35 thousand families without homes, the Municipality of Tirana shelters its employees and administration

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  • Social housing, from a scheme to support families in need, to taking advantage of houses with soft loans, has turned into the golden opportunity of those who work in the administration. The data collected by Investigative Network Albania suggest that senior officials and employees of the municipalities themselves, who also manage housing funds, are the biggest beneficiaries of this scheme. According to official data, 35 thousand families have serious housing problems.

    Authors: Albinë Hoxhaj , Enriko Gabaj and Sidorela Xhomaqi

    The process of soft loans, part of the social program to support families in difficulty, to secure a home, has often been accompanied by abuses and unfair favoritism, including in beneficiary lists leaders and high state officials.

    From an investigation on the list of winners of 2021 in the Municipality of Tirana, it results that a significant part of the beneficiaries of the soft loans are employees of the municipality’s own administration, as well as the central one.

    A total of 155 beneficiaries are part of the administration of the Municipality of Tirana itself. More specifically, 88 employees in the central institution of the municipality, 27 in the General Directorate of Nurseries and Gardens, 4 in the Parks and Recreation Agency and 20 in Water-Sewage, Tirana, 9 beneficiaries are employed in the General Directorate of Cleaning, Greening; 7, Tirana Parking.

    Among them, experts, heads of units and sector managers have benefited from soft loans with 3% interest, an interest rate used to help families who do not have the ability to benefit from commercial loans.

    In the Municipality of Tirana , 2,405 families were treated with low-interest loans during 2021, while only 176 applicants were excluded from this scheme.

    In a research of the beneficiaries data in the salary database, leaked to the general public in 2021, it results that out of 2,405 beneficiaries, 890 are public administration employees.

    Tirana, the administration benefits

    In the list of beneficiaries of the Municipality of Tirana there are people employed in the Prosecutor’s Office of Tirana, the Court of Tirana, the “Mother Teresa” University Hospital, but also from diplomatic missions, who, although only with their declared salary, exceed the maximum level, determined for the benefit of the low-cost loan, which is ALL 131,729, calculated to benefit the 3+1 apartment, again there are people who need a shelter. This figure does not include the income from other members of the beneficiaries’ family, who, if they were employed, even with a minimum wage, their joint income would increase even more, excluding them from treatment in one of the social housing programs.

    According to the Decision of the Municipal Council, the benefit of the loan is divided into four levels and for each the minimum and maximum level of family income is determined. Thus, for a family with two people (couple), the maximum loan limit that the family can benefit is 4,456,850 ALL, the minimum mandatory level of income is 31,317 ALL, while the maximum is 81,852 ALL. For families with three people, the minimum mandatory income level is ALL 37,581, while the maximum is ALL 12,0412. For families with four people to benefit from the loan, their income must be at a minimum of 43,844 ALL and a maximum of 133,555 ALL. The last category, families with 5 or 6 members, have a minimum income threshold of ALL 53,239 and a maximum of ALL 131,729. The applicants’ documents and salaries must be within these criteria, defined by the Tirana City Council, otherwise the applicants are disqualified. However, these amounts, per the law, must include the income of all family members and not just one person who applies, who is mainly the head of the family.

    Table with maximum and minimum income threshold by structure (in Albanian)

    On the other hand, it is worth noting that the employees in the Municipality of Tirana are beneficiaries of the loan and hold different positions in this institution. What stands out in this category is the employees qualified as “high-level specialists”, a total of 55 beneficiaries with this job position, but the salary is not the same for everyone, the minimum salary is 33,688.00 ALL and the maximum is 96,760.00 ALL. In the list there are also beneficiaries from the Department of Kindergartens and Nurseries, starting with the manager, who has a salary of 58,680.00 ALL, the security and information technology specialist, with a salary of 65,400.00 ALL, sanitary workers and drivers with minimum wages, educators with a salary of 49,560.00 ALL, assistant cooks with minimum salary, lawyers with a salary of 64,840.00 ALL, responsible of sectors with salary of 64,000.00. What is noticeable is that, although the job titles are the same, the salaries are different.

