Inflammation and stories on Housing

Sub-Saharan African SlumsSub-Saharan Africa is experiencing a housing crisis. While around one billion people live in slums around the globe, 200 million of those live in sub-Saharan African slums. This number represents “61.7% of the region’s urban population,” making sub-Saharan Africa the highest in the world for urban poverty.

Sub-Saharan African Slums and Urban Poverty

Singumbe Muyeba, assistant professor of African Studies at the University of Denver, spoke with The Borgen Project about development intervention and sub-Saharan African slums. Muyeba’s expertise in these areas stems from his academic work but also from his work for the United Nations’ High Commission for Refugees and Development Program.

According to Muyeba, sub-Saharan African slums began when African countries gained independence from colonialist rule from the 1960s through the ‘80s. Since colonialists always reserved major cities for themselves, Africans everywhere migrated from rural to urban areas after independence. However, that meant infant governments had to keep up with increasing urban populations. They were unable to do so due to the skyrocketing rates of urbanization.

With housing rapidly diminishing as Africans moved into cities, they began settling onto common land, eventually creating the sprawling slums that still exist today. Even now, the sub-Saharan African urban population is annually growing at 4%. A projection from the U.N. reveals that “the world’s 10 fastest growing cities, between 2018 and 2035, will all be in Africa.” In addition, there is a backlog of 51 million housing units in Africa. The region’s supply of housing is “about nine years behind current demand,” according to Muyeba.

Slum Upgrading Programs

The World Bank has funded slum upgrading programs to combat rising urban poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. These programs assigned property rights and provided access to services in hopes to empower slum residents with their own land. However, as Muyeba explained, these programs were largely “self-help” models. The World Bank simply gave impoverished individuals property rights and no means to build their own housing.

Since “about 97% to 99% of people in sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to formal financing” that allows them to build or buy a home, people haphazardly build their own informal housing or remain in slums. Formal and sustainable housing only accounts for 10% of all urban African housing. While handing out free titles and property rights looks good on paper, this “slum upgrading” has not improved slums.

Ongoing Problems in Slums

While sub-Saharan Africa housing conditions improved by 11% from 2000-2015,  this improvement was “twice as likely in the wealthiest households” and “80% more likely among more educated households.” The reality is that 80-90% of Africans work in the informal sector, and the majority of people living in sub-Saharan African cities live in slums. Therefore, this housing improvement did not occur in the slums, which many people cannot escape.

George Compound, a slum in Lusaka, Zambia, serves as a perfect example of a poorly executed upgrade program. It is a major slum with 400,000 inhabitants, but it does not have adequate running water. The water it does have from makeshift wells is contaminated with nearby ground toilets.

In Muyeba’s opinion, government involvement is necessary to fix the African housing crisis. While he is not against privatization, he believes the neoliberal model is not working to improve sub-Saharan African slums.

Can Governments Fix the Housing Crisis?

However, even if African governments want to get involved in building housing, they cannot. This is because of the World Bank’s international economic rulings on aid and upgrade programs. “The system is set up in such a way that the World Bank advocates for less involvement of the government following the Structural Adjustment Programs implemented in the 80s and 90s,” stated Muyeba.

In order to receive aid through the World Bank’s structural adjustment programs, governments often have to delegate building to the private sector. However, the private sector cannot make a real profit from low-income housing because so many Africans and slum-dwellers are part of the informal sector. People in poverty cannot get mortgages because they lack access to credit or insurance. This prevents the private sector from serving poor Africans.

Muyeba firmly believes “there are wins everywhere” if governments (with the help of communities and the private sector) build housing. The construction sector can benefit from large-scale projects, while infrastructure creates jobs. Individuals in slums can focus their attention on making income rather than worrying about basic housing needs.

Muyeba offered Kenya as an example of combined state, private and community partnerships to combat urban poverty. Currently, the country has implemented its own kind of slum upgrading program in which the government builds housing and guarantees mortgages.

Organizations Helping People in Sub-Saharan African Slums

Outside organizations and NGOs are actively working to help housing poverty in sub-Saharan African slums. Habitat for Humanity completed a six-year program in 2018 called “Building Assets, Unlocking Access.” This program worked in Uganda and Kenya to offer technical help and “develop housing microfinance products and services.” Habitat for Humanity’s approach allowed Africans to progressively build their own housing, access small-scale loans and set up small payments.

More than 42,000 individuals accessed microfinance loans through the program, which impacted more than 210,000 people in total. In addition, 32.9% of loan recipients built entire houses for themselves and their families.

A report from the project found that recipients also upgraded their housing with improved roofing, walls, sanitation and electricity. Additionally, the program caused trickle-down effects in health. Fewer people reported common ailments like “sore throats, shortness of breath, itchy eyes, blocked noses, vomiting and rashes” due to healthier housing. The most improved group was children under six.

