The HomeLab project tests the integrated provision of housing, employment and social services in the framework of the Social Rental Enterprise model. The experimental project is implemented in the so-called Visegrad Four (V4) countries: Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Poland, where five pilots with somewhat diverse focus are carried.
The target groups include the different vulnerable groups of the region, such as homeless persons, Roma communities, households at risk of poverty and/or with significant debts or arrears, and finally migrants (both internal and foreign). The project aims to contribute to the institutionalization of the SRE model in the region, and help to promote its advocacy.
This article provides an overview of the problems that HomeLab tackles and aims to provide a solution for. It will be followed by two other articles presenting the five pilot cases and the SRE model in depths.
Challenges in the housing sector of the V4 countries are related to a simple reality: a large majority (from 78% to 89% in the 4 pilot countries) of the population owns the dwellings in which they live. The share of private rental sector is small, and rather insecure from the tenants’ perspective. Tenants face high rental prices, coupled with lack of regulation, where the grey market affects both tenants and landlords.
The high share of home ownership combined, differences in price and quality of housing between regions and urban-rural territories and the weak rental market are important make it really hard for people to move and find work. In addition, living in a low quality housing (e.g. the home is cold or clammy, there is no bathroom) or having arrears might have a negative effect on both physical and mental health. This of course can lead to reduced capacity and or quality of work as well.
Labour markets of the CEE region, including the V4 countries, face several challenges, and the most important being the shortage of workforce, which coexists with unemployment. One important reason behind the lack of work force is migration towards the EU’s Western member states due to the much higher wages. Mismatch between the location of (skilled) labour force needs and workforce supply is also an important constrain in the labour market of these countries. As mentioned above, there is a lack of rental housing and a culture of owner occupied housing. This combined with the unsellable properties in depressed areas are also important issues in workers to regions with labour shortage. Though labour-market participation in countries of the CEE region has caught up lately, they still stand behind western-countries. This is really true in case of women with young children. In the case of Hungary, unemployment statistics improved partly as a result of the massive public works programs. That however does not help clients with joining the open labour market at a later stage. It also provides lower wages then the minimum wage, thus creates a poverty trap for families involved. Furthermore, low wages and/or insecure, temporary jobs are not providing enough income to cover the increasing housing costs, especially in the rental market.
Figure 2: Source: Eurostat 2017 (2)
Further problems in the household, such as indebtedness, physical or mental health issues, severe conflicts within the families, or even things like missing documents or low-income resulting from unclaimed social benefits can have a profoundly negative effect on housing and employment situation of the households.
Figure 3: Source: Eurostat 2017 (3)
However, social services in the participating countries are rather fragmented than integrated meaning that different actors do not interact. Also, in the case of Poland and Hungary as a response to the cries in 2008, welfare provisions have been decreased. This was quite unique in the EU, where welfare provision was increased in order to protect and help to recover the vulnerable groups hit by the crises.
The HomeLab interventions
To address in complexity the above described issues, the SRE model offers a system of integrated interventions: by offering personalized employment, housing services with additional social assistance, households have the possibility to overcome their complex problems. The project also aims to prove that integrated service provision is not only a more efficient way to solve housing and employment problems, but it is the way to offer long-term and sustainable solutions to the households. To demonstrate the effectiveness of such interventions, the HomeLab project puts a strong emphasise on the measurement of the pilot projects’ results and put a well-elaborated monitoring and evaluation system in place.