The city of Dupnitsa (BG) recently constructed 15 buildings providing 150 modern social houses to at least 460 vulnerable, socially and economically disadvantaged citizens in a district where 90% of the population are Roma. To further improve their living conditions, the city established a new community centre for counselling, retraining, vocational guidance, housing, professional advice on situations leading to poverty and social exclusion. The aim is for the beneficiaries to find permanent jobs after the project so that they are able to maintain the dwellings in which they are housed, pay rent and provide a better quality of life to their families.
The solutions offered by the good practice are:
• Construction of modern social houses - 160 homes with an average size of 66 square metres in single-family and multifamily residential buildings with up to three floors, located in a new regulated urban area adjacent to other residential areas and access to infrastructure and public services.
• Estimates for municipal social housing use the following output parameters: average living area per person of 25 square metres; area provided housing of 12,000 square metres; the average number of persons per household, 2.7;
• Intervention to avoid segregation, as representatives of the target groups coexist with other residents of the municipality, enjoy the same social, health and public services and jointly address common problems of the territory in which they live through participation in maintenance activities of areas for public use, joint neighbourhood councils and participation in joint initiatives. This partnership provides civilian control of the sustainability of the project and the protection of newly built social housing;
• Neighbourhood with construction planned for an outside corporate housing project allows for rapid adaptation and motivation of the target group among the community of Dupnitsa. The realization of the social measures contributed to increasing the quality of life of the vulnerable groups and their families and made the integration process easier.
In today’s Europe we are experiencing a transformation in the perceptions of the role cities can play in developing sustainable communities of common interest and shared values. Cities are increasingly seen in a wider societal context, linking place, territory and scale with governance, inclusion and participation. They are perceived as economic, political and social assets in Europe’s changing societies.
Integration refers to a variety of processes by which individuals and groups of people are incorporated into various social arenas and segments of society. The essence of integration is the acceptance and tolerance of and respect for other people possessing different values and beliefs and behaving differently, while being committed to and working towards a common future, in which all will have a fair share.
This is why policy at the regional, national and European levels needs to have an urban dimension: to exchange experiences and best practices, to help overcome urban (social and cultural) ruptures, and finally to bring forward new investment in social capital. The integration of the social groups in the urban mix and providing of complex social services are the keys for sustainable and integrated urban development.
Cities have also been engines of economic and social development, creating growth, innovation and employment. Economic and social sustainability is a key concept in urban policies. Economic growth means lack of poverty, social exclusion and urban problems.
Emphasis in the selection of the target group of the project was put on a neighbourhood shown by data to have the greatest housing problem and a lack of normal household conditions. The district has a total area of 85,000 square metres. There are 372 homes with 1,655 inhabitants, of whom 735 are men and 920 are women. Children under 18 years make up 532 of the residents, while those 18 to 64 years make up 1,040. There are 83 persons over age 65. These data are for the entire neighbourhood, as 90% of the residents are Roma, according to self-determination of their ethnicity.
Over 50% of the population in the neighbourhood live in very poor conditions. All the participants involved in the project were the subjects of research for identifying their living conditions, social inclusion, etc.
Two organisations were partners in the projects: Foundation Habitat for Humanity Bulgaria, a division of Habitat for Humanity, and Amala Friends. Both organisations have extensive experience in the implementation of similar projects, including in the Dupnitsa area.
Fifteen multifamily buildings were built, housing 150 families from the target group and 460 direct users of the project. As part of the implementation of the project, the direct beneficiaries underwent training to enable them to seek and find a permanent job. As a result of determining the roles of representatives, conditions were created to provide practical knowledge and experience as well as employment.
This ensured the newly established service a community centre for counselling, retraining, vocational guidance and housing to improve the living conditions of the population. With this service, the representatives of marginalized groups are able to receive not only social and psychological counselling, but are able to use the services of mediators and lawyers in cases of job loss or other risks leading to poverty and social exclusion.
The project aims to give marginalized groups the opportunity to retrain, have internships and remain in permanent jobs so that they are able to maintain the dwellings in which they are housed, to pay rent and provide a better quality of life for their families. The creation of a social enterprise that caters newly homes, commit at least 10 percent of the families of the target group.
The good practice would be interesting for other European cities because the whole implementation is connected not only with the construction of housing, but also with the implementation of ‘’soft measures’’ which lead to improving the quality of life through training and courses for raising people’s professional qualifications.
The activities are combined with actions to ensure access to education, employment, health and social services for disadvantaged and vulnerable groups. Implementing each phase aims to achieve an integrated approach - activities in support of intervention in the sector for housing combined with other interventions, including those in education, health, social inclusion and employment.
Dupnitsa Municipality has stressed the integrated approach. It targets social and economic cohesion in parallel, removing barriers to employability and investment at the same time as promoting social and environmental goals. The concept of sustainable communities and inclusive cities holds that cities will succeed best when they integrate economic, social, environmental and physical dimensions, alongside public services, leadership and quality of place. Local strategic partnerships need to ensure that citizens are fully involved in local democratic processes and may fully participate in an intercultural dialogue.