33 (128) 2018
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Real Estate & Construction

First Polish social rental agency set up in Warsaw

By Sebastian Musioł, project manager, Social Rental Agency, Habitat for Humanity Poland
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The high cost of renting flats in Warsaw have led to a new housing service which has appeared on the rental market, the aim of which is open access to affordable rental apartments.

This service is offered by the Social Rental Agency – an institution created by Habitat for Humanity Poland Foundation. As a charity organisation, Habitat Poland does not charge a margin for its services, which significantly reduces rental costs.

What is a Social Rental Agency?

The Warsaw Social Rental Agency (in Polish, Społeczna Agencja Najmu, or SAN) draws on solutions tested in Western European countries, where such agencies mediate between apartment owners and people living in poverty. Thriving SRAs work in London, Brussels and other cities, each with tens of thousands of apartments for rent in their portfolio. The Warsaw SAN currently manages several dozen flats, where the cost of renting starts at 13 złotys/m² per month.

The owners of apartments decide to entrust their apartments to the Social Rental Agency due to the guarantee package offered by the agency, including long-term and safe tenancy, a guarantee of regular payment of rent and bills and taking care of the flat during the tenancy. In apartments that are not currently rented due to the low standard of housing, the agency can also perform a professional renovation or refresh them at a price lower than market prices. In exchange for these numerous amenities, apartment owners are willing to significantly reduce their rental costs.

Who are the agency's clients?

Renting an independent flat in Warsaw is not something that is available to a broad social group. In the group of people excluded from housing, there are people performing relatively low-paid jobs, foreigners, single parents, young people entering the labour market, clients of social assistance centres and people with disabilities.

One of the agency's clients is Andrzej. He came to Warsaw in 2011 to study international relations. During his studies he lived in a dormitory; his housing problems began after graduation. Because he is disabled and has a serious visual impairment, he found it difficult to find a job that would be consistent with his education and skills – before moving to the capital, he worked as a translator, but in Warsaw he failed to find a job in this profession. Currently Andrzej has a regular job in cleaning. His income is stable, but modest. He rents a place in a room where three other people live. Andrzej describes his difficulties with finding a worthy place to live in Warsaw:

“After finishing my studies, I had to find a room to live in. It was difficult because the prices were high, the conditions were difficult. I had to constantly live with other people, strangers to me. I rented several rooms from 2014 and each time I shared them with one, two or even three people. I do not complain, because the most important thing is to have a roof over my head, but I would like to have such conditions where I could be able to close the door to my room and stay in it myself. I would like to lie down on the bed without feeling cramped and read, write, eat and sleep freely.I am currently renting a bed in a room where there are three more people besides me. It is a two-room flat, so there are another four people in the next room. It's not bad, but sometimes it's hard to rest on your bed.”

Although the programme participants are working people, their housing situation is difficult. Everyone has a relatively low income. Most often, they cannot afford to rent apartments at the market price. Often the financial situation forces them to share a room with strangers. Some of them currently live in conditions that endanger their health. Renting in a commercial market is not a solution for them.

The SAN financial model

The Social Rental Agency is not a profit-oriented entity. It has a mission aimed at helping the poorest people and improving their housing conditions. The services offered by the agency are carried out professionally, therefore the agency's activity generates certain costs.

In the first period of its activity, the costs of paying the agency's personnel are financed thanks to funding from the European Commission under the Programme for Employment and Social Innovation (EaSI). The support provided by corporate donors supporting Habitat Poland is also significant. Thanks to their support, the agency can reduce the rental costs of flats, equip the apartments with furniture obtained through collections, cover the costs of renovations. Among the donors supporting the agency's activity there are international corporations and individuals who identify themselves with the mission of Habitat for Humanity Poland and they want to actively help disabled people.

In Western European countries, SRAs are financially independent and can function effectively in a niche of housing services for people at risk of marginalization. This is possible mainly due to legislation favourable for the SRA. For example, the London SRA is operated by CRISIS is self-financing thanks to transfers of housing allowances paid by the London local authority to people who have lost their homes. The benefits of such a solution apply to owners of private flats (long-term and safe tenancy) as well as local authorities aimed at solving social problems of Londoners, including the problem of homelessness. These effective solutions cannot be directly applied in Poland, because the amount of the housing allowance here is too small and constitutes a small percentage of the flat's rental costs. Therefore, the Warsaw SAN is looking for its own path to build financial independence. Support for corporate donors plays a leading role in this process.

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