Hopefully, all African cities struggling with urban poverty can create domestic housing projects or find new, inventive ways to help the housing crisis. All in all, the solution to sub-Saharan African slums is housing. According to Muyeba, “It’s a no brainer.”

Grace Ganz
Photo: Flickr

Indigenous Peoples
Indigenous peoples in Canada have roots in poverty tracing back to the 19th and 20th centuries. They had to relocate to small plots of land called reserves where destruction of their traditional way of life “combined with the poorly organized set-up of reserves resulted in impoverishment for those on the reserves.”

In Canada, 25% of Indigenous peoples live in poverty with 40% of those living under the poverty line being Indigenous children. Many Indigenous peoples died due to lack of shelter, adequate food, access to health care and lack of federal relief services. Today, Indigenous communities continue to suffer at the hands of institutionalized colonial violence.

Housing Inequalities

Several cross-country reserves have declared a State of Emergency due to poor living conditions. Statistics deemed only 56.9% of homes on reserves adequate in 2000 and 43% unsafe and in need of repairs in 2016. In 2016, both reserve shelters and Inuit homes qualified as overcrowded — 28% and 30% respectively.

Some Indigenous people moved off of reserves and into urban centers. Even there, they continued to face economic struggles. Indigenous peoples are twice as likely to live in poverty in comparison to non-Indigenous folk. In 1995, 55.6% of Aboriginal people in urban centers lived in poverty. Meanwhile, in 2003, 52.1% of Indigenous children lived in poverty.

Income Disparities

Impoverishment within the Indigenous community has resulted in fewer on-reserve schools, rising illiteracy and rising unemployment. Indigenous households making an income below $20,000 represented almost 20% of the entire Canadian population; whereas, non-Indigenous homes only represented 9.9%.

Non-Indigenous folk in lower-income homes have a 12.9% outcome of people with major depressive episodes. Meanwhile, Indigenous folk in lower-income homes had a 21.4% outcome — almost double. The values for higher incomes families are much closer; 6.3% for non-Indigenous and 7.7% for Indigenous.

Health Inequities

The Well-Being Index determined that First Nation and Inuit communities ranked on average 20 points lower than non-Indigenous communities. Despite being only 4% of the Canadian population, Indigenous people make up 14% of the population relying on food banks. Smoking and lung cancer statistics also show an overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples. Lower-income Indigenous households reported daily smoking levels at 48.8%.

The lowest-income Indigenous populations also experience disproportionate difficulties in accessing health care. Popular barriers are that Indigenous peoples are “unable to arrange transportation (19.6%); not covered by Non-Insured health benefits (NIHB) (18.4%); could not afford transportation costs (14.6%); prior approval by NIHB denied (14.2%); could not afford the cost of care, service (11.4%).”

Aid

Many community activists and grassroots organizations work tirelessly to help support the Indigenous communities in Canada. Dismantling generational poverty is another focus of activists and organizations. True North Aid is just one of those in the fight for Indigenous peoples in Canada.

True North Aid has decades’ worth of experience. It has an advisory council of four Indigenous Elders, partners and a Board of Directors with over 35 years of experience. Under such leadership, the organization successfully raises awareness for Indigenous struggles. Additionally, it provides home reconstruction aid, water purification technologies and health care aid to Indigenous communities in Canada.

Activists and organizations supporting Indigenous peoples are imperative in the fight to end poverty for Indigenous people. Indigenous communities suffer disproportionately and need advocacy and action.

– Jasmeen Bassi 
Photo: Flickr

SDG 11 in Luxembourg
Luxembourg is a small European country sandwiched between Belgium, France and Germany. Around 630,000 people live in the nation, which has a landmass smaller than the U.S. state of Rhode Island. As a member of the United Nations, Luxembourg is subject to an annual Sustainable Development Report. The report encompasses goals ranging from zero hunger to gender equality. Sustainable Cities and Communities is number 11 on the list of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG 11 is an attempt to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.” Rent overburden in Luxembourg contributes to the significant challenges the nation faces, but progress toward achieving SDG 11 is moderately improving. Here are four updates on SDG 11 in Luxembourg.

