Czech coalition Government reaches agreement on social housing, will the law pass?
The parties in the Czech governing coalition met on Thursday, 12 January and agreed that the law on social housing will not create a new central office to administer such housing, as Labor and Social Affairs Minister Michaela Marksová (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD) proposed before Christmas, and that municipal involvement in the system will also be voluntary. Vice-chair of the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL) Jan Bartošek said the law would make possible a pilot program and if municipalities do not voluntarily step up, they will be obligated to provide social housing through an amendment to the law.
The state is counting on conducting an outreach campaign toward local authorities about the issue. The already-existing State Fund for Housing Development at the Czech Regional Development Ministry will finance the social housing, Regional Development Minister Karla Šlechtová (for ANO) told journalists after the meeting.
She and Bartošek agreed that the law is a priority for the governing coalition. Both politicians criticized the ČSSD and the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry (MPSV) for writing the law slowly.
"We are planning a schedule [for approving the law] such that it will pass once the ministry has reworked it. Unfortunately, if the MPSV had listened to us more than two years ago, we would not have had to wait so long for this law," Bartošek said.
Neither the ANO movement nor the KDU-ČSL, according to its vice-chair, have put forward their own new proposals recently because the MPSV has not been respecting their comments. "No Center for Social Housing, we are absolutely against that," Šlechtová said, adding that she welcomes the new agreement.
"We are primarily taking advantage of the instruments we already have, which means the housing development fund. The new legislation must not encumber people. It's important the state use the tools it has available and primarily implements its policy through them," Bartošek said.
ANO had originally asked that municipal involvement in the system be obligatory. "At this moment, the opinion is that a voluntary approach would be a pilot project just for a few years. I am able to agree with that," Šlechtová said.
Problems in the municipalities not involved in the system will have to solved by the state, she warned, adding that she also believes there is a danger the system will be abused and the state will have to aim to raise awareness about these issues among local governments. According to Marksová, the "target group" for social housing has also been clarified.
Those eligible would be considered those who spend more than 40 % of their incomes for suitable housing and who then have less than 1.6 times the subsistence level resources left after covering housing costs, as well as anybody living for more than six months in a dormitory, health care facility, institution or shelter. ANO believes the circle of those eligible should be smaller and only the poorest should access such housing.
Šlechtová emphasized that ANO disagrees with social housing being designed for anybody who receives welfare - for example, for all pensioners or single mothers. "That's a million people, we would ruin the state," she said, adding that roughly 118 000 people might access social housing through the MPSV's most recent proposal.
"We propose roughly 50 000, because those are the persons in need of housing who don't have the so-called competences for housing. They don't have an apartment and they don't have the incomes they need to rent one," she explained, adding that her ministry is offering subsidies for nursing homes, for example, that should cover other categories of persons in need of housing.
Marksová: We have reached agreement, we can pass the law
The Labor and Social Affairs Minister believes all of the governing parties have made concessions now and agreed on the basic principles for the social housing law. It is therefore possible to approve it before the next elections.
She said she would strive to see it rapidly discussed in the lower house. "I still believe it can be passed before the elections. The question is whether the law will be a priority in the Chamber of Deputies. We will certainly want an accelerated discussion of it. This will be the last matter to come there from [the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry]," she said.
The minister said she believes the coalition politicians have reached agreement on the "basic principles" of the bill and have made concessions so that the law can now be completed by the bureaucrats and lawyers from the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry and the Regional Develpoment Ministry. She also believes the Government's Legislative Council should also rapidly discuss it.
Marksová believes the law has a good chance of being adopted. "Once I submit a bill that is understood by the Union of Cities and Municipalities and the Association of Local Administrations, it is my experience that it will have an actual chance across the entire political spectrum. If they disagree with it, we will be sending such a law to its death," she said.
The Labor and Social Affairs Minister said she believes her coalition partners have comprehended that social housing cannot be a direct obligation for municipalities, only a voluntary commitment. After five years, the system can eventually be assessed and a municipal obligation to administer social apartments could then be established through an amendment.
"This is not about each of us having a different opinion, rather, it's about us clarifying what we are discussing. Social housing must be available to all who cannot afford commercial rents. That means incomplete families, people living with disabilities, senior citizens. It cannot be just for the socially most vulnerable," the Labor and Social Affairs Minister said.
Marksová believes some ANO politicians are convinced the law is not necessary and that the situation could be corrected by adjusting welfare benefits and existing subsidy programs. "It is obvious that is not enough. We see that the number of socially excluded localities is rising. We cannot solve all of our problems through welfare benefits, far from it," the Labor and Social Affairs Minister said.
The law on social housing was originally meant to have taken effect this month, according to the Czech Government's original plans. Czech PM Bohuslav Sobotka (ČSSD) called the bill one of 10 priorities of his cabinet before the elections.
Eighty organizations aiding people in need have called on the Government to approve a bill by the end of January, otherwise it cannot be adopted before the next elections. The Labor and Social Affairs Ministry received thousands of comments on its draft legislation.
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