|File translated by Michael C. Behrent – Assistant Professor – Department of History – Appalachian State University – Boone, NC 28608|
HISTORY OF CITIES – HERITAGE
In Hungary, there are three major kinds of habitat: the hamlet, the village, and the city. In recent decades, urbanization has accelerated. Between 1949 and 1995, the percentage of the urban population rose from 37.5% (concentrated in 50 cities) to 65% (living in 194 cities). The decline in the birthrate, which has been underway since the early eighties, can also be seen in the number of urban residents, who have increased in only 75 cities since 1985.
Two-fifths of Hungary’s population lives in the countryside. Previously, the primary function of villages was to produce agricultural food goods. This determined the villages structure and formation. In the Great Plain, rural houses formed a compact mass. They were bulging villages, with irregular street networks and streets extending like spokes from the town center, gradually widening as they continued into the surrounding pastures. In hilly and mountainous regions, as well as in valleys or along major thoroughfares, one finds single-road villages. In the south and on the Great Plain, there are villages with a checkerboard alignment. While hamlets were a major characteristic of the countryside in the first half of the twentieth century, they have become less frequent since the period of massive land collectivization (1960-1961).
The village of Hollóko, which lies 60 km from Budapest in Hungary’s northeastern mountains, is an exceptional example of a traditional habitat that has been deliberately preserved. This village, which developed primarily in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, is a living testimonial to the forms of rural life that existed prior to the agricultural revolution of the twentieth century. Houses rest on stone foundations, church towers are made of wood, and walls are whitewashed. Hollóko has been registered on UNESCO’s World Heritage List since 1988.
URBAN HABITAT : BUDAPEST
Hungary’s capital currently has 1.7 million inhabitants, making it the seventh largest European city. It is the country’s “hyper-center” and is, demographically speaking, far ahead of other Hungarian cities. For instance, Debrecen, the second largest city, has only 200,000 inhabitants.
Budapest provides a perfect illustration of the process of gentrification currently underway in many cities (see below). In Budapest’s historic center, built during the major urbanization wave of the late nineteenth century, many three or four story buildings have almost never been renovated. Inhabited by an underprivileged population and comprising much of the city’s public housing, the center’s buildings have deteriorated considerably. Beginning around 2000, investor interest in the historic center seemed to provide a solution to building deterioration. But restoration led to the gentrification of these neighborhoods, resulting in the exodus of the original population and the disappearance of traditional services and functions. Civil society actors now increasingly wonder if the city government’s goal was not to “cleanse” these central neighborhoods of underprivileged inhabitants, who are often considered the principal cause of delinquency and other social and urban problems.
According to Krisztina Keresztely, the gentrification process in Budapest’s “hyper-center” is very much underway. In other European countries that face this problem, there is an effort “to fight the inaccessibility of downtown areas by strengthening social diversity, increasing the number of public housing units, even in well-off neighborhoods, or establishing comprehensive urban policies in the most underprivileged neighborhoods of downtown areas.” In Hungary, however, as in other countries of the old Eastern bloc, “political decisions have taken the opposite course: rather than seeking solutions to avoid or mitigate the effects gentrification (by drawing on Western experiences in previous decades), cities have tended to accelerate the process, rendering downtown areas inaccessible” (9).
HABITAT : LEGAL ASPECTS
RIGHT TO HOUSING
In Hungary, the right to housing does not exist as such. It is, however, recognized indirectly as a result of the right to social security and the right to the best possible standards of physical and mental health.
The right to housing is not enshrined by the Hungarian Constitution. However, there are some relevant legal provisions in case of evictions. In 2011, the annual eviction moratorium has been replaced with measures targeting home owners and specifically foreign currency mortgage holders. An “eviction quota system” has been introduced with the aim to protect mortgage holders threatened by evictions. In the fourth quarter of 2011, only 2% of mortgages having more than 90 days arrears can be sold by auctions. In 2012, 2013 and 2014, these quotas will annually increase to 3-4-5 % respectively. In 2015 this moratorium will be abolished without restrictions.
Hungary ratified the Revised European Social Charter on 20/04/2009 accepting 60 of the Revised Charter’s 98 paragraphs, excluding the Article 31 on the right to housing. It has not yet ratified the Additional Protocol providing for a system of collective complaints.
As in most former communist countries of Eastern Europe, the Hungarian government no longer has any leverage to guarantee affordable and appropriate housing, due to the so-called “right to repurchase” initiatives (which allowed residents to buy public housing units) of the nineties. Hungary has a home-ownership rate of 92%, which means that little housing is available on the private or public renting market.