    While in the state administration, beneficiaries of low-cost loans are people in management positions, who have incomes that exceed the maximum income limit to benefit from a loan for even a 3+1 apartment, which is suitable for families who have in their composition 5 or 6 members. This category benefits from a loan of ALL 7,756,645 and the minimum income threshold is ALL 53,239 and the maximum, limit being 131,729 ALL. Persons/families on the list, with only one declared salary, exceed the maximum income limit, regardless of whether other family members are employed and as couples have a higher family income.

    Part of the list are also persons employed in various ministries or in the justice system. One beneficiary is the sector manager in the Ministry of Finance with a salary of ALL 111,800.00, another an advisor to the Minister in the Ministry of Education and Sports, with a salary of ALL 114,280.00, and another, the advisor to the Minister in the Ministry of Justice, with a salary of ALL 114,840.00.

    Also, part of the list is a director in the General Directorate of Police, with a salary of 131,000.00 ALL, a director of a department in the state administration at the High Institute of Asset Declaration, with a salary of 125,680.00 ALL, a sector manager in the Directorate of The Special Operational Force with a salary of 132,300.00 ALL, a judge in the Court of Tirana, with a salary of 233,838.00 ALL, a police officer in the Border and Immigration Department with a salary of 120,500.00 ALL, and a civil inspector in the High State Control, with a salary of 114,645.00 ALL.

    In the state administration, there is a “high-level specialist” in each institution, however, the salary level is different in different institutions, but also within the institution where several specialists are employed.

    Asked by INA Media what is the comment of the Municipality of Tirana after the analysis and determination of the beneficiary persons, who receive high salaries above the rates defined in the law, the Directorate of Social Housing said: “The implementation of social programs for housing is based on law no. 22/2018, “On social housing”, and the by-laws for its implementation, which aim to determine the set of rules and administrative procedures for the ways of planning, providing, administering and distributing social programs for housing, with the aim of creating opportunities for suitable and affordable housing, relying on the paying abilities of families that need housing and on the help of responsible state institutions. In point 45 of article 2, law no. 22/2018 it is determined that “average income” is the average level of family consumption, according to the lowest territorial level of data disaggregation by INSTAT and which is published periodically. Failure to meet this condition is a disqualifying criterion. Please note that the assessment of the level of income is done according to the documentation submitted at the time of application and the beneficiaries of this program are within the income limit, announced by public call”.

    So, if the submitted documents are within the criteria, there is no other link/institution that can perform any kind of verifications, to discern the possibility of any kind of abuse. Although the municipality accepts that all applicants must fulfill the criteria defined in the decision of the Municipal Council, there are people on the list with income above the maximum defined to benefit from a 3+1 apartment.

    In the above list is the job position and income for only one member of the family, who has benefited from the loan (in Albanian)

    The table, which determines the income and the housing space that can be benefited, provides for the minimum and maximum income of the applying individuals, but this does not seem to have prevented the “poor” with high incomes from applying and benefiting from the programs of social housing. In the application to benefit from the low-cost loan housing program, the income of all family members is calculated. The analysis shows that the income of a person has exceeded the maximum allowed to benefit 3+1, which is defined for families with 5 or 6 members, but, if the other family members are also employed, the income increases, making it so that this is not considered a family in need and consequently treated by housing programs.

    The data, how many employees in the state administration benefited from soft loans (In Albanian)

    Lawyer Dhimitër Zguro explains that referring to Article 33 of Law no. 22/2018 “On social housing”, the rent subsidy is an instrument of the social rental housing program, which helps individuals/families whose income cannot afford the payment of social rent or real rent.

