EUROCITIES was invited to present good practices from cities on preventing evictions and securing access to adequate housing at the Council of Europe Dialogue with Roma and Traveller Civil Society that took place on 11-12 April in Strasbourg.
Bianca Faragau, senior policy advisor who coordinates the work of EUROCITIES on Roma inclusion, gave a presentation during a panel debate session on 'Action-based policies and initiatives to housing rights claims'. Speaking to representatives from member states, Council of Europe, Roma experts and civil society, she presented the key findings from the EUROCITIES report mapping the situation of Roma in cities in Europe and shared good practices of municipal initiatives.
Roma access to housing in cities
Evidence collected from EUROCITIES members shows that the housing situation of Roma is far worse than that of the general population. The common trend across cities is that Roma families are often living in precarious conditions in overcrowded, poor quality housing, be it in private rentals or public social housing. In some cities (predominantly in France and Italy), Roma people mostly live in temporary settlements (mobile homes, camps or caravans). This is all the more problematic given that decent housing is an essential pre-requisite to finding employment, getting children to attend school regularly and having access to basic services, which are all key components of social inclusion and integration.
Newly-arrived Roma (EU mobile citizens moving from eastern EU cities to the west), tend to be more vulnerable to poor housing conditions than the domestic Roma who settled for years.
The main reasons why housing is a challenge for many Roma families are:
- Discrimination and anti-gypsyism
- Economic reasons – lack of means due to unemployment
- Housing market – lack of affordable housing in cities
- Language barrier
City initiatives for Roma housing inclusion
Many initiatives have been put in place in cities to improve the access of Roma to adequate housing, such as:
- integrated plans to support Roma move out of camps into adequate housing in the city (housing + employment + language learning + social support)
- Housing First
- temporary housing (shelters) with social support
- housing acquisition and renovation projects (city’s housing association buying private properties)
- housing projects to rehabilitate unused or abandoned public spaces (social housing)
Most of these initiatives rely mostly on municipal funding, only some receive EU support and very few get support from national level.
Examples of good practice from cities
In Berlin, “Nostels” have been set up to provide a first shelter for homeless Roma families with children. This is intended as a short-term solution for up to 28 days but the stay can be extended if necessary. The families are placed in an adequately-sized and fully equipped flat where their basic needs are met. During their stay the families receive support to apply for social benefits and to access social services in an effort to find a long-term solution for their situation. The initiative is funded by the Berlin Senate (local funding) and the project is run by an NGO together with a communal housing organisation. Since 2014, 18 families have found new homes on the housing market in Berlin.
Another successful initiative in Berlin lies in the concept of neighbourhood management. To facilitate access of newly-arrived to the regular housing market, combined residential projects were initiated where newcomers and long-term residents live together. One such NGO-supported project exists in the Reinickendorf district. Roma also receive legal advice concerning German tenancy law in order to fight against unlawful rental practices.
In Glasgow, the housing acquisition programme was initiated to tackle poor housing conditions in the private rental sector in Govanhill, a neighbourhood with a high density of newly-arrived Roma. The two-year programme involves acquiring and refurbishing properties that are mostly occupied by Roma and owned by private landlords. Glasgow City Council and the Scottish Government allocated £13 million for the pilot scheme. Upon the success of the pilot, the scheme was extended for additional, 4 years with funding of £40 million. The funding for acquisition is managed by the local social rented housing provider who agrees the purchases with the city council and then buys the properties. The result has been improved property management with a strong engagement of the residents leading to better living conditions for all in the neighbourhood.
Toulouse has put in place an integrated plan to support Roma move out of camps with a proposal for alternative (social) housing in the city with social accompanying with support from social services (to deal with administrative issues, get into training, job insertion etc.). In addition, Toulouse runs a Housing First pilot by working with 13 social landlord associations with guarantees from city. The city also plans to create by 2020 a social real estate agency supported by the Toulouse Metropole to bring housing stock from private housing market and to give guarantees to owners in terms of rehabilitation. The success of Toulouse's approach lies in its work in partnership between city and state services, housing providers, insertion associations (NGOs) and Roma families.
The EUROCITIES inputs will feed into a report that the Council of Europe is preparing with recommendations on housing inclusion of Roma, to be released in early 2020. This report is going to be voted in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
Check the EUROCITIES presentation below.