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‘Roofs Over Heads’: HFH Poland, partners launch campaign to fight poverty housing

May 7, 2008

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WARSAW, POLAND (May 7, 2008)
– Non-governmental organisations led by Habitat for Humanity Poland have joined forces to start a social campaign against poverty housing in Poland titled “Roofs Over Heads” (“Dach nad Glowa”).

The campaign, announced today at a press conference here, aims to increase awareness of the inadequate housing conditions that affect millions of Poles and to open a public dialogue with the participation of experts, politicians, authorities, non-governmental organisations and the media. The goal of these activities is the adoption of national housing programme that would include housing solutions for low-income families unable to afford houses through conventional means.

The housing crisis in Poland is alarming. The National Population Census, as well as other reports revealed that as many as 6.5 million people in Poland live in substandard conditions (no heating, no plumbing, too little space per capita). According the UN statistics the number of dwellings per 1,000 inhabitants is 307, which is considerably lower than in both western and east European countries.

The neglected problem of overcrowding is well-illustrated on the Gos family. Michal and Agata and their two daughters share a two bedroom apartment of 30m2 in Warsaw with their parents. They live in a room of 9m2, while the other room is occupied by Michal’s parents and his elder brother. Michal works as a tram driver, Agata is taking care of the children, as the younger daughter was born only two months ago. The Gos family has fallen into a limbo in which they cannot afford to buy their own apartment, but are not eligible for the municipal social housing either. They were declined by a bank which did not consider them creditworthy. Their financial situation does not allow them to rent a flat from a private landlord. The local district administration office which is in charge of public rental housing could not help them either, as the social housing services are limited to the most vulnerable.

Both Polish and international legal standards guarantee the right to decent living conditions. Such a right is included in the Constitution of Poland, the Local Government Act, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the European Social Charter. But this right has been laxly enforced, and the issue largely neglected.

Realising the scope and the gravity of the problem, Habitat for Humanity Poland invited in 2005 a group of non-governmental organisations to cooperate to spur action to improve housing conditions.

“We established a coalition, to address effectively the vast range of poverty housing. With time, the group of non-governmental organisations was joined by experts. Discussions and meetings emphasised the need to work out and implement systemic solutions. Housing policy does not exist: it must be created,” said Dorota Binkiewicz, a campaign coordinator from Habitat for Humanity Poland.

The campaign has two stages. In the first stage, the awareness of the problem, its range, and consequences will be raised. In the second stage, the process of outlining the national housing programme will be initiated. The coalition set up an objective to open the public dialogue with the participation of experts, authorities and politicians, in order to develop a long-term strategy for tackling poverty housing. An official round table is scheduled for autumn.

At the time of the launch the coalition had twelve members, including Caritas Poland, Barka Foundation, SOS Children Villages, or Polish Confederation of Private Employers Lewiatan.