    “From the combined reading of the content of Article 13, point 3, Article 16 and Article 20, it results that as a rule, in case the maximum income limit is exceeded, the subject cannot benefit from these programs. Exceptionally, according to Article 20, point 2, those families that have 100% to 120% of income can also benefit, provided that the total number of these families does not exceed 20% of the families that are selected to be treated through these programs “, – analyzes the lawyer. It is worth noting that, in the event that the categories for which the applicants were declared beneficiaries of the loan were to be taken into consideration, seeing what areas of housing they applied for and how many people are employed in the family, the abuse could deepen. Currently, only those who have exceeded the maximum income to benefit from the 3+1 apartment, suitable for 5 or 6 members, have been identified.

    Zguro added that “also CMD no. 362, dt. 29.5.2019 “On the criteria for granting the rent subsidy for the categories that enjoy priority in the rent subsidy in the free market through the state budget and the way of its calculation” takes the same position, when in the third point it is stated that, that for a family/individual to benefit from the rent subsidy, it must cumulatively meet two criteria: first, the subject must be one of the subjects defined in the law and, second, it must not have an income higher than that of defined in the law”.

    The lawyer’s conclusion is that there is a violation in two cases: when the subject has an income higher than the defined limit and when the subject, although he has an income between 100-120% of the limit, the number of beneficiary families with the same income level is more than 20% of the total list of beneficiaries.

    The absurdity is that in this list you also find people who have benefited as homeless, even though they have declared staggering salaries of several million lek per month.

    Investigative Network Albania referred to the 2021 salary list, leaked to the media, to verify the job and pay of each applicant, whether they meet the criteria or not. Researched data shows how the homeless have applied and even millionaires have benefited.

    At the top of the list is an electronic engineer for informatic systems, with an income of 655,604 ALL per month. Verifications at the National Business Center show that he owns 100% of a company, but this has not prevented him from applying as a homeless person and benefiting from soft loans with minimal interest.

    Another beneficiary, who declared a salary of 254 thousand ALL per month as a management accountant in a private company, is on the list of those who have benefited from soft loans, to buy the house.

    Meanwhile, another person, although he receives a salary of 250.5 thousand ALL per month as the financial director of the administration in a private company, is in the scheme of the Municipality of Tirana to receive social loans. The list continues with another person, with a salary of 245.2 thousand ALL per month, who works as an IT systems analyst, who received a soft loan to buy the house. Another person on the list, although with a declared a salary of 180,000 ALL per month, was still put on the homeless list and received a house with a soft loan, as well as another, who declared a salary of over 160,000 ALL per month, it turns out to be a beneficiary of the scheme.

    “The legislation in the field of housing, in our judgment, does not have spaces that leave room for abuses, but it needs improvement, in order to achieve its goal, as well as to address the needs for suitable and affordable housing of the citizens” , – says the Municipality of Tirana, when asked if it considers it necessary to intervene in the law.

    Table with relevant data on the beneficiaries of soft loans from state administration (In Albanian)

    Also, the list of beneficiaries includes 156 people who live in districts other than Tirana, when the Social Housing Law clearly defines that, in order to benefit, you must be a resident of the local unit where you apply for support. The Municipality of Tirana itself says that the established criteria have been met and there is no violation of the law.

    “This program aims to include and support all individuals and families who reside in the territory of the Municipality of Tirana, for this reason every internship is accompanied by a certificate of residence of the applicant. This means that at the time of application the family/individual is registered in the city of Tirana”, – the Directorate of Social Housing in the Municipality of Tirana disclaims responsibility.

    Vis a vis are the two extremes, the millionaires, who are beneficiaries of the loans, and on the other hand, the homeless, who fail to benefit from any housing program.

    Unfair procedures

    65-year-old Bukuroshe Pajo lives in a container with her son in conditions of extreme poverty, in the city of Vlora. She receives a pension of 10,000 ALL, while the boy collects cans and together they manage to secure an income of 20,000 ALL.

    For five years, the only solution for mother and son is living in a container, since they have not been able to benefit from social housing.

    Although she applied several times, she was disqualified, since the son, although has worked for years, does not have the years of work insured.

