55. Social integration housing
55.1. Short description
The social integration housing (viviendas de integración social, or VIS) programme allows a number of TSOs to buy second–hand homes that may be resold or rented to low-income people with whom they are engaged in a social work process. It allows a more flexible approach to access to housing for specific persons or families than the ordinary publicly subsidised housing programmes.
The origins of the VISs may be found in a programme that Caritas (the main Catholic social assistance organisation) developed in the 1980s. Caritas got hold occasionally of apartments, often bequeathed by their owners. Caritas started offering the apartments to their service users, either to rent them or to buy them under terms adapted to their situation and under a strong supervision of the workings of the family, as part of a process of social integration.
In the late 1990s, during the debate on the regional plan to combat social exclusion, TSOs and experts proposed that the government supported the programme and opened it up to other TSOs. The regional department of housing was very attracted to the idea. Their social housing targets were hard to meet due to the lack of private developers willing to build low-cost subsidised apartments, and the programme seemed to allow for a spread of the most complex social cases in different areas, instead of packing them all together in social housing blocks.
A dozen TSOs have participated in the programme, working with immigrants, gypsies or with other people at risk of social exclusion. Some have done so permanently, some have only participated occasionally, to solve housing problems of some specific cases amongst their users. The programme was well accepted and quite successful initially, but rapidly increasing housing prices all but blocked the chances of finding homes to buy in Pamplona. In smaller towns and villages it was still possible.
In 2009 the regional government agreed to open up the possibility of using either publicly owned homes or private apartments managed by the public rental system in the programme. Private landlords who wish to rent their apartments may do so by handing them over to a public agency, from which they obtain a rent payment slightly below market levels, but with a full guarantee that they will get their money and without having to manage the apartment and its rental. This extension of the VIS system is known as social integration social housing (viviendas de alquiler de integración social, or VAIS) and has reopened the possibility of using homes in Pamplona. Economic conditions are also easier for users. The TSOs participating in the programme have been buying between ten and thirty homes per year (mostly outside Pamplona) and managing the rental of nearly fifty apartments.
55.2. Conceptions and ways of addressing users
For the TSOs participating in the programme the VIS offered the opportunity of helping their users access a home in a very customised way (housing market permitting, of course). This allowed, for instance, finding (outside Pamplona) old, large, reasonably priced village houses for gypsy families who needed a lot of space, which would have been completely out of the question in a public housing project.
Sometimes social workers complain saying “that family you’ve brought to us…” Well excuse me, we haven’t brought anything, they’re people so they’ve come here. That’s the advantage of our programme, in the end, people choose where they want to live, even if the choice is limited. And the same way you will probably like to live near your relatives, they like it as well, and if they’re gypsies they may want to live close to relatives that are gypsies as well.
(Inés García, FSSG)
At the same time, offering access to housing gave the TSOs leverage in their social work process with the families. The fact that they become the means of access to a very basic need – housing – and that that access is conditional to a social work process enables the organisations to set clearer limits and conditions in their work.
55.3. Internal organisation and modes of working
Setting up the programme seems to have reorganised responsibility for the social management of very poor families as regards housing. Before the programme, they might, if lucky, get access to a public rental apartment (in some cases even they might be able to buy a publicly built home). Chances were low, but if they got it, the housing department did not take any further action, unless payments ceased, and in that case it would be legal action or at most asking local social services to look into the problem. With the VIS programme, not only are people be housed in a much more flexible way, but the TSOs become responsible for following up and acting to ensure an as-smooth-as-possible process in the new home, by means of a “social accompaniment”: work. The regional government will pay for it, but now somebody is directly responsible and has to act if conflicts or other problems arise.
What does the regional government get from this programme? Putting it harshly, they dump their responsibility on us. Being a bit kinder, they offer (through us) an intensive social work with the families, and that’s why they pay us to do it. The housing department, I believe, they wished to give a hand in the anti-exclusion plan, so they wanted to show they were doing something, plus that helped to promote a bit actions with used homes.
In fact, one of the TSOs got a specific agreement to act as the housing social integration team (Equipo de Incorporación Social en Vivienda, or EISOVI). Initially it was a sort of overarching support team for the whole of the TSOs involved, but that role didn’t make much sense, so it has become in fact a sort of social work team for a large part of the public rental houses in Navarra, a social work role that the public housing company was reluctant to play by itself, but saw as increasingly necessary.
In this sense, the role of TSOs in the programme has made it possible to develop (within its obvious size limits) a kind of action that both the government and the TSOs saw as necessary. The government was unwilling to take up as a direct responsibility and TSOs accepted to take it if that allowed them to act more effectively.
55.4. Interaction with the local welfare system
This kind of win-win agreement may explain the positive opinion on the governance of the programme. Both the government and the TSOs seem to be reasonably happy with the permanent negotiations and collaboration in the development of the programme. This means that the TSOs and the regional government sit down regularly to discuss how many and what kind of homes will there be available for the next year, how to improve the programme, and even if the results are not always the ones some of the stakeholders might wish, they speak positively of the process. What might have been lost is the fact that the size and scope doesn’t need to meet the social demand (as it happens when entitlements are established) but can be adjusted to what the government is willing to spend and what TSOs are willing to do.
It has also helped to establish a bridge between two regional government departments, Housing and Social Welfare. Blame avoidance may have been one of the reasons not to collaborate in the past, since each partner might have felt that sticking to its own responsibilities (producing and renting homes, providing social work services for citizens who asked for them) saved them from having to deal with the much more complex issue of housing and social integration. The possibility of assuming indirectly the job by financing TSOs to do it does seem to be a less risky way of starting to work jointly on the issue (in fact, of enabling somebody else to work on the joint issue).