MEMORANDUM: Decent Minimum Income and Adequate Social Housing for the Most Affected People

MEMORANDUM for
The President of Romania
The Government of Romania
The Ministry of Labour and Social Protection
The Ministry of Regional Development and Public Administration
The Ministry of European Funds

The Current Epidemiological Crisis Is Also a Social and Housing Crisis Emergency: We Demand Decent Minimum Income and Adequate Social Housing for the Most Affected People

In the context of the Covid-19 epidemic and the economic crisis that continues to worsen from one day to another, at the initiative of the Bloc for Housing, 53 organizations and over 100 persons with experience in fighting for social solidarity and providing support for vulnerable groups are calling on you with a series of appeals regarding the need to provide everyone’s effective access to the constitutional rights of decent living.

 

This unprecedented crisis imposes exceptional measures. This crisis affects us all. However, it affects us in an uneven manner. And this is not only due to its immediate effects, but also because the poverty rate and the income inequality have always been severe in Romania. In order to counteract the deepening poverty, as well as the social and economic inequalities, special measures are needed for supporting the persons who are most affected by this multifaceted crisis.

The Government should demand and receive from the European Commission, just as it did receive 3.3 billion euros for the support of small and medium-sized enterprises affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, adequate support to prevent the deterioration of the economic situation of its population.

Such a measure is even more necessary because, even before the pandemic, Romania had the highest rate of poverty and social exclusion in Europe. In 2018, 23.5% of the population continued to have earnings under the poverty rate; the poverty rate amongst the employees was 15%; 32.5% of the population suffered poverty and social exclusion, meaning that, along with the deficiency in income, it was confronted with severe material deprivation, with effects such as the incapacity of paying rent and utilities; even more, in the case of households with two adults with three or more children, this rate was of 57.6%. At the beginning of 2020, approximately 24% of employees were earning the minimum net salary of 1346 lei, while the price of the monthly basket of necessities for decent living at the end of 2019 for one person was of 2684 lei*.

In light of these realities, our demands are based on the principles of European and Romanian legislation and strategy regarding social inclusion, which constitutes one of the priorities of the politics of cohesion.

According to the Law of Social Assistance (no. 292/2011), the process of social inclusion must utilize multidimensional measures and actions from the domains of social protection, filling the gaps in workforce, living, education, health, and others.

Our demands are oriented towards guaranteeing the access to services and social benefits, including the access to the minimum guaranteed income for decent living, as well as to an adequate living space, for the social categories that are most severely affected by the effects of the current crisis. The initiatives regarding the financing sources of these measures include the usage of the European funds for this aim.
Therefore, we address this letter to the Ministry of Labour and Social protection, the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Administration, as well as to the Ministry of European Funds.

In formulating our proposals regarding the package of social and housing measures for the persons most affected by the epidemic and economic crisis, we rely on the good collaboration practices amongst these ministries regarding the administration of European funds dedicated to the programmes integrated from the domain of social inclusion and fighting poverty, as well as of local development with a focus on marginalized communities from the urban and rural environment.

Aware of the fact that Romania is marked by deep territorial inequalities, we hold that in this critical moment a just distribution system of the funds is needed, along with urgent measures, and medium and long term political strategies, so that the funds arrive where they are needed, not only where there is the institutional capacity for writing some projects that can earn financial support.

I. Who are the persons most affected by the crisis?

The Romanian government refers to the people most affected by the crisis as belonging to “vulnerable groups” or as belonging to the category of “persons without shelter,” and defines these social categories in a very narrow sense, not conforming to the legislation in effect**.
The Ministry of Labour and Social Protection has promised several protection measures, based solely on this incomplete understanding. According to its declarations in 04/10/2020, measures will be implemented for elderly, children, persons with disability, persons from residential or care centres; the measures are taken in order to support the institutions/organizations that offer social services and their employees; as well as measures regarding the payment of benefits or social benefits for the persons who already have these rights.
The fact that the government has decided to use European resources in order to implement these measures and reimburse the local public authorities’ afferent spending is promising. It is necessary that the declarations of Mrs. Violeta Alexandru be made operational as soon as possible, with concrete plans to be transposed in prompt local interventions.

Still, the measures promised vulnerable groups and persons without shelter far from cover the needs of all the persons confronted with situations of economic and social vulnerability in the context of the current crises.