    “For me it is very difficult. My son is an orphan, I want him to at least have a house of his own, to work. He worked for 5 years, he did not throw them in the insurance”, – says Bukuroshe Pajo.

    The municipality of Vlora has drawn up a 5-year local housing plan and for the last 3 years, 2019, 2020, 2021, around 389 families and individuals have benefited from the implementation of the social housing program. In 2021, 177 people have applied for soft loans from the budget of the Municipality of Vlora, who are carrying out the loan procedures at the bank.

    The same can be seen in the Municipality of Korça, where during the last 3 years, about 340 families have benefited from housing programs. For the soft loan for the last three years, there have been about 200 applications and 179 families have benefited. About 120 families have benefited from applications for social housing in the last three years. Although in the official response the Municipality of Korça shows the budget determined for social housing of the last three years, in the medium-term budget, 2020-2022, no funds have been foreseen.

    Maksim Rushiti has lived in the former Geology neighborhood for 20 years and he claims that he has never had the support of the local government, although he has applied several times for social housing near the municipality.

    “Journalists, foreigners have been coming here for over 20 years and they have done nothing. Especially the municipality, nothing has been done. I retire in 5 years. What do I want from the state? At least feel sorry for the nieces and nephews, who are living in this neighborhood, where even the dog can’t live”, he says. 21 families live in this area in difficult conditions.

    Income level is the criterion that most disqualifies families in need.

    Conceived as a scheme to support the vulnerable, the latter must, however, set aside 20% of the amount of the apartment they will buy through the scheme, as well as have an income minimum to guarantee repayment of the soft loan.

    “For this category, the level of income is very low, because we know that the vast majority of them are unemployed, are on economic assistance or work in undeclared jobs, so their salary cannot be declared and this penalizes them, from being involved in the various policies that are for housing, such as the soft loan or the low-cost loan”, – admits Eva Tare from the Regional Office of the Commissioner for the Protection from Discrimination in Korça, at the same time an activist of civil society for 20 years.

    The former municipal councilor, Akil Kraja, says that the focus should be on the implementation of the housing law and for this some elements should be taken into account.

    “The first and very important is the continuous informing of citizens about these opportunities, how they can apply, where, who benefits, when the procedure closes, etc.,” says Kraja.

    According to him, the way Tirana is developing, is not moving in the same line with the housing programs that the Municipality of Tirana itself has drawn up, making access to housing more and more expensive.

    “The increase in taxes from the Municipality of Tirana and the concentration of the construction of towers in the center (not on the boulevard, as planned in the English project), has increased the costs of housing and rents. It is imperative that the municipality have a vision. The housing program is good, but the increase in taxes nullifies it, which means that access to housing has higher and higher costs”, – argues the former councilor, Akil Kraja.

    The law is good, but the implementation is weak

    In 2018, the new Law on “Social Housing” entered into force, which provided for the procedures to be included in the housing schemes.

    However, it took 3 years until its implementation, until in 2021 the by-laws were approved. However, activist Fatjon Kaca is still unhappy. According to him, the law is good, but it has not been implemented on the ground.

    We have referred cases of dozens of families that require emergency intervention, a large part of them belong to the Roma and Egyptian minority in some areas of Tirana, managing to secure the agreement for financing from the Ministry of Finance and Economy, but the Municipality of Tirana did not have the will to implement them”, says Kaca.

    According to him, no matter how simple and practical the rent subsidy seems, it does not fulfill the needs of families who are in emergency for housing.

    “Not only does it fail to cover all the necessary housing requirements, but a large part of homeless families or those in need of adequate housing, remain unincorporated as a result of indirect discrimination and bureaucracy”. he said.

    Activists believe that there is a discrepancy, even when it comes to the value that is subsidized as rent and the actual market prices.

