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Social Housing in Europe


Brussels, 27 March 2010 | Published in Research

What is social housing?

The term “social housing” is largely used by authorities and institutional bodies in Portugal, with a legal concept based on 1983 legislation defining social housing as housing built and bought with the financial support of the State, through fiscal benefits and financing for acquisition of land, construction and promotion of housing. It includes the provision of housing for sale or rent to persons/households below a certain income as well as measures related to specific groups which are targeted by housing and urban renewal programmes. This task can be made by public bodies, cooperatives, Private and social institutions. Social housing represents 3,3 % of the national housing stock.

Who provides social housing?

In Portugal there are promoters and managers of social housing both in the public sector, as in the cooperative sector or voluntary sector. Municipalities  are the main providers of social housing in Portugal. Housing co-operatives, co-financed by the State, provide housing at controlled costs. Finally, in the voluntary / non-profit sector there are organisations whose primary mission is not to provide social housing, but they do so for historical reasons or for reasons related to their main activity. There are no private landlords acting on a for-profit basis involved in social housing provision.

How is social housing financed?

Social Housing is one of the decentralized powers in the Municipal Councils with programmes emanating from the Government (IHRU) through initiatives that support municipal or cooperative entities. The support usually provided by municipalities by IHRU is translated into a financial contribution of the investment in construction that may be of two types, the grants and subsidized loans.

Cooperatives receive similar support from IHRU plus by rule and where there are protocols of cooperation in support of the municipalities, which is most often done through the transfer of land for construction for a certain period. An insufficient level of public support combined with low rents which often don’t cover construction costs make the current financing system for social housing in Portugal rather unsustainable.

Who can access social housing?

There are various programmes in Portugal which contain different kinds of criteria for eligibility and priority to access to social housing: PER Rehousing Programme that gives priority to people living in shanty towns in the major metropolitan urban areas, PROHABITA - the priority is given to people whose income is lower than three annual minimum salaries, that do not own any dwelling in national territory and that are not beneficiary of any kind of public financial support for housing purposes.

“Porta Jovem” – support to young people to access rented housing. One of the criteria for granting this allowance is that the gross monthly income of the household “should be adequate to the interval between 1 and 4 times the maximum rent admitted in the area”.

Urban Rehabilitation Programmes that concern the rehabilitation of rented dwellings affected by the long period of rental freezing and therefore suffered severe degradation.

NRAU – the New Urban Renting Regime establishes a housing rent allowance benefiting low-income households with rental contracts prior to 1990, in order to counteract the updating of frozen housing rents.