Housing is one of the important social policy issues in Plock and a topic of numerous newspaper articles as well as city council debates. The scope of the problem is much too big for the city budget to be solved easily, and many critics say that the housing policy of the city is chaotic and neglected, without clear vision or direction. As former vice president said at one of the council meetings: “… 2,000 families face this problem, often having no permanent residence address. So, today, an attempt to provide 100,000, 500,000, 1 million zlotys will not bring any effect at all.” A representative of the local press stated that this problem is encountered by even more people than shown by official statistics: “Officially, there are 7,000 families waiting for apartments in Plock. In fact, nobody really knows how many people are waiting” (Interview no. 2, Plock, journalist of the local newspaper).
These statements illustrate the scale of problems associated with housing in Plock and lack of perspectives for solving them. The tenement houses in the Old Town are particularly problematic; they are in very bad condition and are inhabited by poor and marginalised persons. These are areas in which various problems and social pathologies concentrate, resulting in the creation of a kind of ghetto. In this context, it is particularly significant to introduce innovative solutions, giving a chance for improvement of the housing conditions of Plock inhabitants.
48.1. Short description
The Social Housing Societies are social developers appointed by the commune, whose work is focused mainly on construction and renting houses for the purpose of implementation of the housing policy of the commune. The CSHS of Plock is the largest company of this kind in Mazowsze region and one of the largest in the country.
CSHS, apart from construction of rental flats for persons of low income, try to build apartments for sale on the basis of commercial credits. In 2013, CSHS offered ten apartments at 3,900 to 4,200 PLN per square metre. After calculation of total costs (instalment, service charges, etc.), these prices were comparable to those on the market.
48.2. Conceptions and ways of addressing users
The CSHS offer is addressed to less affluent inhabitants, who cannot afford to purchase or rent an apartment on the free market. Before construction starts, the Society establishes a list of potential inhabitants. Prior to commencement of the investment project, the so-called “participation” fee is collected as participation in costs of construction. When the flats are ready, they are rented to those who participated in the costs of construction. As they remain the property of the city, those flats cannot be purchased, but the tenancy rights can be inherited. The future tenants of CSHS buildings must return their current council flats or pay the participation fee, in the order of 20-25 per cent of the value of the flat.
The rental fee also contains the service charge and the loan incurred by the Society for construction of the apartments. Buying the apartment occupied is not possible – the tenant leaving the Society may only regain their contribution, which, in fact, constitutes about 30 per cent of the market value of the apartment. Considering the fact that the rent at CSHS is not much lower than in a housing cooperative, these apartments are not as attractive as they could be (Marek Wielgo, Czynszówki na trudne czasy – czy warto do nich dopłacać? “Gazeta Wyborcza”, 30 April 2013).
48.3. Internal organisation and modes of working
The activities of CSHS are a response to lack of apartments at prices that would be affordable for an average citizen, or a citizen who is unable to make a living. According to the act on local self-government, the commune must provide a place to stay for its inhabitants – one of the methods of implementation of this task is construction of apartments for rent. CHSH has built almost 2,000 apartments of this type. These are designated for rental, and the tenant provides a participation fee. On this basis, they become entitled to move in; also this right can be transferred to someone else.
The 2,000 apartments were constructed with the assistance of the National Housing Fund of Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego (National Economic Bank). This is a target fund of the state, designated for loans to Social Housing Societies for construction purposes; inhabitants repay these for many years in their rental fees. Apart from the 2,000 apartments provided on the basis of the participation formula, CSHS has constructed several facilities to be sold on the free market. These are additional activities and up to now, they have not been successful – the apartments constructed in this way are characterised by high prices per metre and the number of potential purchasers is low.
At present, the National Housing Fund is no longer in operation because of EU provisions, which prohibit the activity of this type. Therefore, CSHS is waiting for other programmes to be launched. Several dozen council flats are currently being constructed on the land plots belonging to the CSHS. It is planned that in the late 2013/early 2014, the president will dispose of more than 60 new council flats ready for the inhabitants to move in.
A problem associated with operation of the CSHS is the fact that, as the inhabitants have to repay the loan incurred for construction in their rents, the monthly rent is relatively high (even twice as high as in housing cooperatives). When one of the tenants fails to pay, CSHS must pay interest to Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego for them, which amounts in several hundred thousand zlotys per year. This is why CSHS is looking for additional sources of income.
48.4. Interaction with the local welfare system
CSHS as a company owned 100 per cent by the commune treasury, established by the City, and is well embedded in the local welfare system. The City Council plays the role of the general assembly of shareholders of CSHS, making decisions with regard to activities to be undertaken by the company. The housing policy, including the operation of the CSHS, is under the direct supervision of the President of the City and constitutes one of the priorities of city’s investments. As described by the President of the CSHS:
CSHS is a company, but it is not like we are a separate structure, we are an extension, an executive arm of the president of the city of Plock and we implement the policy developed by the president of Plock and the council of Plock. So what if it’s a company? It makes it easier to manage
Interview no. 5, Plock. The vice-director of City Social Housing Society
This, however, does not mitigate the problem associated with lack of the sufficient funds for construction of subsequent apartments. Attempts made by the CSHS to obtain means from the sale of development apartments on the free market have not brought the expected results because the prices of the apartments are too high.
In general, opinions concerning the activity of CSHS in Plock are divided. It has been pointed out that the current prices of apartments offered by the company do not differ much from those available on the market, and the quality of construction is rather low. In response to lack of interest in new apartments in 2013, the opportunity to buy the apartments in instalments is to be introduced: the purchaser will pay 30 per cent of the value of the apartment, while the rest of the amount payable is to be distributed over the period of 5-20 years, depending on the ability of the purchaser to make payments. It is significant that the first instalment, as well as the interest rates, can be negotiated, and in the case of any further problems with repayment – it is possible to reach agreement with regard to temporary suspension of payments. Unlike banks, the CSHS does not require any property documentation and those who have their own funds (not from a bank loan) for the first payment qualify for purchasing an apartment.
CSHS has operated in Plock for a long period; the first apartments were offered in 1998, and the last 3 years ago, as an apartment for rent. Afterwards, the operation of the National Housing Fund was discontinued. Thanks to the act of 2010, which allows for sale of these apartments to inhabitants at market prices, CSHS plans to regain some of the invested money. The funds remaining after repayment of the loan can be spent only on housing construction; thus, if any interesting central or municipal programmes emerge, CSHS will contribute to these, building new apartments and the associated infrastructure.