The privatization of the housing fund, which began in the 1990s, marks a radical transformation of attitudes towards housing – housing has become an individual responsibility out of a social issue. The dominance of the market in the housing sector and state measures that neglect basic human rights, contribute to the constant increase of the housing vulnerability. The Housing Equality Movement fights for adequate, safe and affordable housing for all, regardless of gender, ethnicity, property status, citizenship or any other category of affiliation.
As individual members of the Housing Equality Movement, and through joint efforts, we – Who Builds the City, A11 – Initiative for Economic and Social Rights, Joint Action Roof Over Head, Ministry of Space and Housing Center – are committed, in the direction of operationalization of these requirements, to:
- work to unite all interested and relevant actors in the fight for adequate, safe and affordable housing for all;
- monitor and share all information related to bad or good practice of institutions, changes in housing regulations, housing problems faced by citizens, but also possible implemented solutions and mechanisms in other countries that have the potential to be applied in our context;
- work on constant advocacy for systemic measures that contribute to provision of adequate, safe and affordable housing for all;
- work to gather and use all our own and available resources, in order to improve the housing situation of as many people as possible, outside of institutions (through activist work).
We invite everyone who would like to join the fight for universal access to affordable, adequate and safe housing to join us individually or through their organizations and initiatives!
Housing policy, as an overall strategic planning and implementation of measures and programmes related to various housing situations (from acquiring ownership over an apartment, through independent lease, to various types of housing support), de facto does not exist despite the strategic and legal documents adopted. In Serbia, the necessary institutional framework on housing policy has not been established, nor have programmes been developed that would improve housing conditions and legal security of tenure in the short and long term, and recognize housing as a basic and universal human right. The housing sector is recognized exclusively as a lucrative mechanism for investment and capital increase, and government interventions in this sector are aimed at facilitating the conditions for investment and housing construction. Sporadic projects aimed at ensuring the fulfilment of the right to adequate housing take place spontaneously, through various support programmes of international organizations or, less frequently, publicly funded subsidized housing programmes that discriminate against the potentially most vulnerable beneficiaries. There are no reliable and comprehensive data on housing needs, nor on a publicly owned housing fund.
This approach to housing is a direct cause of the growing number of citizens who do not live in adequate, safe and affordable housing. Although the absolute number of housing units is growing, housing inequality is also growing – while the number of those forced into some form of homelessness or insecure housing is increasing, the number of apartments that do not serve their basic function, housing, but are a mechanism for making a profit, legalization of illegally acquired capital or safe savings, is also growing.
The Housing Equality Movement, initiated by the organizations Who Builds the City, The A11 – Initiative for Economic and Social Rights, Housing Centre – Centre for the Improvement of Housing for Socially Vulnerable Groups, the Ministry of Space and the Joint Action “Roof Over Your Head” is gathered around the guiding principle that adequate, safe and affordable housing is a fundamental right that must be guaranteed to all, regardless of their income, gender, ethnic origin or any other affiliation.
Relying on our own practice, whether it be direct action in the field or research, we believe that it is necessary that housing policy and practice at the local and national level, as well as all documents that determine them, treat adequate, safe and affordable housing as the key topic of public interest and a necessary step towards inclusive, balanced and sustainable development of society as a whole. As organizations with a focus on housing justice, housing policies based on the right to home and fight to defend this right, we have gathered in a coalition that will respond to growing problems in the field of housing and housing policy and will fight for structural changes that provide adequate, safe and affordable housing for all.
Adequate, safe and affordable housing for all
It is necessary to enable and guarantee to everyone a life in a safe and affordable home that meets spatial, technical, hygienic and other needs and enables the exercise of other guaranteed rights.