4 Updates on SDG 11 in Luxembourg

  1. Air Quality: Luxembourg’s annual mean concentration of particulate matter is fewer than 2.5 microns in diameter (PM2.5). This is a measurement of the level of air pollution that can afflict humans with “severe health damage” and respiratory issues. Luxembourg’s level of PM2.5 is declining at a much better rate than in previous years but is still a fair distance from the UN’s long-term goal. While Luxembourg has better air quality than Belgium, France and Germany, it is still behind other European nations like Ireland, Portugal, Spain and most of Scandinavia.
  2. Improved Water Source Access: Between 99-100% of the urban population of Luxembourg has access to improved drinking water in their homes. This is the standard for industrialized nations, although some E.U. members like Italy, Serbia and Ireland have lower SDG ratings than Luxembourg.
  3. Satisfaction with Public Transport: A remarkably high percentage of Luxembourgers have satisfaction with their local public transportation systems. The SDG goal is to have 82.6% of the population satisfied, and Luxembourg is extremely close with nearly 79% of the population reporting satisfaction. In Europe, only Switzerland eclipses Luxembourg in this category. As of March 1, 2020, Luxembourg offers entirely free public transportation across the country. The government can absorb costs related to free public transportation due to the exponential economic growth the country continues to enjoy (although COVID-19 may put a damper on this growth). No-cost public transport in Luxembourg is a major reason why its citizens have the seventh-highest level of satisfaction with public transportation in the world.
  4. Population with Rent Overburden: Significant challenges remain for alleviating rent overburden in Luxembourg. Almost 17% of the population lives “in households where the total housing costs represent more than 40% of disposable income.” The UN goal is 4.6% of the population. Luxembourg is not close to achieving this SDG and unfortunately, the percentage is rising. The Luxembourg Times attributes this to high demand for housing coupled with a low supply. The newspaper also cites “the astronomical price of land.” Another prominent newspaper laments that “buying a home is out of the question for many [Luxembourgers]” and says young people often must live abroad or with their parents if they want to avoid ridiculously high rent prices. Some residents even resort to scouring legal code in the hopes of finding obscure laws that will reduce their rent. Rent overburden in Luxembourg is the most significant challenge to creating sustainable cities and communities.

Looking Forward

While rent overburden in Luxembourg is a significant roadblock for achieving SDG 11 in Luxembourg, free public transportation is a critical building block for sustainable cities and communities. Workers commuting to Luxembourg from abroad (it is just a 30-minute drive from Luxembourg City to Germany, France or Belgium) contribute to air pollution, but air quality is improving, albeit slowly. One can partially link this to more Luxembourgers opting for public transportation as opposed to their personal vehicles.

NGOs like the Luxembourg Anti-Poverty Network are working to reduce rent overburden, although a more concerted effort in conjunction with the government is necessary. Though challenges remain for Luxembourg to develop sustainable cities and communities, steps like providing country-wide free public transportation are positive signs that Luxembourgers have committed themselves to the achievement of SDG 11.

– Spencer Jacobs
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Homelessness in EstoniaIn the mid-90s and early 2000s, Estonia, a country in Northern Europe, oversaw a housing reform. This reform sought to improve the living conditions for Estonians and reduce the number of people who were experiencing homelessness in Estonia. Here’s the situation today:

6 Facts About Homelessness in Estonia

  1. A small percentage of Estonians are homeless – The Institute of Global Homelessness reported that around 864 Estonians were homeless in 2011, which amounts to 0.06% of the population. However, in 2018, the European Journal of Homelessness estimated that 1.5% of Estonians are homeless, which amounts to between 1,900 and 2,100 people.
  2. Unemployment can be a major influence on homelessness in Estonia – A 2014 study in the European Journal of Homelessness found that 5.5% of Estonians are unemployed (2% of which reside in Tallinn, the capital.)
  3. Alcohol dependency can inhibit self-subsistence – The percentage of Estonians who are homeless with mental health issues is increasing, and some of these issues may result from alcohol dependency, alongside other factors. Alcoholism can make it more difficult for people who are trying to gain self-sufficiency.
  4. Testing (for respiratory diseases such as COVID-19) is insufficient for homeless shelters in many European countries – People in shelters who test positive for airborne illnesses must be isolated, according to a report by members of the European Federation of National Organisations working with the Homeless (FEANTSA), yet self-isolation is not always easy in shelters. In an Estonian shelter, after one individual in the shelter tested positive for COVID-19, testing was made available for the other residents, and 56% of those who lived in the shelter tested positive as well. FEANTSA argues that “housing must be reaffirmed as a human right” in order to help those who are experiencing homelessness in Estonia.
  5. Certain shelters and programs provide the homeless with residential services – Shelters like the one in Nõmme District in Tallinn provide the homeless in Estonia with a resocialization plan where residents work on gaining work skills to be able to afford residential spaces of their own. Half of the shelter’s residents pay their own fees that they gained from employment to stay in the shelter, and if a resident cannot pay, the city pays on his/her behalf. This plan lasts for six months, though residents are allowed to stay for longer if they aren’t able to afford their own place of residence at that time.
  6. Housing has improved for Estonians since the 90s – In 1989, there were more households in Estonia than there were residences. From 1994-2004, a housing reform took place, and by 2011, the number of residences was 16% greater than the number of households. Though factors such as rising rental costs can still make it hard for a struggling family to afford to live in their own residence, living conditions have improved overall.

