On the occasion of World Habitat Day 2021 on October 4th, the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Fundamental and Human Rights draws attention to the still existing lack of adequate and affordable housing as well as the aggravation of the problem in the course of the COVID-19 crisis.
More than 15% of Austrians live in overcrowded flats, about 7% in flats that take up more than 40% of their income. This proportion is particularly high within the group of people who are at risk of poverty. The situation has become even worse in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. Especially for lower-income families, the often cramped spatial conditions in combination with the strict exit restrictions represented an additional burden. Those who suffered the most from this were women as well as children and young people.
The situation for homeless people was extraordinarily precarious. They often have health problems, usually no “home” to retreat to and are exposed to a high risk of infection in emergency shelters. Furthermore, the situation was further aggravated by the restriction of the corresponding range of service and the reduction of low-threshold services exposed gaps in medical care for homeless people. During the first wave of the pandemic, the Viennese social organization “neunerhaus” recorded up to 74% more patients seeking medical treatment.
The right to housing is also enshrined in Article 31 of the (Revised) European Social Charter. Accordingly, the parties undertake to take measures designed:
- to promote access to housing of an adequate standard,
- to prevent and reduce homelessness with a view to its gradual elimination;
- to make the price of housing accessible to those without adequate resources.
However, Austria has not yet ratified this article of the Charter. “This must be changed urgently”, says Karin Lukas, President of the European Committee of Social Rights and Senior Researcher at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Fundamental and Human Rights. “The European Social Charter, the main human rights treaty on social rights in Europe, includes housing as a fundamental right. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated an already precarious situation for many and, without countermeasures, will lead to an increase in overcrowding, financial burden of housing costs and homelessness”, Lukas said.
The Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Fundamental and Human Rights is currently conducting research on the consequences of the COVID-19 crisis for the housing sector within the framework of a cooperation project with the Vienna Chamber of Labour on the effects of the crisis on European welfare states.