A growing number of citizens are forced into homelessness or live in inadequate and unsafe housing – from living in informal settlements, through student housing, subtenant status, to bank loans to acquire the ownership over an apartment. We believe that it is an issue of social responsibility, that everyone has the opportunity to exercise the internationally recognized right to adequate, safe and affordable housing:
Adequate housing means access to electricity, clean drinking water, sewage or other similar solution, natural ventilation and adequate lighting, protection from cold, damp, heat, rain, wind or other threats to health, structural hazards, and disease vectors. In addition, adequate housing conditions refer to the size and position of residential space, i.e. the proximity of public services that are necessary for everyday life – kindergarten/school, shop, health centre, public transport, landscaped green area.
Safe housing means that there is legal security of tenure and that there is no possibility of losing the only residential space, regardless of other living circumstances.
Affordable housing refers to the matching of housing costs to the income of an individual or household, which, including rent and utility costs, should not exceed 40% of total income.
Public policies and public budget according to the housing needs of the beneficiaries, and not according to the interests of the investors of residential space
There has to be a state intervention in the housing sector and it has to be aimed at meeting the needs of all.
Investing in fairer housing policies and practice is a social investment, not a cost. Changes in regulations and tax policy have been implemented to reduce the investors’ expenditure in profitable housing construction, while the few publicly funded subsidized housing construction projects are targeted, extremely discriminately and unjustifiably, at certain groups of citizens (such as members of the military or police). There is a complete lack of consideration of priority criteria that would provide publicly subsidized housing units to all who live in inadequate housing conditions. In order to ensure equal exercise of the right to adequate, safe and affordable housing in the long run, the state should transform its land policies, tax policies, as well as housing support programmes, towards supporting non-profit housing construction and all those who do not have access thereto.
The state must have a clear long-term plan to realize this support, which should be achieved through differently distributed public budget funds. Also, in conditions in which these funds are not sufficient, the state is obliged to specifically request international assistance and cooperation, especially economic and technical, in order to implement the planned measures and mechanisms.
Housing is a reflection of the needs of people, and not the needs of the market
It is necessary to reduce the impact of the market on the housing sector, which is a structural precondition for providing adequate, safe and affordable housing for all. This can be done through an increase of public and cooperative ownership of housing and by supporting various non-profit mechanisms of construction and housing.
The share of private property in the housing sector of about 98%, as a result of mass privatization of the housing fund and legal promotion of private property in general and private ownership over the apartment led to a situation where a huge number of people do not have a roof over their heads or cannot afford adequate housing for themselves and/or their family. Housing support of the state and local self-government for the most vulnerable is often missing, while most of those who can afford adequate housing rent at increasingly unaffordable market prices, and some buy through many hard-to-reach and unsustainable loans or inherit at best. As the real estate market has globally become one of the key means of accumulation and movement of capital, the rapid growth of housing prices does not follow the growth of income but exceeds it many times over.
This imposes a great burden in relation to housing costs on a growing number of households. Reducing the impact of the market on solving housing needs must therefore be done through a set of measures related to different types of solutions aimed at solving the housing problem – long-term renting, housing support programmes, establishment of a public housing fund, but also at all those processes that affect them (preventing further growth of the short-term rental market and promotion of private ownership over apartments as lucrative investments, etc.)
Different housing support programmes for different needs
In order to ensure universal access to affordable housing, it is necessary to identify different housing needs and diversify solutions therefore.
The determination of housing needs must be adapted to different social forms of vulnerability, and to families which, in relation to household income, have different accesses to housing solutions and housing support programmes. In this way, the problem of all those who do not have a roof over their head or have difficulty meeting their housing needs in Serbia, which makes up about 70% of the population, is approached with tailored measures varying in scope, structure, and nature of intervention – from providing free housing, through subsidized rent or a limitation of the amount of the rent, to subsidizing the purchase of land for independent construction of non-profit housing.
Strong institutions and infrastructure for the implementation of housing policies
Establishment and continuous improvement of infrastructure for the implementation and enforcement of housing policies is a necessary condition for ensuring the right to adequate, safe and affordable housing for all.