Source : inter alia, FEANTSA 2012 (2)
- Housing and Land Rights Violation Database in each country (Housing and Land Network): http://hlrn.org/welcome_violation.php#.VD-IVCi7_vQ
- Zero Evictions Campaign (International Alliance of Inhabitants): http://www.habitants.org/zero_evictions_campaign
- Data sets on agricultural land grabbing in the world (GRAIN): https://www.grain.org/bulletin_board/entries/4429-new-data-sets-on-land-grabbing
- The Online Public Database on Land Deals – Global Observatory (Land Matrix): http://landmatrix.org/en/
SEVERAL INTERESTING PRACTICES
Camps for Collective Housing Renovation
Caught in a spiral of debt, thousands of Hungarians are often unable to pay back loans and thus face the threat of eviction. To help them, the association Szociális Építőtábor has established camps for renovating public housing with the assistance of volunteers. A renovation campaign occurred in the underprivileged suburb of Nagykanizsa, a medium-sized city in southwest Hungary. The project made it possible to renovate the wings of a hundred and fifty year old military hospital managed by the city. The neighborhood’s residents participated in the renovation. The pay they received for their work allowed them to repay the debts they owed the city. They were credited with the added valued to their homes. Moreover, insulation made it possible for them to lower their energy bills.
This citizens’ initiative can be found on Facebook
Beginning in the fifties, in order to facilitate access to housing, a small percentage of the population was allowed to form housing cooperatives and to finance part of the price (of the cost) of the housing that was built.
HABITAT : SOCIAL AND ECONOMICAL ASPECTS
Thirty years after communism’s end, Hungary still faces difficulties in renovating its aging, decrepit housing stock. The maintenance costs alone of such housing can take up 50% of a household budget. Given market costs, much housing is overpopulated. In cities, many Hungarians live in buildings that are jointly owned (Source: Habitat for Humanity Hungary).According to CECODHAS, in 2011, 92% of Hungarian households owned their homes (the European average is 65%); 3.7% were public housing tenants and 3.2% tenants in the private housing market.
QUALITY OF HOUSING
- A Housing Shortage
Because the likelihood of obtaining state-owned housing unit is slim, most people seeking housing do not even try to find a solution on the “bureaucratic market.” There are currently around 160,000 families waiting for housing. This figure corresponds to only a tiny share of the overall demand, which the state’s distribution system is incapable of satisfying any time soon.
Source: Yvan Major, “Le logement en Hongrie : de l’après-guerre aux années quatre-vingt”, on Persée’s website (read the publication here: Website Persée) (4)
Housing in Poor Condition and Over-indebtedness
One of the major problems resulting from the high rate of home-ownership (92%) is that while most housing acquired is in poor condition when it is purchased, proprietors often lack the means for renovation or even for decent upkeep. Consequently, households go heavily into debt to renovate their homes: it is estimated that nearly 270,000 households have gone into debt to renovate their homes, to the point that they have accumulated three months of arrears in credit annuities. Over-indebtedness has other causes as well: in Hungary, many mortgages denominated in foreign currencies are granted on the basis of initially very favorable exchange rates. Unfortunately, as the Hungarian currency has lost value, monthly payments have risen spectacularly, increasing indebtedness. Indebtedness can also be caused by steep increases in public utility fees, such as gas and electricity suppliers. These fees nibble into individual savings, making it harder to pay mortgages and rent. Moreover, people with the worst housing often have the highest heating bills.
According to the association for the currently and formerly homeless, A Város Mindenkié (see the AIH website) (5), the question of the right to housing raises that of the right to the city.
According to Hungarian statistics, in 2005, around 300,000 households were affected by overpopulation, i.e., about 1.3 million people—in other words, a little less than 10% of the population. This generally involves housing inhabited by people belonging to different generations or by distant relatives who share a room because they have no other choice.
Hungary has signed the 1951 Geneva Convention on refugees, including its additional protocols. It also has a law regulating asylum (the 1997 Asylum Act). Procedure is generally respected, but the rate of those benefitting from refugee status remains low, at 5.2% in 2006. The number of people who have acquired the status of “person authorized to stay” (Befogadott, a kind of humanitarian status) is also insignificant. Hungarian associations, as well as the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), have declared that refugees on Hungary’s borders are turned back on a case by case basis and that asylum seekers are systematically arrested. This results in a de facto decline in asylum seekers.
