You are on page 1of 65





Access to Housing:

Working Together to Prevent Homelessness among Disadvantaged and Vulnerable Groups

Dr Aristides Sapounakis Research Institute "Kivotos", Vas.Sofias & Ang.Pyrri 9, Athens 11527, Greece

tel: + 30 1 77 03 357, 77 59 531,

fax: + 30 77 10 816;






Homelessness and the Greek Society


Demographic trends


The changing role of the family


The immigrant population


Unemployment in Greece: changes and groups affected


Research data and housing statistics




Analysis of existing housing stock

2.1.1. Recent developments in housing production

2.1.2. House ownership

2.1.3. The quality of the housing stock


Mainstream social housing provision


Provision of housing by the Workers’ Housing Organization (OEK)


Social housing provided by the Ministry of Health and Welfare


The function of DEPOS


The provision of housing loans as a means of access to housing


Housing Costs


3.1. Access to housing for the poor

3.1.1. Self-housing as the main mode of housing for the poor in the post-war era

3.1.2. Family solidarity as a means of access to housing

3.1.3. Tenancy and security of tenure


The efficiency of housing policies

3.2.1. Social housing and the shortage in public funding

3.2.2. Discrepancies in the distribution of the housing stock

3.2.3. Disadvantaged social groups




The right to housing and the social rights of the homeless


Recent legislative changes concerning mental health and social welfare


Welfare benefit provision in Greece


Tax relief and exemptions related to housing


Policies against unemployment


The effectiveness of existing policies and practices in preventing homelessness among vulnerable groups




Tackling homelessness: services for homeless people


Housing provision for particular vulnerable groups

5.2.1. De-institutionalization programmes for psychiatric patients

5.2.2. Service provision for the Romani population (gypsies)

5.2.3. Housing provision for Greek repatriates from Pontos

5.2.4. Housing provision for refugees

5.2.5. Non-governmental initiatives in service provision for disadvantaged groups: examples of good practice


The inadequacy of existing policies promoting social inclusion and participation of excluded people in the implementation of action








1.1. Homelessness and the Greek society

Compared to other European member states, homelessness in Greece has been conceived as a social problem with a considerable delay. The phenomenon of homeless people wandering around or sleeping in the streets in big cities is fairly new; in fact it was virtually non-existent until the mid to late 80’s. The general public is still not familiar with it and tends to believe that homelessness does not exist in Greece or at any rate that it does not constitute a serious cause for concern. Until recently, similar views were shared and expressed even by government officials who are responsible for housing and social welfare. Homelessness, however, has clearly escalated in the last few years due, to a great extent, to the influx of large numbers of immigrants mainly from neighbouring Albania, the countries of South-eastern Europe and the Middle East, and may no longer be ignored. The issue has, therefore, only recently been acknowledged and attracted attention and publicity, while action to address it through policies and service provision remains as yet insufficient and fragmentary.

Despite the recent sensitisation of government officials and the general public, very few organisations and services of the statutory or the voluntary sector target the homeless as a special group. Although the Greek Constitution states that the provision of accommodation to people who are homeless or housed in unsuitable conditions constitutes a special task for the State and recent legislation places emphasis on ‘social protection’ and assistance of individuals or groups considered as ‘vulnerable’, there is no statutory obligation of local or central government to provide suitable accommodation and support to such people in need.

Traditionally, accommodation problems in Greece have been dealt with within families. Social housing provision is minimal and does not even target homeless people. It is directed primarily towards low-income people with a more or less consistent work record, and consists mainly in housing loans on favourable terms. Urgent accommodation for people in need is usually provided by institutions such as asylums, children’s homes, old people’s homes etc. which do not target directly the homeless but rather individuals from other vulnerable groups whose common feature is that they lack a supportive family environment.

The growing awareness and concern about homelessness in recent years has led to various forms of action to address it. A number of specialised services have been set up by the

government, others are being currently programmed for the near future, while there have been several attempts to address particular areas of the problem on the part of local government and the voluntary sector. The statutory ‘social shelters’ for the homeless in Athens, the housing services and programmes aimed at refugees and Greek repatriates and housing projects set up in the context of de-institutionalisation of psychiatric patients are examples of new types of services that developed since the 1980’s and express a new approach to the problem. People who rely on services for the homeless are primarily those who are for various reasons excluded from the labour market and lack family support. They constitute a relatively small but very disadvantaged and vulnerable group within the Greek society.