In order to establish, in line with available resources, an effective plan for improving housing conditions and access to adequate, safe and affordable housing for all, it is necessary to establish a system of specialized non-profit institutions (within the public, cooperative and civil sector) that would be focused on the development of housing policy, coordination of its implementation and respective monitoring. By regulating the work of this institutional infrastructure, transparency and participation of all processes would be guaranteed. In addition, it is necessary to ensure the continuous production and monitoring of statistics directly related to this area, which must also be sensitive to different demographic characteristics (gender, ethnic origin, disability and disease, age, income, etc.) in order to devise more adequately and efficiently policies that respond to the de facto situation in the field of housing.
In addition to statistics, as an important input for the development of housing policies and their measures, it is extremely important to pay attention to the provision of better and more comprehensive information to society in a transparent and accessible manner about individual and collective rights and opportunities in the field of housing.
These are goals and measures that we consider necessary for provision of adequate, safe and affordable housing for all in Serbia. Housing policy must be harmonized at the national and local levels and all segments of the public administration system must be included in providing a roof over everyone’s head and improving housing conditions for those who have a home, which is a political goal and a necessary precondition for exercising other social and economic rights.
Resolve urgent housing vulnerability situations and eliminate homelessness in the long run
- Improve housing conditions in informal settlements, so that they meet the standards of adequate housing, through cooperation with their residents.
- It is necessary to provide adequate alternative housing for residents of informal settlements that cannot be kept in the existing locations, with mandatory consultations with them and in accordance with the Law on Housing and Building Maintenance.
- Prohibit forced evictions without first providing an adequate alternative accommodation.
- Provide housing solutions for the homeless, as well as programmes of empowerment and support for a sustainable exit from homelessness, following the example of other programmes that place housing at the centre of the response to the homelessness situation.
- In situations in which the persons in situation of homelessness and other categories of the population who are not able to provide themselves with adequate housing, formulate and implement programmes that, in addition to housing, deal with the exercise of other rights, primarily the right to work and employment, education, health and social protection.
- Ensure the integration of refugees from the former Yugoslavia and displaced persons living in inadequate accommodation, through the formulation of new housing support programmes and the improvement of the existing programmes. Provide adequate accommodation to all migrants, refugees and asylum seekers who have come to the territory of Serbia, regardless of whether they temporarily reside or are in the process of seeking asylum.
Reduce the dominant role of the market in addressing the housing needs in the long run
- Reduce the absolute dominance of private ownership over housing units through strategic and systemic increase of the housing fund in public and cooperative ownership.
- Regulate the market of long-term lease of privately owned housing units (in such a way that the cost of legalizing that relationship does not fall on the tenant).
- Establish control over the prices and quality of short-term rental of privately owned housing in the city.
- Promote other forms of tenancy status that do not necessarily imply ownership over the housing unit. Raise awareness that rental housing is an equally adequate type of housing and that it has advantages for certain life situations.
Improve knowledge and awareness on housing exclusion and housing needs, which is the basis for adequate housing policy
- Map the forms of housing exclusion in the city, as well as the needs for affordable housing, and collect all relevant data in this regard.
- Ensure constant updating of data that would be useful for the creation of future housing policies, their monitoring and evaluation.
- Systematize all information relevant to the area of housing support and non-profit housing from various sources and instances of jurisdiction.
- Develop mechanisms for transparent provision of information and public participation within the process of planning and implementation of the housing strategy, as well as monitoring of its results and improving housing related policies.
- Perform analyses of various applied models of affordable housing (which include social and non-profit housing) in Serbia and models that have been applied in other countries, and which can be applied in a customized form in the domestic context.
Develop various programmes that provide access to adequate, safe and affordable housing for all
- Expand and develop in more detail the housing support programmes defined by the Law on Housing and Building Maintenance (2016), so that they include various forms of subsidizing of the improvement of housing conditions and the acquisition of housing (including debt write-offs, land ceding, etc.), tailored to different needs and situations.
- Enable the development of alternative housing solutions by supporting non-profit and non-speculative housing construction.