As Estonia’s government has been working to reduce homelessness, programs that have helped reform housing have been effective in reducing homelessness in Estonia since the 1990s. Yet there is still work to be done – lessening the situations which cause homelessness is imperative.

Ayesha Asad
Photo: Unsplash

Homelessness in Luxembourg
Bordered by Germany, France, and Belgium, Luxembourg is home to over half a million people, 24% of whom face the daily threat of homelessness. Although Luxembourg is a small country, it is also one of the wealthiest countries in the European Union. However, as the divide between the rich and poor continues to widen, the threat of homelessness in Luxembourg is increasing due to a rising cost of living and limited affordable housing.

5 Things to Know About Homelessness in Luxembourg

  1. Luxembourg is a wealthy nation, but compared to other European countries with denser populations, its homeless population is larger. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reports that approximately 37% of Luxembourg’s population was homeless in 2014, as compared to .22% of France’s population and .41% of Germany’s population—two countries with populations that are much larger than Luxembourg’s. Homelessness is especially a problem during Luxembourg’s winters, as hypothermia threatens the lives of those without a home. A report from the European Federation of National Organizations Working with the Homeless (FEANTSA) stated that the number of homeless people in Luxembourg rose from 684 people during the winter of 2012 and 2013 to 873 people during the winter of 2017 and 2018.
  2. Housing expenses are high in Luxembourg, with Luxembourg city being one of the most expensive places to live in Europe. As housing costs in Luxembourg rise by 5.4% per year, the poverty rate is also on the rise. According to a study published by Statec, a Luxembourg statistic service, the percentage of the population at risk of poverty rose from 15.4% in 2017 to 24% in 2019. For homeowners with smaller incomes, housing costs make up nearly half of their income. As of 2019, the Deloitte Global Economist Network reported that around 38% of households in Luxembourg were reported to be burdened by housing expenses. With rising costs, homeowners who could previously afford housing, may no longer be able to pay for the roof over their heads.
  3. With a growing population and a lack of available space for new infrastructure, Luxembourg can’t keep up with housing demands. Luxembourg’s population has increased by 36.2% since 2010, largely due to an influx of foreign workers. As a result of this increase, the housing crisis in Luxembourg has only grown as housing demands rise. In addition, land available to build additional housing is sparse, as nearly 92% of this land is privately owned, compared to the remaining 8% owned by public providers. To expand the housing market in Luxembourg, citizens are advocating for an increase in public housing and laws that will protect tenants from paying rising rent prices.
  4. Although the number of people staying in homeless shelters is dropping in Luxembourg, the number of nights people stay in homeless shelters is increasing. The average number of guests in night shelters decreased from 658 in 2010 to 354 in 2016. However, for these same years, the average number of nights in shelters rose from 40 days to 100 days. Night shelters are not designed to be a permanent solution for homeless people, and with the increase in the number of nights people are staying in shelters, waiting lists for the shelters are only growing longer.
  5. To combat homelessness in Luxembourg, homeless shelters are working to provide safe places for residents to sleep at night. The shelters can only provide space to a limited number of people, though, and often accrue a waiting list for beds every night. For one homeless shelter in Dommeldange, Luxembourg, overnight guests are given a place to sleep, dinner, and the facilities to shower, but they also employ trust-building exercises between social workers and guests to ensure they receive the emotional support they need. Some shelters focus their efforts on providing food to the homeless. Organizations, like “Premier Appel,” collect extra food from restaurants and grocery stores which is then fashioned into meals for those who visit the shelter. For Stëmm vun der Stross, volunteers serve up to 300 meals in the afternoon.

– Grace Mayer
Photo: Staticflickr

coffin homesFor years, Hong Kong has remained the most expensive city in the world, with property prices averaging $2,091 per square foot. The effects of globalization and an increasing population density have worsened the wealth inequality in the region. While Hong Kong’s GDP per capita is nearly $50,000, a recent census found that one in five Hong Kong residents are living in poverty. As the city becomes more crowded, many low-income residents can only afford to live in Hong Kong’s “coffin homes.” These subdivided units make up almost 20% of Hong Kong’s housing. They are frequently overcrowded, unsanitary and windowless. Accordingly, the families living in these homes have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Children cannot go outside, have difficulty keeping up with online learning and often experience financial and emotional stress. Fortunately, organizations like the Society for Community Organization (SoCO) are using grassroots political activism to advocate for impacted families.

