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High rent and prejudice pushes people onto the streets in Brussels

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By Méabh Mc Mahon  & Lucy Caile
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A housing crisis in Brussels has forced some people onto the streets.
A housing crisis in Brussels has forced some people onto the streets.   -   Copyright  Meabh McMahon, Euronews

Simona, a native Romanian who has lived in Brussels for two decades, says that she has had to sleep in a park multiple times because she couldn't find decent housing there.

When the mother of three found one apartment, it lacked hot water or heating and she got sick several times.

"All I wanted was something basic that is clean and has no leaks... and a decent kitchen. Every woman wants a nice kitchen," she said.

She's one of an increasing number of Europeans who are struggling to find a decent home to rent or buy.

Thanks to the local organisation Rassemblement Bruxellois pour le Droit à l'Habitat, Simona has now found a temporary rental in the neighbourhood of Molenbeek near the city centre.

Around one-third of people like her in Brussels live below the poverty line, and housing market prices are only increasing.

“Poor quality housing is rented more expensive than average quality housing,” the organisation's project manager Anne-Sophie Dupont told Euronews. 

"Often the problem is that people visit substandard housing, the only ones that the owners want to rent to them because they are black or because they wear the veil or because they have little income and they are forced to take this accommodation because it's that or the street," she added.

Dupont says these situations happen because the city is responding to the needs of private investors, and not those of locals.

“There are plenty of people who live in misery and in fear of finding themselves on the street,” she said.

Housing prices spiking in Europe

Housing Europe works to tackle the housing issue all across the continent and the organisation says they have seen the situation worsen as housing prices are the highest in over a decade.

According to Eurostat, house prices in Europe have spiked by 9.8% in the euro area and by 10.5% in the European Union in the first quarter of this year compared to the same period in 2021.

The cost of raw materials across the continent has spiked as well.

“What makes it so bad is that the link between the increase in incomes and the increase in house prices is so large,” Sorcha Edwards, the Secretary-General of Housing Europe said.

“So we are seeing this divergence leaving middle- and low-income groups with a lack of choice in cities and pushing them out to the outskirts, to the lower-priced areas."

Edwards says there needs to be more of an alignment between people’s incomes and rent prices.

Amid the problems, some cities, like Vienna have found a solution. Three in five people live in social housing.

“There's no perfect housing system,” Edwards said. “But where we see more of an alignment between incomes and the average house price, average price of either rents or mortgages, you have to look at cities like Vienna who are consistently managing to deliver limited growth housing over the long term.”

Many say that's why the Austrian capital scores high in quality-of-life indexes - with low crime rates and high levels of social security - it’s ranked the highest in the world.

But back in Brussels, over 50,000 families are on a waiting list for social housing, which is about 10 per cent of the population of families in the city.

Dupont says her organisation works to put pressure on various public authorities to make a change, but it doesn’t always work.