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Leuven backs a Flemish civil organisation fighting for decent housing

Leuven backs a Flemish civil organisation fighting for decent housing

Despite recent policy updates, city officials think there is a lot more to be done

Yesterday, the administration in the Belgian city of Leuven decided to throw its support behind the Woonzaak – a conglomerate of 38 civil organisations fighting for the right to decent housing in Flanders. The housing crisis in Flanders is quite persistent and pronounced and Woonzaak, in their own right, are looking to raise the issue to the European Committee of Social Rights.

According to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, decent housing is a human right, which makes this a European matter. However, despite the fact the Committee of Social Rights cannot issue legally binding decisions, Woonzaak hopes to attract enough attention and support to amend key policies on the regional level.

While the end goal of the organisation is to fix the housing crisis, they hope to achieve this through more devolved policy instruments to local governments, specifically on the city level. The idea is that cities bear the brunt of migration and overpopulation, as well as high housing prices and the lack of available building space. So, they should have more power to act.

Decisive action against the housing crisis instead of mitigation

Affordable and high-quality housing is a major challenge in Flanders with 170,000 families on the waiting list for social housing. Furthermore, according to a statement by the city of Leuven, the quality of almost half of the private rental housing is inadequate, while around 30% of residents are overburdened.

Overburden means that after paying for housing, residents do not have enough money for a decent life.

Leuven has been taking steps to fix the problem. At the start of 2021, they rolled out a broad strategy for the homeless, including rent assistance for people on the social housing waiting list. Furthermore, they are actively trying to reduce vacant housing rates and regulate landlords offering sub-standard rental units.

Lies Corneillie, Alderman for Housing, Equal Opportunities and Global Policy in Leuven, was quoted in a press release saying that there is a lot more to be done. She explained that the city needs more policy instruments to actually tackle the issue decisively and not just mitigate it.

She continued: “We hope that Woonzaak will contribute to a good analysis of which instruments should be available at which policy level for a good housing policy. We see realising the right to housing as a shared responsibility between the various branches of government.”

What is Woonzaak all about?

Woonzaak plans to raise the issue of decent housing to the European Committee for Social Rights. The committee will then check if Flanders complies with the provisions of the European Social Charter. According to the Charter, social and housing assistance are human rights, that help to combat social exclusion, making this a government responsibility.

The European Committee for Social Rights can issue an opinion, which is not binding in itself, but can have a real impact on national law. This is supported by Woonzaak’s civil movement for housing.

Hugo Beersmans, spokesperson for the organisation explained that Leuven’s decision to support them could lead to more local representatives joining their movement. He added: “Cities and municipalities are confronted like no other with the housing problems of their inhabitants. We hope that the Leuven endorsement may inspire many more local authorities to pull together with us for a fundamentally fair housing policy."

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