- Amend the relevant legal framework to support different models of non-profit housing construction, such as cooperative housing construction.
- Provide financial resources for the development and diversification of housing support from various sources (public budget of the city, funds from EU pre-accession funds, other donations).
Increase the scope and improve the management and maintenance of the publicly owned housing fund
- Establish a precise list of all publicly owned apartments, as well as criteria and ways of their current use (here also include apartments in the social housing programme and apartments for non-profit rent and other housing support programmes).
- Also include in the list publicly owned facilities that need to be reconstructed in order to be used for housing purposes (these do not have to be only residential facilities, but also other types of facilities that can (relatively easily) be repurposed for housing).
- Develop a programme for financing public housing projects through various sources (lending, EU pre-accession funds, city budget, etc.).
- Provide publicly owned land that will be ceded (but not sold) for the construction of non-profit apartments (so that the location provides access to public services and proximity to other residential facilities, in accordance with the principles of the right to adequate housing) and make a register of these locations.
- Increase the publicly owned housing fund for non-profit housing, through the construction of public apartments and the purchase/rental of privately owned apartments.
- Preserve the scope and ensure the maintenance of the existing publicly owned housing fund (without the possibility of purchasing publicly owned apartments intended for rent).
- Ensure sustainable, non-profit and transparent and democratic management of the existing publicly owned apartments, through the active participation of the beneficiaries of apartments in the decision-making process.
- Determine a complex system of criteria for assigning the use of publicly owned apartments to different groups of beneficiaries (diversification of beneficiaries of public apartments).
- Inform beneficiaries of publicly owned apartments about their rights and obligations, raise their capacity to live in the community.
Activate unused privately owned housing fund
- Establish a register of unused empty housing units and privately owned residential facilities, as well as housing or other facilities whose construction has been suspended at some stage. This does not refer to the home (a housing unit in which the owner lives), but to the second, third, etc. housing units whose lease has not been regulated.
- Establish mechanisms for additional taxation of the owners of empty housing units (2 years after construction) and thus stimulate their use, primarily for housing purposes (here it is also important to pay attention to the practice of renting residential facilities as business premises).
- Create a mechanism that enables (temporary) use of space for housing needs, which has been the subject of ownership disputes for a long time, as well as facilities whose construction has been interrupted at some stage.
- Develop housing fund disposal programmes owned by commercial banks or other owners, which has not been used, for the needs of temporary housing solutions.
- Ensure the right of first refusal for the city/municipality in situations of auction sale of confiscated apartments or apartments that have been vacated by the execution of the eviction measure.
Establish a system of coordination and monitoring of the implementation of housing policy
- Establish a coordination body that is responsible for conducting research and analysis for the needs of housing policies; ensure that the creation, implementation and monitoring of the housing policy is conducted in a participatory manner; and establish coordination of all relevant instances in the implementation of housing policy at the city level.
- Establish non-profit housing agencies which, in cooperation with the coordination body at the city level, will have special competencies in the areas of non-profit housing and housing support (public housing fund, cooperative housing, social housing in protected conditions, etc.).
- Provide funding from the public budget and other funds for the continuous operation of the city-level coordination body and the network of non-profit housing agencies.
- Ensure that the funding and operation of these agencies are transparent and participatory.
Ensure participatory, integrated and sustainable planning and management within the housing sector
- Enable an active participation of housing support beneficiaries in designing, implementing and controlling housing solutions.
- Open a wider dialogue with the interested public in local communities regarding the further development of housing and housing policy.
- Raise citizens’ awareness of the importance of participation of all beneficiaries of housing services in the design, implementation and control of housing policy in order to provide adequate, safe and affordable housing for all.
//// This proposal has been made as a reaction to the preparation of a strategic document for the development of housing policies of the City of Belgrade in the next ten years. Its earlier version was sent in 2019 to the Secretariat for Legal and Property Affairs of the City of Belgrade and the team responsible for drafting the City of Belgrade Housing Strategy. ////