Source : Eva OTTAVY, « La Hongrie, une des protections orientales de l’Union Européenne » read the article on the dph’s website (6)
There are currently between 500,000 and 600,000 Roma in Hungary. In 2009, the government decided to triple the budget for eliminating Roma shantytowns, re-housing them, and encouraging them to join the civil service. Before the economic crisis, Budapest revised its plans and lowered the number of planned hires. In 2009, 40% of young Hungarian Roma did not have a primary education.
INFORMAL SETTLEMENTS / SLUMS / HOMELESS
One of Hungary’s major problems is the large number of homeless. According to Feantsa, Hungary has between 30,000 and 50,000 homeless living in streets, doorways, abandoned construction sites, and train stations. The country has set no goals for fighting extreme forms of social exclusion, either through housing policy or at the local level.Homeless people are not given priority in the allocation of public housing.In December 2006, the Hungarian government went so far as to decree a law criminalizing homelessness: homeless people living in public places could incur a fine of 530 euros or 60 days in prison.
The organization AVM (which is presented below) vigorously protested this law, organizing sit-in in the offices of the Budapest city government.Popular support for AVM: Participants were calmly evacuated by the police, but some faced charges. The public broadly supported the organization’s actions once the event was over. Human Rights Watch, for its part, requested that the Hungarian government rescind the new law, which raises many concerns from a human rights perspective. HRW also emphasized that it makes no sense to punish society’s poorest members simply because they live in the street. Fines and prison sentences cannot solve the deep-seated problems that cause homelessness. See a video on the protest against the penalization of homelessness in Budapest.
The 2012 Petty Offences Act which allows local governments to create homeless-free zones, i.e. areas where living in public space is considered an offence. According to a late-minute modification by the Minister of Interior, world heritage sites are automatically prohibition zones, but municipalities have the right to designate additional areas as well. As a result of the law, which was adopted by majority the vote of the governing parties, downtown Budapest will be off limits to homeless people who are forced to live on the street. Social movements and FEANTSA network condemn this criminalizing street homelessness. (8)
HABITAT : THE ROLE OF PUBLIC AUTHORITIES
Definition and situation in 2012
Social housing in Hungary is regulated under the so-called Housing Law.It does not give a general definition of social housing, but only refers to social housing as rental unit owned by municipal governments and allocated based on social criteria. Publicly owned housing in Hungary has decreased from 20% to 3.7% over the latest twenty years, and today it is concentrated in the biggest municipalities. The privatisation process was already ongoing before the 1990s, but the mass scale privatization started in 1990, when the public stock was sold to tenants at a give-away price (10-15% of the market value). Sitting tenants who could afford it generally bought their flats, and households who remained tenants in the public sector were essentially the neediest ones.
At the same time, the government moved out of the housing sector and local governments were given increasing responsibilities in this field and there have been no programmes for social housing development since 2004. As a result of decentralisation, local governments are free to decide how to manage their housing stock and different approaches have emerged.
How does it work ?
Local governments are responsible for local housing policy making, which in practice consists of rent setting, managing the municipal housing stock and operating local subsidy schemes. Social rental units are owned by local governments, but while smaller cities tend to manage directly their housing stock, in larger cities the typical solution is to create companies (joint stock companies or limited liability companies) owned by local govern- ments. There is also a very limited number of social housing units owned and managed by NGOs or Public Companies.
Although the Housing Law specifies that the allocation should be based on ‘social criteria’, there are not specific definitions of these criteria. Generally, target groups of social housing provision are young married couples, single parents and families on low income.
Source: CECODHAS Report, 2012 (3)
Public housing privatization
In the eighties, Hungary underwent an extensive process of housing privatization. However, unlike other post-socialist countries, Hungary rejected the idea of giving urban real estate back to individuals (whether housing or buildings), opting instead to privatize housing by selling units to current tenants. Thus the 1993 housing law required all city governments to sell, at a fixed prices, public housing to current tenants who desired to purchase them. The privatization of housing peaked in 1994. At present, it has almost ended, as supply has evaporated: currently, 90% of housing in Budapest is already privately owned.
This great wave of privatization has had two consequences for households.
First, the decline of public housing units, which in most cases do not even have basic amenities (in 2012, public housing was only 3% of the total stock).
Second, the possibility of buying poor-quality housing requires renovation work that is unaffordable for most households (Source: Habitat for Humanity Hungary).