Hong Kong’s Coffin Homes

Photos taken by AP photographer Kin Cheung show individuals living in housing units as small as six by three feet. Many are closet-sized, tucked into larger rooms with communal bathrooms and kitchens. These subdivided units are full of mattresses, clothing, TVs and trash. Many don’t have room for residents to stand or sleep, and residents report cockroach and bed bug infestations.

A 2016 census estimated that 209,700 Hong Kong citizens were living in subdivided units. The median monthly income of residents was $1,741 a month, with many of them working in food services. Residents struggle as COVID-19 has forced the closure of nearby restaurants, limiting the number of customers. The South China Morning Post reports that, from January through March 2020, revenue from the food and beverage industry in Hong Kong dropped more than 30%. A survey of low-income adults, conducted in early March 2020, found that 38% of had lost their jobs. As Hong Kong experiences its third wave of COVID-19, residents continue to face unemployment.

COVID-19 and Hong Kong’s Children

SoCO reports that one-fourth of Hong Kong’s children live below the poverty line. Around 50,000 children live in small apartments, rooftop huts or subdivided units. Online learning presents serious struggles for these students, as almost 70% of low-income students in Hong Kong surveyed by SoCO did not own computers. Almost 30% also lacked broadband internet access.

In addition to limited learning, children are more likely to experience long-term psychological effects as a result of home confinement. Oftentimes, children living in Hong Kong’s coffin homes do not have space to be active and, due to COVID-19, cannot go outside. Financial stress, limited social interaction, minimal personal space and boredom can cause long-term psychological harm. A survey of parents by the University of California in Los Angeles found that after quarantining, 30% of children met the criteria for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. All of these effects are exacerbated for children living coffin homes. Additionally, the cramped and unsanitary spaces allow COVID-19 to spread at higher rates.

Grassroots Advocacy for Hong Kong’s Impoverished

SoCO is an NGO that works in Hong Kong to minimize wealth inequality. SoCO aids a variety of Hong Kong citizens impacted by poverty by teaching political involvement and community advocacy. For those living in Hong Kong’s “coffin homes,” the organization pushes for rent controls, the building of more public housing and financial support. Additionally, SoCO collects data on issues impacting children to assess the top 10 concerns to bring to the government’s attention. This inspires children under 18 to understand and advocate for their rights. SoCO has also partnered with smaller organizations to provide physical activities and free classes for children.

As conditions in Hong Kong worsen, low-income families and those living in “coffin homes” cannot be ignored. Children may suffer the most due to home confinement, limited school access and financial stress. While there is no immediate solution, organizations like SoCO continue their work throughout the pandemic to ensure that the government remains aware of the major wealth and education inequalities in Hong Kong.

Ann Marie Vanderveen
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in Lithuania
Lithuania has experienced many issues with poverty and an increase in homelessness since its independence in the early 1990s. Its independence quickly led to high unemployment, low wages, poor state support in security housing, gaps in social housing provisions and an underdeveloped social services sector. This eventually resulted in a surge in homelessness in Lithuania.

Despite the overall increase in homelessness, Statistics Lithuania reported over 4,000 homeless people in 2017. While significant, the 4,000 homeless people in 2017 is actually a reduction since 2012 when reports determined that there were about 4,957 homeless people in Lithuania. The Lithuanian government has put some social policies in place in the case of unemployment; people who register with employment services can receive benefits while also using provided resources to look for another job.

With these policies, Lithuania has experienced a drop in unemployment from over 17% in 2010 to 6.35% in 2019. The Lithuanian government has stepped in over the past few years in response to the homelessness crisis and implemented provisions that promised public housing and services to those in need of assistance. The following key points will explain how Lithuania is combating the crisis and the challenges it is facing.

How Lithuania is Combating the Homelessness Crisis

According to the European Social Policy Network, the Lithuanian government put legislation and policies in place to help people experiencing homelessness:

