Europe, Human Rights

The Right to Housing Across the EU

In spite of the fact that there are serious limitations on data and monitoring, according to a study made by the European Commission in 2013, there are an estimated 410,000 homeless people on any given night in the European Union.

Under the categories 1 and 2 of the ETHOS definition and the most vulnerable ones, houseless and roofless. This involve 4.1 million people in the EU that are victims of rooflessness and houselessness each year for a shorter or longer period.

A Eurobarometer survey from 2010 revealed that 3 million Europeans felt at risk of becoming homeless. In mostly all member states that have recent available data. The situation doesn’t seem to recover, data shows that fifteen Member States (AT, CZ, DE, EL, ES, FR, HU. IE, IT, LT, PL, PT, SI, SW, UK) have homelessness increased over the past five years and decreased in two (FI, NL), remain stable in one (DK).

The general risk for homelessness has increased in the past years due to deep poverty, austerity measures and the increase of unemployment, exposing more people to longer periods of homelessness. Moreover, the rising costs and prices combined with the unstable financial market are making vulnerable the homeowners in the EU, exposing them to the risk of becoming homeless. Mortgage or high rents and the high cost of energy and utility bills put a lot of stress on people shoulder.

On average 12% of the EU population was overburdened with housing cost in 2011. The number is even higher for those who are at risk of poverty, 39% and for those that are categorized as non-poor less than 6%.

Quality of Life Survey concluded that there is a rise from 4% (2007) to close to 6% (2011) of Europeans that are quite likely to leave their accommodation in the next months. The factor that influenced this is the economic crisis that happened after 2007.

Many households are struggling with the mortgage and the rent debts, high utility bills and indebtedness and receive no support, being likely to face repossession and eviction. An increase in evictions and repossessions has been shown in Spain, France, Hungary, Ireland, Italy and other several Member States.

So what are the factors that are causing housing problems?

Widening Income Inequality

In the past decades, the gap between the rich and the poor have become wider and wider. “We have been mired in a period of sustained and growing income inequality, where the disparity between the upper and lower tiers of the income distribution has become even wider. Moreover, various subgroups of the population (such as persons of color and single parent families) are experiencing this disparity with a disproportionate frequency.”

Even for those people who have households, the costs of housing is not directly proportionate with their income, so it becomes impossible to cover all of the costs necessary to a decent life. What is revolting is that this problem did not only appeared by itself, without any control but was caused by government policies and the corporate sector!

Persistent and Pervasive Housing Discrimination

Differences between people of color and the white ones are even wider, the first ones are less able to compete in the housing market, mostly because they find harder a job or have lower income.

In Romania, for example, for Roma people is almost impossible to find a job because of the prejudices and the little trust the general perception has about them. There is no program for integration in the work placement, or at least I hadn’t heard of any. If that information wasn’t out there for me, I wonder how this oppressed group can reach it. The general perception is blaming Roma people for “stealing”, making it very difficult for them to integrate. It seems that the heavier life you have, the hardest society is making it for you.

Oppressed groups face discrimination on a daily basis and this doesn’t make any sense since they are already oppressed, they were supposed to receive help, not be marginalized.

Over Dependence on Debt and Capital Markets

Due to the fact that houses are tied to land, plus the ownership private system, the housing market becomes dependent on borrowed money:

“Mortgage-lending institutions have thus been a dominant force in the housing sector for the past century. Their interests and evolution, including their periodic crises and consequent public policies, have had an enormous impact on the physical landscape of this country and on economic distribution and the stability of the overall economy.”

Including in Romania, buying a house means taking a mortgage. There is a huge gap between income and the house prices that seems to me, for example, more than scary.

Flawed and Inadequate Public Policies

Housing problems and solutions for low income people should be on every governments agenda. The number of people who suffer from homelessness is increasing and is not followed by the policies that can fix this issue. The problem is that the housing market has the power to shape policies for their profit.

Other factors that increase homelessness in the EU are considered to be: rising housing costs, intra-EU mobility, migration from third countries, ageing and changes in the family structures. There are groups that are more likely to become exposed to homelessness and those are: women, single-parent and large families, older people, Roma and other minorities.

Migrants from within the EU are an important driver of homelessness, especially undocumented migrants, because they have no access to basic services. After the crisis, the number of Roma families affected by homelessness and housing exclusion has increased. In a study made in 2011 it is indicated that evictions that have as target the Roma families are present in many countries. In the same study it was pointed out that the Roma people do not receive enough priority when it comes to social housing. Most of excluded Roma people or people in other marginalised ethnic minorities usually live in segregated areas, where they are deprived of work opportunities, access to affordable quality housing and basic utilities. In a recent report of European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights and the United Nations Development Programme it is shown that 50% of Roma people living in a concentrated area of Roma, live in difficult conditions and lack at least one basic utility as: indoor kitchen, toilet, shower or bath and electricity. Access to these utilities was found to be 50% lower than for the general population that lives in the same areas.

Another group that is vulnerable to homelessness is represented by people leaving institutions such as prisons, hospitals, mental health institutions. Most of the deinstitutionalised people do not have a place to return or a family. Incarceration also comes with a long-term effect of stigmatisation among those who leave the institution, making it very hard to integrate.

Despite the international concern of international instrument as European Union, UN and so on, the housing problem is left on the shoulders of local authorities that seem incapable to work towards the welfare of their citizens. “Responsibility for policies in relation to HHE rests most commonly at central government level, with responsibility for delivery most often devolved to regional and/or local levels. However, in significant number of Member States, policy responsibility is also largely devolved.”

“In spite of the serious limitations in data and monitoring, it is clear that HHE represent real challenges in most Member States and that while in some countries that have been significant improvements in recent years in others things are getting worse. There is also some evidence that the composition of the homeless population is changing — with increasing numbers of younger homeless, more women, more victims of family breakdown and more immigrants and asylum seekers.”

“The failing of our housing policies are, in part, due to the government’s desire to fulfill a number of economic, social and political goals, beyond the desire to provide housing for the poor. In addition, housing policies are always greatly influenced and shaped by the needs of the private for-profit housing industry-an industry that has a sophisticated and well-financed lobbying component and that has been successful in gaining federal support for their agenda.”

What is revolting is that a recent study found that 11 million of homes lies empty all over the Europe, which represents twice the number of people who suffer from homelessness!

So I am left wondering why so many empty spaces and yet so many people suffering in the streets?

About Ioana Miron

Ioana grew up in Bucharest, Romania and recently finished her master’s degree in journalism, international cooperation and humanitarian aid from the National School of Political Science and Public Administration. She’s an extremely intelligent, motivated, self-reliant and creative young woman always on the prowl for injustice to expose. Ioana’s impressive thirst for knowledge is only surpassed by her kind and generous heart.

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