Inaccessible and inadequate for evicted persons: the rent subsidy program offered by the Municipality of Cluj-Napoca

In mid-2021, the municipality of Cluj-Napoca initiated two evictions of families living in precarious conditions in the city. With the support of Căși Sociale ACUM / Social Housing NOW, they drew wide attention to their cases and initiated complaints to the European Court of Human Rights. In addition, we have sent appeals to several national and international organizations and institutions whose activities are related to housing rights. We asked them to contact the City Hall of Cluj-Napoca to learn about the latter’s position on these cases. You may (re)read these Appeals here (06.07.2021) and here (02.09.2021).

In their response, the Mayor’s office pointed out that the respective families have access to the housing alternative operated by the municipality - the rent subsidy.

We show here that the rent subsidy program is both ill conceived and implemented in a manner which renders improbable the access of exactly the target group set out by the initiator: socially marginalized individuals and families in risk of eviction.

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The Local Council of Cluj-Napoca introduced the rent subsidy in 2018 and slightly revised the regulation two years later through Local County Decision 413/18 June 2020 „Regarding the rules of granting the support for rent payment to single persons/families with the domicile or residence on Cluj-Napoca Municipality's radius”.

The declared aim of the measure is to prevent and combat social marginalization by facilitating access to market based housing for a fixed period. The targeted groups are: individuals of up to 35 years who were raised in orphanages; individuals or families either socially marginalized or in risk of social marginalization; and victims of domestic abuse.

Applicants can receive the rent subsidy for one, two or up to three years. In the second and third year the subsidy gradually decreases. There are no references to the period following the three years subsidy - what would or should happen next. Thus, potential applicants, i.e. people already experiencing acute housing insecurity, are invited to engage with the municipal rent subsidy service with the implicit expectation that they will become financially solvent on an increasingly expensive rent market. In 2021, a minimum wage earner (Euro 275) would pay almost his entire wage on rent alone for a studio-apartment (Euro 250), not including utilities, according to a mid-2021 study on rent markets (https://www.mediafax.ro/economic/cum-a-evoluat-piata-chiriilor-in-ultimul-an-scaderi-in-bucuresti-si-cluj-napoca-dar-cresteri-in-lasi-si-brasov-date-complete-20215937). Even a family with two minimum wage earners would barely cover the rent and utilities for a two-room apartment which on average costs Euro 370; its utilities would cost more than Euro 100 per month on average.

Thus, accessing the rent market is financially impossible for socially marginalized families before the rent subsidy - situation clearly acknowledged by the policy. However, there are no pathways for socially marginalized minimum wage earners to become financially solvable after the three-year period, if the minimum wage does not dramatically increase and rents are not capped.

Moreover, the procedures deter applicants even more. Applicants who gained approval for rent subsidy are obliged to personally seek on the market landowners who are willing to comply with regulation: sign and register a contract and, implicitly, pay taxes. The overwhelming majority of the housing rent market in Romania is unregistered, status acknowledged even by the World Bank in a study on Romanian housing policy in 2015 https://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/552171468585744221/pdf/106856-REVISED-WP-RomaniaHousingRASOutputFinalHousingAssessment-PUBLIC.pdf. The dominant unwillingness of landowners to sign and register contracts massively reduces the pool of available housing.

Another obstacle faced by applicants is represented by the overt racism and classism displayed by numerous potential landowners. As recounted by numerous persons who attempted to access the rent market, Roma families have extremely low chances of finding willing landowners, and, if they have children, their chances drop close to zero. Furthermore, applicants are required by landowners to pay a deposit equal to one month's rent and at least one extra month in advance, which drastically increases the cost of moving, as the sum ranging from Euro 750 to Euro 1000 must be provided from the applicant’s pocket.

To access the rent subsidy program, applicants must sign a social services contract with the municipality, which entails that, after following the unemployment agency procedures for job seeking, all adult work-able members of the family who are unemployed must perform work in „actions and works of local interest” directed by the municipality. Practically, if one or more members of the family do not find jobs, they will be summoned by the municipality to perform work up to 40 hours per week. Thus, they would become workers for the municipality with an income lower than the legal minimum. This prospect acts as an extra deterrent to potential applicants who might happen to make a living from informal work (encouraged to do so by many private employers).

The inaccessibility of the rent subsidy program had been acknowledged even by the municipality in 2020. The documentation of the Local County Decision 413/18 June 2020 asserts that between March 2018 - January 2020, there were 170 registered applications, out of which 135 had been accepted and 34 had actually benefited from the subsidy. Just 19 of them entered their second year of subsidy.

The 2020 program revision brought minor changes which slightly increased the range of eligibility. However, the principles outlined above have not changed. Thus, the rent subsidy program offered by the Municipality of Cluj-Napoca does not represent a housing solution for evicted persons.

Căși sociale ACUM!
20.09.2021, Contact: casisocialeacum@gmail.com

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