  1. Shelters and crisis centers for homeless people: There are provisions for shelter in two forms: short-term temporary housing and crisis centers. Short-term temporary housing is for homeless people and people with addictions or other critical situations that threaten a person’s health or life. Services there include information, medication and representation, access to basic facilities for personal hygiene and access to health care. The duration of these services can last up to three nights. Crisis centers are for homeless people and victims of violence. Services include social and psychological support, employment consulting, skill-building, access to healthcare and more. Crisis center services aim to restore independent living and social connections and to help people reintegrate into society. The duration of these services may last up to six months and can receive an extension. There are also day centers for the homeless. These facilities allow people a safe place to stay during the day, to make food, attend courses and receive other social services.
  2. A brief history of social housing in Lithuania: Prior to Lithuania’s independence, the Soviet Union enacted a mass construction of social housing. Students, workers and young people leaving foster homes were the main demographic of people using this housing. The Lithuanian government dismantled public housing and allowed citizens to restore their property in the form of real estate after gaining its independence. Mass privatization eventually led to a surge in housing prices. As a result, vulnerable groups unable to afford housing returned to the streets.
  3. Ex-convicts received a chance to live independently: Ex-convicts received counseling and services aimed at preparing them for independent living. The ex-convicts would often receive access to these services toward the end of their sentences. There are no statistics on exactly how many ex-convicts are homeless, but the number of ex-convicts in homeless shelters has gone down in recent years.
  4. Larger cities with the highest rates of homelessness have their own policies in battling homelessness:  In the city of Vilnius, the municipality has a program that establishes transitional supported accommodation for people moving from homeless shelters to independent living. Accommodations have the support of social workers to manage finances and debt. They also offer counseling services to help people adjust.
  5. Recent legislation allows municipalities to provide housing for those in need:  Effective January 2019, an amendment allowed municipalities to rent housing from private or legal persons and then sublet it to people in need of housing support. This was in response to the issue of people illegally renting houses which prevented people from receiving rent assistance. This amendment addressed the stigma associated with poor and homeless people in the rental market.

The Challenges Lithuania Faces in the Fight Against Homelessness

The current programs and policies show the progress Lithuania has made since its independence. However, the country still faces challenges in its fight against homelessness:

  1. The number of evictions from social housing is increasing: The Lithuanian government made provisions for financial compensation to help with the cost of utilities for low-income citizens. Municipalities can also provide debt relief to recipients of social assistance. During the coronavirus pandemic, financial assistance increased and Lithuania facilitated new conditions for obtaining assistance. Despite this, evictions increased and counseling for debt relief became nonexistent.
  2. There is low-level reliability of funding for social protection for housing: Financing social housing in Lithuania has increased over the past decade but it has been low in comparison to the rest of the E.U. In 2016, the expenditure on social housing in purchasing power standards in the E.U. was about €54 per inhabitant whereas Lithuania’s expenditure was about €12 per inhabitant. The Ministry of Social Security and Labor planned to allocate over €3 million in housing support for 2019.
  3. The duration of stay in shelters is insufficient: Staying at a shelter for three nights does not solve the complex problems of homeless people. In many cases, once a person leaves the shelter they receive no further support and return to the streets.
  4. Social housing is difficult to obtain: It can take people anywhere from three to 12 years to receive social housing depending on the municipality. In 2014, the number of persons and families waiting for social housing was about 32,000. The waiting list decreased to approximately 10,500 in 2017. This was due to revisions on the waiting list and the enforcement of duty to declare assets and income.

Lithuania’s Ministry of Social Security and Labor has put into effect policies to help decrease the wait times for social housing. In 2024, wait times for social housing could decrease to five years. Meanwhile, in 2026, expectations determine that the wait times could decrease to about three years. If municipalities do not provide social housing by the deadline, they must compensate part of the rent to families in their current housing while they wait for social housing.

The policies the Lithuanian government has put in place have helped many homeless people get back on their feet. However, it is clear that Lithuania has a long way to go to resolve the issue of homelessness.

– Jackson Lebedun
Photo: Flickr

Macedonia's Housing Crisis
Macedonia’s housing crisis requires swift attention. In 2018, about 21.9% of the country’s population was living below the poverty line. With a population of 2,082,957 in 2018, more than 456,000 people living in Macedonia were experiencing poverty that year. Furthermore, Macedonia saw an unemployment rate of 17.76% in 2019, a rate which is more than double the national average of 7.04%. The collapse of state-run housing development organizations in Macedonia since its independence has led to about 15% of Macedonians living in “illegally constructed buildings.” This means that roughly 320,000 people living in Macedonia lack access to adequate housing.

Invisible Homeless

The unauthorized housing that many people in Macedonia must live in bars thousands from access to important social systems and tools. Since Macedonians require an official home address to obtain a legal ID, the state effectively renders many of them nonexistent. This prevents these people from utilizing such essential services as insurance, social safety nets and immunization services.

Macedonia’s housing crisis is also a health crisis. Without adequate housing, hundreds of thousands of Macedonians are at risk of injury and disease due to hazardous living conditions. In 2018, fewer than a third of Macedonians had thermal insulation systems in their places of residence. Inadequate heating and insulation in buildings have forced thousands of people living in Macedonia to use homemade fires to keep warm since they cannot afford the expensive heating bills otherwise necessary to heat their homes. In the capital city of Skopje, roughly “two-thirds of households use firewood as their primary source of heating,” according to the Financial Times. Without proper air circulation, this can lead to severe chronic health conditions such as heart and lung disease due to inhalation of the hazardous particles which such fires produce.

