Implementation of Housing Services in the Context of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

In January and March 2022, the Public Defender’s Office monitored 11 social housing facilities operating in 7 municipalities[1] of Georgia. At the same time, within the scope of the desk research, the Office analyzed both international instruments related to the right to adequate housing and national legislation regulating social housing and rental assistance. It also processed the information requested from the central and municipal authorities of Georgia.

Despite the existing requirements relating to the realization of the right to adequate housing, no housing strategy or action plan has been developed in Georgia. There is no concept of a homeless person corresponding to international standards, mechanisms for the prevention of homelessness, information about the extent or forms of homelessness.

The Public Defender considers that the problems related to homelessness at the national level remain unchanged from year to year and require systemic solution from the State. Against the backdrop of ineffective central policies, the social housing and rental assistance services provided by some of the municipalities are the only support mechanisms for homeless people. However, even in the municipalities where these services are available, the criteria for considering a person homeless do not meet the international standards of the right to adequate housing. In addition, the funds mobilized in the budgets cannot fully cover the groups of homeless persons.

Hundreds of people apply to the municipalities for housing, however, no responsive measures are taken. For example, since 2015, Marneuli municipality has registered 222 families as homeless. Nevertheless, the social housing is still not functioning. According to the 2022 data, 81 families are registered as homeless in Sighnaghi municipality, although no housing service has been created there either.[2]

As for the situation in the facilities inspected, in some places, living conditions are degrading, and sometimes they even pose a threat to the lives and/or health of the residents.

In particular, the monitoring made it clear that:

  • Municipalities use non-residential buildings as social housing, which cannot be converted into ordinary housing.[3] In some cases, the buildings are dilapidated, and the environment is unfavorable for the physical and/or somatic health of the residents. In this regard, the situation is particularly grave in the social housing in Gori, Kutaisi, Ozurgeti and Batumi.[4] We noticed dampness, mold and fungus in some of them, which, in addition to causing unsanitary conditions and harming the health of the residents, also create a favorable environment for insects and reptiles.
  • The situation in some of the facilities has a particularly negative impact on the mental health of the residents, especially in the facilities where apartments are separated with gypsum-board material and there is no sound insulation. Constant noise is a particular problem in the Orkhevi social housing, which houses 262 people. Due to the corridor-type arrangement and thin walls, residents have to live in constant noise during the day and night.
  • Overcrowding is a serious problem. In some cases, family members are unable to live together (for example, in Rustavi and Zugdidi) or are forced to live in unbearable conditions. A special problem is the so-called studio-type housing, where families, regardless of their needs and composition, have to live in one room.
  • Sometimes the location of social housing does not allow access to essential facilities. In particular, the Ozurgeti social housing is located on the outskirts of the city, in an undeveloped urban The building is not accessed by asphalted road; geographical accessibility of the pharmacy and hospital is also a problem. Residents of Orkhevi and Rustavi social housing facilities are also facing similar problems.
  • None of the facilities inspected is fully accessible to wheelchairs users and/or people with limited mobility, or visually impaired persons. It should be noted that the main entrance to all buildings is equipped with a ramp, however, in most cases, only the first floor of the building is accessible to wheelchair users.
  • Involvement of social workers is problematic. Only the social housing of Tbilisi has a social worker and[5]

Varied criteria and priorities for inclusion in the social housing service at the level of municipalities was identified as a systemic challenge. The analysis of certain criteria made it clear that their purpose is not to identify people in need of housing, but to set artificial barriers for the applicants. Due to such obstacles, hundreds of people and households are unable to register as homeless. It is also a problem that, according to the current regulations, municipalities do not have the obligation to provide housing to the people registered as homeless within a specific period of time. In the absence of a uniform standard at the national level, municipalities themselves determine space (sq.m) per person or do not set such a standard at all, which creates serious problems in practice.

The study of the issue also revealed that the interests of persons with disabilities are not taken into account in the service planning process. Municipalities prioritize persons with disabilities not based on their needs, but based on their status (which, in turn, is based on a flawed medical model). According to the municipal regulations, people staying in institutions are also not a priority group for providing housing. The lack of access to infrastructure and information for persons with disabilities was also identified as an obstacle.

Regarding the apartment rental assistance service, it is worth noting that the local government determines the circle of beneficiaries itself, as a result of which a number of groups in need of housing remain beyond the service. Individual needs of applicants with disabilities are neglected by the majority of municipalities. The amount of monthly compensation allocated is also meager. It is also problematic that inclusion in the service depends only on the applications of citizens and there is no proactive identification of persons with disabilities in need of housing.

The challenges identified show that it is important for the Government to develop a housing strategy and action plan, which will set the revision of housing services, bringing them into line with international standards and introducing long-term services as one of the priorities. It is also necessary to develop detailed standards of social housing and apartment rental services, which will set requirements for the service quality, implementation and effective monitoring by the state. Before establishing uniform standards of housing, it is important to review municipal regulations with the involvement of municipalities in order to assess their compliance with international human rights standards. On the other hand, the process of creation and development of services by municipalities should be based on the results of the study of housing needs of the local population.

It should be noted that on October 11-13, the Public Defender’s Office held meetings with representatives of local self-governments to discuss challenges relating to the right to adequate housing and solutions to the problems, as well as to introduce the special report prepared on this issue.[6]

The social housing monitoring was supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Joint SDG Fund.

[1] Municipalities of Tbilisi, Rustavi, Kutaisi, Gori, Batumi, Ozurgeti and Zugdidi.

[2] There are similar problems in the municipalities of Poti (52 homeless families), Samtredia (47 families) and Borjomi (26 homeless households).

[3] For example, in Kutaisi, the social housing in the Nikea settlement is a former communications facility, Ozurgeti social housing is located in the former maternity home, Gori social housing is a former substance abuse clinic, Rustavi housing is a former vocational school, and Orkhevi housing is a former warehouse.

[4] The back wall of the Gori social housing is collapsing, the walls are broken, and the residents have to live in fear of the building collapse every day. Social housing in Kutaisi, in the settlement of Nikea, also has similar problems. There is an alarming situation in one of the buildings of Batumi social housing, where, probably, the subsidence of the ground caused the walls of the building to separate from the foundation. There are cracks on the walls of the building from which water leaks in the basement during rainfall.

[5] Nevertheless, only one social worker is assigned to each social housing (Orkhevi social housing - 1 social worker per 262 residents; Varketili social housing- 1 social worker per 159 residents; we could not find the administration in the Didi Dighomi social housing), which makes it impossible to effectively implement social work especially with vulnerable people.

[6] It was implemented with the support of the European Union and the United Nations Development Programme.

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