In order to guarantee a decent living for all people affected by the crisis, for preventing the aggravation of poverty and social exclusion, we need governmental measures which also include persons who:

• were earning the minimum salary and now, due to the state of emergency, have lost their work place, becoming unemployed or in technical unemployment, so that their earnings have been reduced even further;
• due to the emergency state, they cannot travel to their informal or daily work, which guaranteed their living from one day to the next;
• they recently came back to Romania and have no way of finding employment;
• being in one of the situations mentioned above, they cannot pay the utilities and/or, in some cases, the rent, risking being evicted from their accommodation and becoming persons without shelter;
• they do not have the resources to buy or rent a house on the market;
• they are temporarily accommodated in shelters or residential centres;
• due to the lack of housing alternatives, they are forced to continue to live in unconventional spaces, without access to utilities, in overcrowded conditions, or in a toxic environment, or risking eviction from the spaces or the sites that they occupy without papers.

II. Social and Housing Measures We Demand for the Benefit of the Persons Most Affected by the Crisis

According to the stipulations announced by the Government of Romania on April 10, 2020, it is truly necessary to strengthen the capacity of social assistance from all the country’s districts, in order to provide social services to the elderly, children, persons with disabilities, persons from residential and care centres, and to provide in good conditions the payment of benefits and social services for the people. Unfortunately, however, according to our information coming from several districts, at the local level clear procedures are non-existent, and/or adequate financial sources for guaranteeing the rights to social assistance for persons who ended up in difficult situations are as such:

• in some areas, with a more consistent local budged, the City Halls provide emergency aid in the form of food or sums of money for persons who are socially marginalized or risking marginalization, but they make these decisions according to different laws, imposing restrictive conditions for accessing these aids;
• in more privileged cities, the City Halls use their existent shelters to accommodate persons who don’t have a shelter, but these centres have been overcrowded even before this crisis; or they have imposed the separations of families;
• in the areas with a greatly reduced local budged, the City Halls plead for donations and cannot even begin to cover the needs of the communities;
• in spite of traveling restrictions and because of the lack of access or acquaintances regarding electronic communication, at this point in time the applicants for social benefits are continuously asked to file dozens of documents proving their situation;
• instead of creating more spaces for housing, using, for example, the requisition procedure allowed by the emergency ordinance, the City Halls have suspended the normal process of repartition of social housing;
• the projects focused on marginalized urban and rural areas funded by European and Norwegian funds that are ongoing do not have clear procedures regarding the budget according to the urgent needs that have just appeared;
• some local authorities impose as condition for providing emergency aid not only the actual housing on the LAU (Local Administrative Units), but also the formal address (the one appearing on the identification card) in the respective LAU; thus, the persons who have a formal address in one LAU, but are actually living in a different one (including in a different district of Bucharest), are not covered by the social assistance measures.

Through the following demands, we warn the Government regarding the measures in the social and housing domain needed so that those most affected by the crisis can overcome it and have a decent life throughout the post-crisis period as well:

  1. Covering social services and benefits and other sources of aid during the state of emergency for all persons in vulnerable groups, according to the definition in the Law of social assistance, as well as the need for personnel for the specialized departments, the departments of social and medical assistance in the country, according to the needs.
  2. The improvement of the security of the minimum guaranteed income by:
    a) raising the ceiling of the minimum guaranteed income, in order to grant all persons the financial resources necessary for covering the value of the minimum basket of needs for a decent living;
    b) modifying urgently the conditions of allocating the minimum guaranteed income, with the aim of facilitating the access to this right for all persons who have salaried earnings at the level of the minimum income or under it;
    c) elaborating urgently rapid and simplified procedures of accessing the minimum guaranteed income according to the information mentioned previously; eliminating all the conditions that deprive the persons earning low incomes of obtaining a decent minimum;
    d) respecting the conditions above, the minimum guaranteed income in Romania, which at this time only beings to help the survival in conditions of poverty, is very restricted, could become the decent minimum income proposed one year ago to the European Commission by the Economic and Social European Committee***.
  3. Measures regarding the access to housing and utilities by:
    a) increasing the number of social houses through different means (construction, reconversion, expropriation, etc.), so that they answer the real local needs;
    b) adopting the model „housing first” in distributing the social houses and the support of beneficiaries through an integrated package of social and medical measures, for as long as they need them;
    c) supporting a governmental ordinance regarding the suspending and prevention of all evictions which leave evicted person without adequate housing alternatives, beyond the period of the state of emergency;
    d) supporting the implementation of the system of social tariffs for utilities in relation to the water, electricity, and gas providers, with the purpose of granting the access to these services for the consumers in vulnerable situations, according to the definition provided by the Law of energy: “the vulnerable client is the final client, who belongs to a category of household clients who, for reasons of age, health, or reduced income, risks social marginalization and who, for preventing this risk, benefits of measures of social protection, including of a financial nature.”