The development of an effective network of services capable of addressing the need for supported accommodation would require the integration of all housing and welfare services into a wider and cohesive system, the active encouragement of innovative services by means of regular funding and collaboration with mainstream local and central government agencies as well as a more flexible legal and institutional framework to allow new ideas and initiatives to develop and flourish.

1.2. Demographic trends

The analysis of the data collected by ESYE, the National Statistical Service of Greece, has brought to light a significant dimension of the demographic problem in modern Greece. Birth rate has reached the all-time low of 1.39 births per woman at reproductive age. The age pyramid has been de-shaped due to the increase in the number of people aged over 65, now amounting to 14,2% of the population. Statistics on population trends have shown clearly that Greece is becoming an aging country much faster than expected. The impact of this phenomenon is accentuated by the fact that the population is not evenly distributed in the country (e.g. younger people tend to gather in urban areas with more job opportunities) while in certain regions, like Thrace in the Northeast, people able to work are beginning to emigrate abroad in the same way as two or three decades ago (ESYE, 1999).

The absence of a coherent and efficient family planning system has played a significant role in family growth and welfare; the alarming number of 150-200,000 abortions a year could surely have been lower with proper information and advice. However, it appears that the drop in birth rates is mainly due to the diminishing family budgets of recent years, and the fact that

many people need to work longer hours, often in two jobs, in order to cope with rising living costs.

Another interesting phenomenon that follows the pattern that has developed in the other European Union member states is the steadily increasing number of households in Greece (see Table 1 in the Appendix). Changes in household formation have been accompanied by shrinking household sizes as well as a notable rise in the number of lone parents and single persons households. The increasing number of households exerts increased pressure on the housing market while new types of households develop among low income groups which are therefore prone to be affected by rising housing costs.

On the other hand, the massive influx of imported labour force has reshaped the employment scene and contributed to a rise in unemployment, especially among unskilled, low-pay workers. At the same time it has exerted an additional pressure on the market of cheap housing, especially in urban areas.

Other factors contributing to the increased demand for housing are the increase in the number of mainly young people who leave their villages in order move to the major urban areas, the increased number of people, especially women, who decide to live alone before marriage, and the fact that cohabitation among family members, especially members of the extended family is much less common than in the past due both to economic and social reasons.

These social changes and the resulting increase in housing demand have had a direct effect on housing costs and the availability of small cheap dwellings. As a result, a growing number of people and families face increased difficulties in coping with the economic demands of present-day living and consequently becoming more vulnerable to the risk of homelessness or inadequate housing.

1.3. The changing role of the Greek family

The role of the family in filling the gaps left by the absence of a well-developed Welfare State is crucial in Greek society. With regard to housing there is an established tradition of family solidarity aiming at helping family members in need. The most common form of housing provision is the ‘dowry’ i.e. the allowance granted to most newly married couples by the bride’s family, often in the form of a house or a flat. Although the dowry is no longer legally

sanctioned in the way it was in the past, it remains a strong element of Greek tradition, and most Greek families would provide a house or flat to a newly married couple, whenever financially possible. A measure of the family versus state input in relation to access to housing is given by Table 2 in the Appendix.

Cohabitation of parents and adult children as well as among other family members is also fairly common in Greek families, although not to the same extent as in the past. It is partly directed by economic necessity, as few young people can afford independent housing and there is no state provision for young single people who cannot afford independent living. However, it also reflects the fact that the extended, as opposed to the nuclear family is still a dominant form of family organization in Greek society. In most Greek families, adult children would not be expected to leave the family home before marriage, and would often return to the parental home in the event of a divorce. Elderly relatives would often come to live with the younger generation, especially after the death of one spouse, as sending an elderly parent to an institution is generally regarded as a stigma for the whole family. Another common form of family support is help with paying the rent or general financial assistance offered to young couples or even to members of the extended family who may face insecurity of tenure.

However important the role of family solidarity may be in Greek society, one has also to note the social changes of recent years and the subsequent loosening of family bonds. The growth in divorce rates has resulted in a growing number of people who come from broken or re- constituted families and cannot rely on the support of the solid extended family in the way the majority of people used to in the past.

