The need for a rights-based approach as a response to severe housing deprivation

INTRODUCTORY STATEMENT

The Romanian legislation stipulates the following:

  • Free and unhindered access to housing is a right of every citizen (Law of Housing 114/1996, introduction);
  • In order to prevent and combat poverty and risk of social exclusion, through the initiated public policy, the state ensures the access of vulnerable persons to some fundamental rights, such as: the right to housing… (Law of Social Assistance 292/2011 – Art. 53, alin. 2);
  • Local Councils have the obligation to ensure the access of marginalized persons and families (those who have a marginal social position “manifested in the absence of a minimum of social conditions of livelihood”) to housing and to public services of strict necessity (Law regarding the prevention and fight against social marginalization 116/2002 modified – Art. 3, Art. 25).

However, statistical data (presented below) on the occurance of severe housing deprivation in Romania demonstrates that even if Romanian legislation recognizes the right to housing, this rights-based approach is not translated into rights-based policies and measures. During the last quarter century the politics of housing left this domain under the influence of the de-regulated market, while the impoverishment not only of those who became long-time unemployed but also of those in-work knew unprecedented levels. Consequently, the precariatized class has no resources to obtain a home on the private market and is under the risk of becoming homeless, while the part of the ruling elites who deny their responsibility in these processes, are only one step away of criminalizing homelessness. Only a rights-, needs-, and housing-first-based approach may interrupt this circle. THEREFORE, THERE IS AN URGENT NEED:

  • to return to a rights-based approach to housing,
  • to reenforce the right to social housing of the marginalized citizens,  
  • to claim a needs-based allocation of social housing built from public budget and/or from private funds,
  • to adopt the housing first approach as a strategy for ending social exclusion and marginalization.    

Our researches (1 – Spatialization and racialization of Roma exclusion2 – Faces and causes of Roma marginalization in local contexts) demonstrate that housing exclusion leads to the aggravation of social marginalization of impoverished Roma groups across Romania and/or of all citizens belonging to the working class undergoing a severe process of precariatisation and racialization. Housing exclusion is manifested in several phenomena, such as:

  • the creation of segregated and disadvantaged housing areas inhabited mostly by ethnic Roma at the peripheries of localities;
  • institutional neglect of improving the housing conditions in such areas;
  • housing insecurity inherent of informal housing, but also resulted from urban development plans that put impoverished people under the risk of forced evictions;
  • pushing people into a disadvantaged citizenship status characterized by the lack of property and identity documents or proper tenancy contracts;
  • maintenance of a public housing system that hinders the access of the most disadvantaged to social homes.

Housing exclusion at its turn is produced by structural factors and mechanisms of market economy, among others the precarization of working class, and a merit-based understanding of housing with its subsequent practices of housing discrimination. Underlined by the latter and by complex constellations of interests, the public policies in this domain fail to respond to the housing needs of the most disadvantaged.

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EUROSTAT data on housing conditions, 2012

“In 2012, the highest rates for the total population in what regards severe housing deprivation were exhibited in Romania (22.8%), while this rate in the EU was 5.1 %. The indicator of severe housing deprivation includes both insufficient spacing (or overcrowding rate – 51.6 % in Romania, compared to EU-28 average rate of 17.0 %) and poor amenities (about 36.2 % of the people in Romania had no bath or shower, or no indoor flushing toilet, which percentages are even higher in the case of people living at-risk-of-poverty: 70.6 % were found not to have a bath or shower and 71.6 % did not have indoor flushing toilet.” – See more here:

HOUSING CONDITIONS AND HOUSING DEPRIVATION IN EU

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UNDP survey data on housing conditions of Roma: Roma housing – separate and unequal, 2011
“Housing is one of the priority areas of the Decade of Roma Inclusion. The results of the 2011 Regional Roma Survey conducted by UNDP and the World Bank, with co-funding from the European Commission (EC), suggests that this is with good reason. Disproportionate shares of Roma (compared to non-Roma living in close proximity) reside in inadequate housing without access to basic infrastructure, and as such face increased health risks. Housing deprivation is accompanied by housing insecurity: many Roma households face the threat of eviction. The right to adequate housing is a key human right: it is closely related to human development and bears special importance for minority socially vulnerable groups like Roma. International human rights law places access to adequate housing within the context of security of tenure, access to public services and infrastructure, habitability, accessibility, suitability of location and cultural adequacy. It also bans discrimination in the exercise of these rights.”
See more here:
End-of-mission statement on Romania, by Professor Philip Alston, United Nations Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, 2015

“The structural problem in many places is that Roma lack security of tenure. Either they have no property title or rental agreement, or they live in ‘formerly nationalized houses’. At any time, they can be evicted from their homes, with all of the attendant stress. All too often, evictions have taken place with little advance notice, have been carried out in an abusive fashion, result either in homelessness or relocation far away from jobs, schools, hospitals, and other facilities, and end up reinforcing residential segregation of a discriminatory nature. […] Current Housing Law (114/1996) as well as the new Civil Procedure Code are part of the problem. The Housing Law contains no protections against forced evictions, which is defined under international law as “the permanent or temporary removal against their will of individuals, families and/or communities from the homes and/or land which they occupy, without the provision of, and access to, appropriate forms of legal or other protection.” As a result of the silence of the Housing Law, Roma families are often inadequately consulted about planned evictions, not given reasonable notice, not properly identified by the authorities, and can be evicted in the middle of winter. All of these problems relate to the lack of safeguards to prevent these problems in the national Housing Law. Forced evictions are not only a violation of the human right to housing, they are also just the beginning of a new set of problems for the people that are affected by it. Eviction from informal housing does not appear to be covered by the Civil Procedure Code. Article 1042 of that Code is particularly worrying because it limits the grounds on which an eviction can be reviewed before a court. The Code also does not provide adequate time to challenge an eviction notice and there are no legal remedies that allow a claimant to request a court to suspend an eviction.”

The entire statement is available here:

http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16737&LangID=E

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Housing rights through increasing access to social housing at local level, GALIL, 2015

“Between March and July 2015, the Local Action Group for Housing Inclusion (LAGHI, GALIL in Romanian) from Cluj-Napoca has launched activities to support persons living in precarious and insecure conditions and/or in the city’s residentially segregated areas. Through an action of compiling and submitting dossiers for the allocation of a social house, 150 persons had signaled their housing needs towards the local administration. They were people previously unregistered because of the restrictive and discriminatory eligibility criteria of the local procedure to allot social housing. The group had documented all the barriers encountered by the marginalized in accessing social housing, thus showing how consistent categories of the city’s inhabitants are systematically discouraged to apply for such accommodation in the city. At the end of the day, these people are denied their right to housing. […]  In November 2015, GALIL elaborated and registered to the attention of the Mixed Committee for the Allocation of State Housing Stock from the City Hall and the Local Council of the Municipality of Cluj-Napoca a series of proposals to modify the eligibility and selection criteria used in the process of social housing allocation.”

Read more about this here:

 The right to housing through providing access to social housing