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Miroslav Brož: "Social housing" for Romani people will preserve the status quo

Prague, 30.3.2013 19:59, (ROMEA)
Miroslav Brož
Miroslav Brož

For quite some time now an agitated discussion has been taking place among experts about so-called "social housing". Such housing should be accessible to people who cannot rent apartments on the open market and who would otherwise end up on the street. 

The discussion of social housing overlaps to a significant degree with the discussion of housing for impoverished Romani people. In economically advanced European countries, social housing is usually designed for families and individuals who cannot pay a normal rent for economic reasons, or for members of at-risk groups such as low-income retirees, people with mental or physical disabilities, people with psychiatric diagnoses, or single mothers.

In the Czech Republic, the main target group for social housing will probably be comprised of Romani people, specifically, Romani families with children. These families are discriminated against on the rental apartment market in the Czech Republic so strongly that in many places it would be extraordinary for them to be able to lease a normal apartment not located in a socially excluded locality. 

For this reasons, Romani families end up in dirty category IV apartments in horrifying buildings, or in residential hotels where they are usually paying the highest rents in the entire town. No one will lease a normal apartment to them for a normal price. 

It is important to note that most occupants of these horrible buildings and residential hotels would like to leave them and want to live differently. The situation in impoverished Romani localities and residential hotels is now far past the point of no return.

In many places, the hygienic or the structural conditions of the housing are unbearable. Moreover, the budgets of ghetto families are being decimated by exorbitant rents.

Through the housing benefit system, money from the state budget ends up in the accounts of traffickers in poverty. There is no doubt that this situation needs an acute, immediate solution. 

However, would a good solution to this problem be to respond by creating a "social housing" network for Romani people - instead of eliminating the cause of the existing state of affairs, i.e., discrimination against Romani families on the real estate market in the Czech Republic? After all, Romani families are not living in ghettos or residential hotels because their budgets will not allow them to lease an apartment for a normal market rent.  

As a matter of fact, normal rents are much cheaper than those paid in bad neighborhoods or to residential hotels, and we can hardly assume that the price of Romani social housing will be lower in poor regions than the normal apartment rents are. If Romani families could lease normal apartments - of which there are enough on the market - for a normal price, there would be no need to invent a system of Romani "social housing" to address the unbearable housing situation of thousands of Romani families. 

In the Czech Republic, an anti-discrimination law is in effect to facilitate the prosecution of ethnic discrimination. Leasing an apartment is a business like any other. If you own a car rental business or a hotel, you cannot refuse to rent a car or a room to a client because he or she has many children, or because he or she has dark skin. That is simply illegal. However, the anti-discrimination law is neither adhered to nor enforced in the Czech Republic.

What will this Romani "social housing" probably look like? From the information on the website of the Ministry for Regional Development (Ministerstvo pro místní rozvoj) I suspect it will probably involve the creation and operation of some sort of regulated "social" residential hotels, established by law and supported through subsidies, which perhaps will be cheaper than they have been to date. Those residing there will be assisted by social workers.

What will probably be beneficial is the fact that Romani people living in regulated, "social" residential hotels may not have to suffer as much from bad hygienic conditions or material deprivation, but overall this solution will just contribute toward preserving the current state of affairs and deteriorating the situation in the long term. An important question is whether EU money intended to address the situations of impoverished Romani communities will be used to implement such "social housing" programs. 

If Romani families end up living in such a "social housing network", it will not be for economic reasons, but for ethnic ones. Because landlords discriminate against them because of their ethnicity, Romani people cannot lease apartments for normal prices outside of the ghetto (or they can only lease residential hotel rooms). 

This sad fact is what the social housing concept that has been prepared is supposed to address. Rather than further separating the majority society and the Romani community by housing Romani people in so-called "social housing", we should do our best to make it possible for the members of minorities to live among us, not in ghettos or residential hotels (even if they are re-labeled "social"). 

Instead of jobs, we gave Romani people welfare. Instead of supporting Romani people's education, we set up special schools for them. Can we address the discrimination of Romani people on the housing market in some other way than by now inventing segregated Romani housing?

Miroslav Brož, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Analýzy, Antidiskriminace, Bída, CEE, Děti, Diskriminace, Dotace, Evropa, Exkluze, Chudoba, Kauza, Legislativa, Lidská práva, Menšiny, Osobnosti, Podpora, Politika, Předsudky, Sociální, Sociální vyloučení, Soužití, Stěhování, Systém, Vláda, MMR, Czech republic, Housing



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