    “There is a deep, real gap between the real rental value and the real income of these individuals. According to the KLSH report, if we stick to the real rent values in the market, “to be affordable, for an apartment, even a suburban one, in Tirana, the citizen must have an income of about 1,166 euros per month, so that the price of the apartment does not exceed three times the gross income”. If we refer to the statistics of the average salary level, this amount is twice the average, monthly, gross salary for the year 2020, which is 54,000 ALL. The contradiction is obvious”, – analyzes Adriana Rrokaj, activist.

    Out of 6 programs, only 2 active

    Currently, the Law “On Social Housing” foresees 6 types of social programs, from which families and individuals who meet the criteria can benefit. These programs are:

    a. Social housing program for rent

    b. The program for improving the conditions of existing housing, up to a new construction

    c. Low cost housing program

    d. The program for the development of the area for the purpose of housing

    e. Program for the creation of temporary housing

    f. Specialized housing program.

    Currently, only two programs are active: the rent bonus and the soft loan.
    Despite the fact that this scheme has been applied for years, the housing problem remains a hot spot , which has not been able to mitigate the phenomenon. According to the Ministry of Finance, which refers to the “Social Housing Strategy, 2016-2025”, the number of requests for all social housing programs is about 35 thousand families.

    From 2016 to the end of 2021, 13 thousand homeless families were treated, not including the families that were damaged by the earthquake of November 26, 2019. The municipalities with the largest number of applicants are Tirana, Elbasan, Korça, Durres, Fieri, Vlora, Shkodra, Kuçova, Lezha and Saranda.

    The table was drawn up according to the data provided by the municipalities themselves

    Filling out documents, the weak point

    The rent bonus program, a program that aims to support with rent mainly women who have protection orders or victims of domestic violence, but also other social categories, is facing many difficulties with regards to the documentation.

    One of the main problems encountered and documents mostly missing, is the contract with the tenant, a document, which is often the reason for failing to provide the social rent bonus.

    “The lack of one of the documents provided for in CMD 384/2019 makes the practice incomplete. The deficiencies in the documentation, which are encountered more often, are the impossibility of finding a flat for rent, with a lease contract, according to the provisions of the Civil Code in the rent subsidy program,” the Tirana Municipality itself admits.

    For the lawyer Adriatik Lapaj, the law has problems, because the strata that are very poor are discriminated against.

    “In order to benefit from the rent bonus, citizens in need must find a house for rent and a landlord with a legal contract. This is not possible in many cases, as landlords refuse to enter into formal relations, that is, to sign contracts. It is a point that needs intervention”,
    argues the lawyer.

    Even the Ombudsman admits that completing the documentation is a point that needs revision.

    “Citizens, who have addressed their concerns to the institution of the People’s Advocate, say that they applied, but had difficulties in collecting the documentation, lack of proper orientation on the part of the employees of the municipality, as they had difficulties in understanding them, non-fulfillment of criteria, as well as lack of social housing”, the institution of the Ombudsman tells INA MEDIA .

    According to the Ombudsman, during the year 2021, about 60 housing-related cases were handled, of which it turns out that 83% of the cases stem from problems caused by the earthquake.

    In a “Report on the effectiveness of social housing programs in the Municipality of Tirana for women heads of households and victims of domestic violence”, carried out by Prof. Dr. Marinela Soto, all the difficulties of the groups in need to benefit from housing are confirmed.

    “This program has some limitations, the most important limitation is the income level, required by the application criteria, as well as the criteria for loan approval. The level of income, required by this program, prevents a large number of female heads of households from being beneficiaries of this program, because they are below the average income level”, Soto concludes.

    Ky shkrim është pjesë e projektit që mbështetet financiarisht nga Zyra e Mardhënieve me Publikun e Ambasadës së SH.B.A. në Tiranë. Opinionet, gjetjet, konkluzionet dhe rekomandimet e shprehura janë te autor-it/ve dhe nuk përfaqesojnë domosdoshmërisht ato të Departamentit të Shtetit. / This article is part of a project that is financially supported by the Public Relations Office of the US Embassy in Tirana. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of the Department of State.