought to the locality, sometimes even by force, because during the "normalization" era, Roma were cheap labor for going down into the mines and extracting coal. That is a purely historical fact which you can read about in any of the Romani Studies books covering the history of Romani people from Slovakia after the Second World War in communist Czechoslovakia.

A manipulative policy is nowhere to begin 

The measure that the local assembly in Most recently adopted is one I consider an uneconomic decision by the city that will influence more than one future generation who will live in that locality in conditions that are incompatible with this state's integration policy. Personally, I am interested to know whether the elected representatives of the city, or the residents of the Chánov housing estate, have ever heard of the following documents adopted by the Government of this country:

The Social Inclusion Strategy to 2020

The Roma Integration Strategy to 2020

The Strategy for Combating Social Exclusion, 2011-2015 (Chapter 2)

The Concept of Preventing and Tackling Homelessness Issues in the Czech Republic until 2020

The Housing Policy Concept of the Czech Republic till 2020

The Concept for Social Housing (in preparation)

These documents contain innumerable measures that are most probably only ever going to be words on paper. The Czech Republic is a small country full of restrictive measures against each and every one of us, whether you are a businessperson, a factory worker, a cleaning woman or anybody else, but once you have become a politician, if you manage to get your voters to become infatuated with populist promises you will never fulfill, then you have your own standard of living and that of your family taken care of, because it pays to be a big fish in a small pond (and corruption at the local level is rather high).

Why, as politicians, should you all do anything for your fellow human beings - after all, you're not here for them, on the contrary, the people about whom you often make decisions just exist for you all to use as an instrument when designing the assortment of taxes you all collect, which even those on welfare pay during their shopping as VAT. If the majority society is not made aware of all of the consequences of this arrangement, then this situation will never change, because the Roma are not the ones with decision-making power in their hands.

Manipulative policy is not a good starting point - but this is exactly the kind of political will we have witnessed since the fall of communism in the Czech Republic. That brings me to the question of what actually has succeeded during the last 30 years in the area of Romani integration, and how many financial resources have been invested into the Czech Republic through the European Social Fund.

During the last 30 years very little progress has been made - Romani children continue to be educated through substandard instruction and the Romani women who were forcibly sterilized continue to wait for the state to compensate them. In that time the Czech Republic has produced more than 600 socially excluded localities, irrespective of whether it was the money-changers from the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) or the railwaymen from the Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) who headed the Government.

The Czech Republic has managed to pull the wool over the eyes of EU institutions more than once. It has done so by establishing the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion which, thanks to the influence of experts such as Hirt and Jakoubek, is still sticking to the "social poverty" theory (even if it does not apply to the lives of Romani people), and it has done so by painting a rosy picture about inclusive education here.

Last but not least, look at what this has all cost:  Billions of euro have been invested into improving conditions here. My question is: Which conditions, and for whom?

Michal Miko, director of the RomanoNet organization, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
Views: 1093x

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Agentura pro sociální začleňování, Housing, integration, segregation



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