On the other hand, an increasing number of women are currently joining the labour market and are, therefore, more independent financially, less likely to depend on family support, and more likely to chose to live independently. The move of younger people from rural to urban areas for the purpose of studying or seeking employment has resulted in a growing number of people living away from their family of origin, and therefore less able to rely on family support. Modern life style, especially in urban areas, has resulted in some degree of loosening of family bonds in so far as the extended family is concerned and distant relatives, or even elderly parents are not as easily accepted to live under the same roof as in previous generations.

Despite these changes, it remains an in-built feature of the Greek society that social welfare is, primarily, a responsibility of the family. In the majority of cases, Greek families tend to utilize their own personal, financial and social resources to provide safety from the risk of homelessness, thus filling the gap left by insufficient welfare provision from the state. A direct consequence of that, however, is that those people who lack family support and are excluded from the labour market face extreme marginalization and, once in that position, they have no access to a network of services to help them bridge the gap towards social integration. As a result, they are often forced into extreme poverty and long-term social exclusion. Structural changes in the Greek society and family have resulted in an increased number of people facing that risk.

1.4. The immigrant population

Throughout the twentieth century emigration to various destinations has been a strong trend in Greek society. The main destinations of Greek emigrants have been America during the first two decades of the century, then Australia or Canada and finally Europe, especially Germany, during the 50’s and early 60’s. In recent years this trend has been reversed. Over the last decade or so, Greece has experienced a massive rise of immigration that has had a strong impact on Greek society in general, and especially on the labour and housing market. The number of Greek-origin people from Pontos who repatriated following the collapse of the socialist regime in the ex-USSR has escalated to over 100,000 during the 90’s, generating the necessity for special measures and programs to address their immediate housing and social inclusion needs. Existing housing programs have housed about 10% of the target population. The rest are facing serious housing problems, many of them considered as homeless in some manner.

Two other categories of immigrants need to be mentioned at this point, namely the economic and the political refugees. During the 1990’s there has been a huge increase in the inflow of, mainly illegal, labour force from countries of South-eastern Europe and the Middle East. The majority of these economic refugees come from neighbouring Albania, to seek better work opportunities, often repeatedly re-entering the country despite repeated deportations by simply crossing the borders. Their exact number is difficult to specify. Estimates on the real total of immigrants currently residing in Greece refer to a figure of 800,000 people which is a huge figure indeed considering the total size of the population (Oikonomikos Tahydromos).

A measure of the increased number of immigrants in contrast to the shrinking birth rate in the

country is given by the fact that the Ministry of Education estimates that 1 out of five pupils in Greek primary schools are not Greek. In some cases, as in certain primary schools of central Athens the ratio is much higher as foreign subjects are as many as 139 out of a total


It should be noted that 372,000 illegal immigrants responded to a call from the Ministry of

Labour to register and issue a temporary work permit, thus enjoying the benefits of social security. This call followed Presidential Decrees 358 and 359 of 1998 that set procedures for the legalization of the residential and labour status of foreigners. It must be noted however that this attempt to address some of the problems concerning the illegal labour force in Greece

may be considered as being fragmentary as it does not derive from an all-embracing approach to the issue. In any case, and according to data processed by the National Employment Observatory, it is estimated that more than 150,000 immigrants mainly coming from Albania chose not to register.

Another category of immigrants concerns refugees fleeing from oppressive political regimes, who seek political asylum in Greece. Most asylum seekers come from Africa and countries of the Middle East, especially Iraq and Iran. Although there is an organized support network within their own communities and a number of services for refugees, welfare provision is insufficient and the refugees face extreme poverty and the risk of homelessness. Moreover, only a small percentage of them are finally granted political asylum (see Table 3 in the

appendix), often following a long wait for their claim to be processed, the onus being on them

to prove that they fled from their native countries because of fear of persecution. The rest are

treated like economic refugees and, even if they escape deportation, they are not entitled to any services. They constitute a particularly vulnerable population group as the majority of

them are homeless or live in over-crowded, squalid conditions.