Currently, the number of vacant homes, whether private or public, is on the rise (Source: A Város Mindenkié’s Blog).
Since 2009, in light of the economic crisis, the Hungarian government decided to no longer provide housing assistance to the most vulnerable families. Without this state support, families can no longer obtain mortgages.
Source : Habitat for Humanity Hungary (7)
HABITAT : ENVIRONMENTAL ASPECTS
Bibliography & Sitography
Source: Colisee, Comité pour l’information sur l’Europe de l’Est; go to the site
Yvan Major, “Le logement en Hongrie : de l’après-guerre aux années quatre-vingt”, on Persée’s website (read the publication here: Website Persée
A Város Mindenkié association – on the AIH website
Eva OTTAVY, « La Hongrie, une des protections orientales de l’Union Européenne » read the article on the DPH’s website
Habitat for Humanity Network – Habitat for Humanity Hungary
Város Mindenkié association
- Krisztina Keresztely, “L’inaccessibilité croissante des quartiers historiques de Budapest, Gentrification et politiques urbaines libérales” See the dph website
MAJOR PROBLEMS BY CIVIL SOCIETY
According to the Város Mindenkié association,
Too little public housing is available
Too much housing is empty, in the private as well as the public stock.
CLAIMS BY MAJOR CIVIL SOCIETY
The Város Mindenkié association:
Demands the formulation of a comprehensive housing policy and wants the national government to provide protection against mass unemployment, which would give low-income households access to affordable housing through the expansion of public housing.
Proposes to make currently vacant housing available (once again), by establishing a list of vacant properties and renting them out through “temporary leases” (prior to demolition)
Believes that the government should fight poverty, not poor people. This can be done by increasing employment rates, guaranteeing decent salaries and pensions, establishing a constitutional right to housing, dramatically increasing housing subsidies, and by maintaining a viable public housing network.
CIVIL SOCIETY ACTORS
HAJLÉKTALANOKÉRT KÖZALAPÍTVÁNY = A public foundation for the homeless. Its goal is to help Hungarian citizens who are homeless and to provide support for the associations that assist them. Practically, it helps set up accommodation services (nighttime and temporary shelters); it establishes training programs to promote social integration; and it organizes specific services aimed at the homeless (soup kitchens, re-socialization projects, etc.). It also provides legal advice and is an advocate at the European level. Information available on the FEANTSA site. – Hajléktalanokért’s website – To contact them.
HAJSZOLT = An association that seeks to represent the interests of the homeless and individuals who are likely to be itinerant. Its activities include improving the training of people who work with this target population; lobbying at various levels to improve the funds available for the homeless ; and fighting prejudices about the homeless. Information available on v FEANTSA’s website. – Their website. – To contact them.
MENHELY ALAPITVANY = The “One Roof” Foundation is a secular organization which works to improve the condition of the homeless. Specifically, it provides day centers, 24 hour emergency assistance, including for the sick, residences to help the elderly avoid homelessness, emergency vehicles, and a second-hand center. Website. – To contact them.
HABITAT FOR HUMANITY HUNGARY = A not-for-profit humanitarian association that seeks to eradicate housing poverty and homelessness. To do so, they build and renovate housing throughout the world, offering various microcredit and loan formulas, helping to clean up buildings, while calling for affordable housing for all. Specifically, in Hungary, the association helps to renovate apartment buildings, helps poor households manage their finances and energy expenses, and has prepared for impending climate catastrophes. Website. – To contact them.
A VÁROS MINDENKIÉ – AVM = The “City for All” association was founded in 2009 by homeless and formerly homeless Hungarians who demand a society based on equality and justice. Their goal is to help the homeless retrieve a sense of human dignity and to promote housing rights. The homeless are stakeholders in all their activities. Their blog. – To contact them.
BMSZKI, Budapesti Módszertani Szociális Központ = Budapest’s methodological center for social policy and institutions. It is Hungary’s largest provider of services to the homeless. Its seventeen institutions offer a wide range of services aimed at a very diverse homeless population: temporary shelters, nighttime shelters, shelters serving as temporary housing for homeless mothers and their children, day centers, etc. They put social workers on the street to help the homeless receive institutional support and make medical assistance available to them. Website.
SZINDIKATUS = “Gather Our Forces for the City.” An association that works on consciousness-raising and technical and networking services. Szindikatus’ main goal is to pressure local government to take greater account of civil society and other organizations representing the public so that the greater consideration is given to the public interest. Website.