Habitat for Humanity and Roma SOS

While Macedonia’s housing crisis is a daunting problem, some are doing significant work to improve housing in impoverished Macedonian communities. Despite being an attractive country for foreign investment due to its low tax rates and free economic zones, Macedonia still has one of the lowest foreign investment rates among European countries. This can make it harder for the government to provide solutions.

A Macedonian-based organization called Roma SOS is working to improve the living conditions of those experiencing the most need in Macedonia. The organization is currently working with Habitat for Humanity to provide impoverished Macedonians with zero-interest loans for legalizing and renovating their homes. While Habitat for Humanity provides the funding for these loans, Roma SOS helps residents in navigating the legal process of receiving approval for their loans.

Since 2004, Habitat for Humanity has worked to improve affordable housing for the people of Macedonia, and in 2019 it served 4,245 individuals “through market development.” Habitat for Humanity has further worked to provide individuals in Macedonia with housing that is not only affordable but also energy efficient. Since beginning this project in 2010, it has worked to restructure more than 60 buildings to improve energy efficiency, which has saved Macedonia more than 7,910 MWh of energy usage annually. The loans that Habitat for Humanity provides are essential for giving impoverished people in Macedonia access to better housing. With these loans, Habitat for Humanity has made heating safer and more affordable for more than 1,000 families living in Macedonia.

On the Path to EU Membership

Macedonia’s government also appears to be taking steps towards increased funding for improved housing. Macedonia has recently signed a deal with Greece and is currently on its way to becoming a member of the E.U. By joining the E.U., Macedonia would see an increase in foreign investment and would be able to apply for crisis aid packages to help improve housing in its impoverished communities.

The country’s housing situation may look bleak, but there is significant work occurring to address Macedonia’s housing crisis by improving the country’s economic situation. Several organizations, both outside of Macedonia and within it, are providing poor Macedonian populations access to safe, legal housing. With Macedonia moving towards E.U. membership and its accompanying economic support, there is hope for thousands of people in Macedonia whose living conditions formerly seemed hopeless.

Marshall Kirk
Photo: Pixabay

homelessness in SerbiaAgainst a backdrop of poverty, unemployment, privatization and eviction, Serbia is facing a housing crisis. This widespread homelessness in Serbia disproportionately targets minority groups.

Poverty and Unemployment in Serbia

Homelessness in Serbia stems in part from the country’s poverty and unemployment rates. In 2013, a survey by The World Bank found that poverty threatened 24.5% of Serbia’s population. Recent economic recessions have highlighted joblessness as another major problem within the country, with the unemployment rate ranging from a high of 24% in 2012 to a recent low of around 12% in 2019. With many people out of a job and fighting to stay above the poverty line, homelessness looms as a real threat to Serbia’s people.

Serbia’s Housing History: Privatization and Eviction

The problem of homelessness in Serbia has been augmented by recent cuts in public housing. The privatization of housing in Serbia began with The Housing Law of 1992. The law disincentivizes the government from providing adequate public housing. According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, there has since been a “virtual disintegration of state responsibility” for housing.

In 2016, another law worsened Serbia’s housing crisis. The Law on Housing and Building Maintenance, among other things, increased evictions. Evictions can catastrophically undermine human rights, especially when they threaten vulnerable communities. Before Serbia’s 2016 law was even enacted, Amnesty International called out its potential to “violate the rights of individuals and families in vulnerable communities at risk from forced eviction.”

This lack of public housing and frequent evictions have increased the threat of homelessness in Serbia. While the exact scope of the country’s situation is difficult to measure, the most recent census in 2011 estimates that around 20,000 people face homelessness in Serbia.

Vulnerable Communities: Refugees and the Roma People

When it comes to homelessness in Serbia, refugees are particularly vulnerable. Of Serbia’s refugee and internally displaced persons population, roughly 22% face poverty, placing these groups at a high risk of homelessness.

Additionally, Serbia lacks adequate space within refugee camps to shelter those coming into the country. Despite the large refugee population, the Serbian government provides sparse accommodations. In 2016, the Serbian government provided only 6,000 beds to asylum seekers, leaving many without shelter.

Another vulnerable group within Serbia is the Roma population. Low levels of education and high rates of poverty leave the Roma people struggling to afford private housing, while discrimination against them puts them at a disproportionate risk of eviction. Evictions of Roma people have become so targeted that the European Roma Rights Centre and Human Rights Watch sounded the alarm when, with little notice, 128 Roma people were evicted from their homes in Novi Beograd within one day.

Who Is Helping the Homeless?