III. Proposes, regarding the access to funds with the purpose of supporting the measures outlined above

By consensus with the recommendations of the president of the Fiscal Council, Mr. Daniel Dăianu, we consider that an adequate resource for covering the costs of the above-mentioned measures could be the European funds. Regarding this possibility, our proposal is the following:

1. Utilizing European funds from the programs POCU and POR, in order to support the packages of social and housing measures described above, especially the funds of the following priority axes:

• POCU, the Priority Axis 4: Social inclusion and overcoming poverty;
• POCU, Priority Axis 5: Local development placed under the responsibility of the community (DLRC);
• POR, Priority Axis 4.3: Offering support for physical, economic, and social regeneration of underprivileged persons living in urban and rural regions;
• POR, Priority Axis 4.2: The accomplishment of the projects for the improvement of the urban environment, the regeneration and decontamination of disaffected industrial sites (including of the reconversion areas), the reduction of the air pollution and the promotion of the measures of noise reduction;
• POR, Priority Axis 8.1: The investments in sanitary and social infrastructures which contribute to the development at the national, regional, and local level, reducing the inequalities in what concerns the state of health and promoting the social inclusion through the improvement of the access to social, cultural, and recreation, as well as the transition from the institutional services to the services offered by the local collectives;
• POR, Priority Axis 9.1: The local development placed under the responsibility of the community;
• POR, Priority Axis 13: The support of the small and medium towns’ regeneration.

2. The distribution of the necessary funds in order to cover the proposed social and housing measure package, based on the needs identified by the City Halls, accordingly, in consultation with organizations and groups of the local civil society.
Thus, we have to make sure that the European funds arrive where they are needed, and not only where there is the administrative capacity or the consultancy firms that can write winning projects.

3. The financial sources necessary for the implementation of solicited measures can be granted through other procedures, such as through the progressive taxing of income, which can generate the financial resources needed for granting a decent minimum income for all those who need it. This would be an answer matching the serious and persistent issue of poverty, evidenced and amplified by the medical, social, and economical crisis caused by the pandemic.

4. Creating a solidarity fund for social houses by taxing the great fortune owners and profit makers, as well as the wealth of the real estate and bank developers, accumulated throughout the last decades of real estate transactions. Thus, they would contribute now to covering the housing needs for the people after, for several decades, they were granted support from the government—including through the fact that the government left providing for these needs to the care of the housing marked, which is very poorly regulated.
Creating and utilizing this solidarity fund could be an important element of a larger, very necessary, project of rebuilding the government’s housing fund—as a governmental politics of increasing public investments into public services.

Only such a political project will grant that, in the future, similar pandemics will find nobody in the situation of not having a roof above their heads, or risking eviction, or living in conditions of over-crowding and/or without utilities. Thus, the right for housing will be granted to all as a universal right to a decent living with all its components (health, income, environment, education, and others).

In the hope of rapid and adequate measures,
bloculpentrulocuire@gmail.com
Telephone: 0740 137 561 / 0741 975 642

The Bloc for Housing is a network of groups and associations that campaign to strengthen and organize politically the communities fighting for housing justice.
bloculpentrulocuire.ro

The organizations and persons signing, with experience in the areas of assistence, protection, social justice, the struggle against exclusion, solidality with the different vulnerable groups.


*According to the Syndex study, a family of two adults and two children would have needed 6954 lei per month, a family of two adults and one child—5918 lei

**Romania’s legislation imposes a wider understanding of the situation designated by these terms. According to the Law of Social Assistance: “the vulnerable group assigns persons or families at risk of losing capacity of satisfying daily needs due to disease, disability, poverty, drug addiction, or alcohol, and other situations that lead to economic and social vulnerability.” While “persons without shelter represent a social category made out of single persons or families which, due to singular or cumulated reasons of social, medical, financial, economic, or juridical situations, or due to major force situations, live on the street, or live temporarily at their friends’ or acquaintances’ houses, or are incapacitated and cannot maintain a household in a renting regimen, are at risk of being evicted, are in an institution or penitentiary where they are going, over a term of 2 months, to be discharged or released from, respectively, and do not have a home or residence.”

***Follow the link to see the proposal For an European Frame-Directive Regarding the Minimum Income, according to which the minimum decent income in Europe is meant to generalize, so support, and grant the decent (adequate) character of minimum income system in the member states, and would constitute a first important European response to the serious and persistent problem of poverty in Europe

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