The event, “Relieving Housing Precarity Amongst Roma”, hosted by the European Economic and Social Committee (EECS) on March 31st, 2023 sought to explore potential solutions to the housing crisis faced by Roma communities in Europe and explore ways to ensure that Roma communities have access to adequate and affordable housing.
The panellist also looked at the objectives of the EU Roma strategic framework 2020-2030 three years into place, and how progress has been made in relation to housing.
To monitor the progress towards achieving those objectives, Jaroslav Kling, from the Fundamental Rights Agency presented the results of the survey from 2021 on Roma in ten European countries: Croatia, Czechia, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Romania and Spain, as well as in North Macedonia and Serbia. The survey includes interviews with more than 8,400 Roma, collecting information on more than 20,000 individuals living in their households. The findings present a bleak but familiar picture of exclusion, deprivation, discrimination and racism.
The report reveals little progress since FRA’s last survey in 2016 although there are some improvements:
- 80% of Roma interviewed remain at risk of poverty compared with an EU average of 17%, no change from before. 22% live in households with no tap water and 33% have no indoor toilet. But overall, Roma living in poor housing fell from 61% in 2016 to 52% now.
- 29% of Roma children live in households where someone went to bed hungry at least once in the previous month.
- 44% of Roma children attend early childhood education, almost no change from before. In comparison, often over twice as many children their age from the general population in the same country attend early childhood education.
- 43% of the Roma surveyed are in paid work, compared with the EU average employment rate of 72% for 2020.
- 25% of Roma feel they have been discriminated against in the past year in everyday situations such as looking for work, at work, housing, healthcare and education.
In addition, the findings also reveal a clear difference in life expectancy between Roma and the general population: Roma men and women live nine and 11 years less than people generally in the survey countries.
The survey findings indicate that despite national efforts, many countries still fall short of the targets set in the EU’s 10-year plan to support Roma, underlining the need for countries themselves to regularly collect such data to take stock of how they are doing.
Tomas De Jong, from the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) spoke about the social determinants creating inequalities in accessing housing for Roma and how such inequities in housing and fuel deprivation are key contributors to health inequities in living conditions. “To combat this, it is needed to expand housing strategies and pay significantly more attention to environmental justice and environmental health”. De Jong presented to the audience the main conclusions of the policy paper Roma Health and Housing: Filling in the Gaps — A Policy Paper by the Roma Health Network, where the EPHA’s Roma Health Network identified six blind spots addressed through six matching recommendations:
- Commit to health and housing indicators through clear and ambitious action plans with a timeframe and structured monitoring efforts.
- Set up a health advocacy scheme from a community-based approach to encourage Roma participation and advocacy by Roma themselves.
- Include a psychosocial approach to mental health.
- Expand housing strategies significantly to prevent housing inequalities and include a health impact assessment.
- Start incorporating Roma environmental justice.
- Take lessons from the effects of COVID-19 and how they laid bare inequalities between Roma and non-Roma and ensure a fair recovery and resilience of care systems.
De Jong reminded the importance of taking a holistic approach to housing precarity amongst the Roma community, which should not only focus on providing decent housing but also addressing issues of environmental justice and public health.
Simona Barbu, from FEANTSA, highlighted the link between ethnicity and homelessness, and how the housing situation remains difficult due to a complexity of issues such as the impediment of the legislation of informal settlements, forced evictions, environmental racism, energy poverty or residential segregation. Potential solutions can come from
- Combat discrimination and anti roma racism:
- Monitor the private rental market and provide complaint mechanism against landlord who discriminate on the basis of ethnicity
- Address discriminatory criteria to access social housing
- Improve access to affordable and safe housing
- Adopt measures that support home ownership
- Renovate and legalise instead of demolition
- Roma living informal living places
- Increase available housing solutions:
- The use of social rental agencies
- Housing led policy approaches
- Housing first policy approach
- The need for a better use of EU funds
- Address specific challenges faced by roma mobile EU citizens
A best practice, awarded with the Gold Prize of the 3rd edition of the Ending Homelessness Awards in 2021, was also presented. The ROMODROM: housing first project in Czech Republic, addresses homelessness and housing deprivation of people of Roma origin who are socially excluded or at risk of social exclusion. The project is set up to help people who need the most support, i.e. people in severe housing need. The target group includes households (individuals, couples, and families) that do not have housing or are at immediate risk of losing their homes. The project includes several activities, such as finding apartments, contacting private homeowners, establishing cooperation with owners, addressing the target group, finding and selecting clients, establishing a confidential relationship with clients, moving assistance and complex support after moving. The project applies the principles of the Housing First model and connects the nonprofit sector and the private sector, which is unique in the Czech Republic. 21 households have been successfully supported by the project so far.
Finally, Gordon Smith, from the Eurocities working group on Roma inclusion, emphasised the importance of building capacity in local authorities and providing equal access to services. Eurocities messages for the post-2020 EU Roma framework are:
- Adopt an integrated approach to Roma inclusion and involve cities in all stages of policy making to ensure that the local needs of Roma communities are met effectively.
- Set up a multi-level governance mechanism for Roma inclusion to enable EU, national and local authorities to work together, coordinate and mutually reinforce their strategies and tailor them to the local needs of Roma communities.
- Improve access of city authorities to EU and national funding to support the integrated measures and services for Roma inclusion at local level.
In conclusion, the Public Hearing on Relieving housing precarity amongst the Roma shed light on the dire situation faced by the Roma community in Europe in terms of housing precarity and discrimination. The discussions and presentations from experts and panellists emphasised the need for urgent action to tackle the segregation and discrimination faced by Roma in accessing housing. The EU Roma strategic framework has set ambitious targets to improve the living conditions of Roma, and while there have been some improvements, much more needs to be done. The need for more comprehensive data collection, cross-country cooperation, and national implementation to achieve these goals was also highlighted. The event was an important platform for fostering dialogue and cooperation in addressing this urgent issue, and hopefully, it will lead to concrete actions that will improve the housing situation for the Roma community in Europe.