There is good news. The Regional Housing Programme (RHP) is fighting homelessness in Serbia by providing housing for refugees. The organization has worked with over 7,000 housing units and, by 2019, had provided housing to 4,200 refugee families. On June 20, 2020, the organization celebrated World Refugee Day by moving 270 families into the RHP’s newly constructed apartment building in Belgrade. The organization’s work has gotten media attention in the form of a new film. “Here to Stay” describes RHP’s achievements and shares stories from the refugees who have found a home thanks to RHP’s help.

Another organization, Združena Akcija Krov nad Glavom (Joint Action Roof Over Your Head), is helping Serbia’s homeless population during the COVID-19 pandemic. Along with providing housing accommodations, the organization delivers essential supplies such as food, protective masks and sanitizer to the homeless.

Organizations like these provide hope in Serbia’s fight against homelessness. In the face of the Serbian government’s lack of effort to provide clean and safe public housing to its people, these organizations are making a huge difference for the many people affected by homelessness in Serbia.

Jessica Blatt
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in Austria
Although Austria has no national plan to combat homelessness, provinces like Vienna, Upper Austria and Vorarlberg strive to make advances when it comes to finding a solution. Increases in homelessness come as a result of rising unemployment and housing costs. In an attempt to mitigate this, some cities take the staircase approach —  a series of steps and services a person, who may deal with mental illness or addiction, must complete in order to live independently.

To properly place a person on the spectrum of homelessness, the government adopted the conceptual categories of “roofless” and “homeless” which the European Federation of Organizations working with the Homeless brought forth. People living on the streets or using emergency shelters classify as “roofless,” while “homeless” is the term for people living in homeless accommodations like hostels, women’s shelters or immigration centers.

Quick Facts

In 2019, the European Social Policy Network released a report discussing the ins and outs of homelessness in Austria. The organization determined that the country saw a 21% increase in people registered as homeless from 2008 to 2017. By 2017, a total of 21,567 people registered, of which 13,926 has the classification of roofless and 8,688 were homeless.

The report also noted that more men than women registered, which may be a result of “hidden female homelessness,” meaning that women are more likely to stay in a friend’s house or precarious housing. At the report’s October 2012 reference date, roughly 7,381 out of the 10,089 homeless and roofless population were men.

Vienna as a Solution

In recent years, Vienna has become a model for fighting homelessness for other cities across the globe including Vancouver and various cities in the United States and Asia. The key to the city’s success comes from its protection of open space, transit-centered development, rent control and a focus on building neighborhoods with mixed ethnic, age and income communities. On top of that, roughly $700 million goes to government-subsidized “social housing,” which shelters 60% of the capital’s population. This results in a combination of non-market and market affordable housing.

One of the plans providing opportunities for those in need in Vienna and other Austrian cities is Housing First. Through the organization, housing is the initial step, unlike the staircase program where participants must address their other problems like mental health, addiction and more before obtaining housing. Housing First’s approach is to replace traditional institutions with flats in the municipality housing sector so that people can build their lives knowing that they have a roof over their heads. Since its launch in 2012, the organization has placed 349 people in homes. As of 2016, housing stability was at 96.6%.

Another initiative called Shades Tours emerged in 2015 and gives the homeless a unique employment opportunity in Vienna and Graz. The company provides tours to the public, but rather than sight-seeing historic buildings, homeless guides show the city through their socio-political perspective giving an insight into one of three categories: poverty and homelessness, refugee and integration or drugs and addiction. Through the tours, it hopes to further educate the public about the challenges the homeless face while also providing guides with an income.

An Advocate for the Future

The Bundesarbeitsgemeinschaft Wohnungslosenhilfe, also known as the National Association of Assistance to the Homeless, is a nonprofit that emerged in 1991 to reduce homelessness in Austria. It primarily does so by organizing national responses and a network of facilities through public relations work. Among other projects, it wants to facilitate a nationwide policy that issues subsidies to people at risk for poverty and dealing with high housing costs in an effort to promote its idea of “Living for Everyone.”

Recently the BAWO released statements urging the Austrian government to take proactive measures to reduce the possible increase of homelessness as a result of COVID-19 by freezing evictions and lengthening hours of emergency shelters. As an advocate for this marginalized population, there is a hope for the future. The BAWO’s determination to lower housing costs and create affordable, permanent housing, helps renovate a society that previously made climbing the economic ladder difficult.

With these initiatives and advocates, homelessness in Austria can look to continue its downward trajectory. As more cities and provinces dedicate additional resources towards tackling homelessness and possibly replicating Vienna’s approaches, the country can push toward record lows of registered homelessness and demonstrate a working model to the rest of the world.

Adrianna Tomasello
Photo: Flickr