This mosaic of immigrants varies in terms of their objectives and social characteristics. The majority of the Poles aim at being accepted eventually in the United States or Canada, Greece merely being a stepping stone to that end. However short their stay may be, the Polish communities in Athens and elsewhere in the country are well organised in terms of welfare and cultural activities. People from the Philippines and to an extent Asians and Africans are similarly organized in communities.

Repatriates from Pontos are eager to achieve integration into the Greek society despite language and other barriers. This tendency is reflected in their participation in the various rehabilitation programmes as well as in their strong interest in the acquisition of land; usually small plots on which they build precarious shelters. Similar attitudes are shared by Ethnic Greeks from Northern Ipiros (South Albania). On the other hand, many immigrants from Albania or South-eastern European countries are more interested in returning to their home country with the maximum savings and often prefer to remain homeless or pay minimum rent to that effect. In that sense their housing situation is to some extent a deliberate choice on their part, like their decision to abandon their houses in their native countries.

The presence of these social groups - primarily individuals without family support or whole families in great financial need - has re-shaped radically the employment scene in Greece. Another important social implication concerns the formation of a multi-ethnic and multi- cultural society, and the need for measures to address the new conflicts and needs arising from that. An important issue is the presence in many schools of a large percentage of non- Greek children, many of which face difficulties related to insufficient knowledge of the Greek language. The phenomenon has given rise to a need for measures to address their particular educational or cultural needs (e.g. additional Greek language classes in some schools, classes providing additional help with the school work, sensitization of teachers to issues related to a multi-ethnic student population) as well as the conflicts arising from this situation (e.g. reactions from parents, from some teachers, incidents of racial violence etc.). Another implication of the presence of these social groups in Greek society in recent years relates to the additional pressure exerted on the market of cheap housing.

1.5. Unemployment in Greece: changes and groups affected

Employment in Greece has two characteristics that differentiate its structure from that of other European Union member states: the low percentage of wage employment in total employment and the high contribution of agricultural production to total output. With regard to two large segments of the Greek labour force, the self-employed and the family workers, it is almost impossible to determine the extent to which they are affected by unemployment.

Employment trends seem to be altogether discouraging chiefly due to the stagnant economic activity of the 90’s. In most sectors of the economy there has been a decrease in the number of people employed while the number of registered unemployed persons more than doubled in

one decade (314,000 in 1991 compared to 155,279 in 1981 according to the 1991 population survey conducted by ESYE). The rise in immigration rates that currently reach 12%, especially the huge influx of illegal labour force during the last decade, in addition to the economic recession, have exerted a tremendous amount of additional pressure on the job market, as discussed in the previous section.

Unemployment is unequally distributed among various demographic and social groups; unemployment rates are much higher among women than among men. There has also been a notable increase in the number of (registered) unemployed females since the 1980’s. This, however, is partly due to the fact that more women join the job market and therefore more of them register as unemployed, rather than simply not working and being housewives and mothers.

Special attention needs to be drawn upon the issue of the long-term unemployed, a growing population category facing overall social exclusion. In recent years, government policies have become increasingly sensitive to the problem of the long-term unemployed; yet a proper system to monitor its dimensions has not been implemented to present.

Youth unemployment has also risen sharply in recent years. In fact, unemployment rates are particularly high amongst university graduates and highly qualified young people, a phenomenon that has seriously challenged the view - generally held in the past - that higher education was a means of securing a good standard of living. Among the young there is a high rate of hidden unemployment, as many young people who have never worked are not registered as unemployed since they would be entitled to unemployment benefit only if they have been recently employed for a certain period of time. These people are not officially regarded as unemployed. A related problem concerns the high rates of hidden homelessness among the young in Greece as many young people continue to live in the parental home, often in poor or unsuitable conditions, simply because they cannot afford independent housing although they are not officially regarded as homeless. Government policies in recent years reflect a concern about the alarming rates of youth unemployment and a number of measures and special schemes have been introduced to increase employment opportunities among the young (see relevant section in Chapter 4 of the report).

Unemployment is, therefore, a serious and growing problem in Greek society, which affects a growing proportion of the population. It is directly linked to poverty and to the risk of homelessness, especially in cases of people with no family support since welfare provision for

the unemployed is minimal. Official unemployment records seriously under-represent the true dimension of the problem.

1.6. Data and statistics on housing in Greece

There is an overall lack of reliable statistical data on housing and homelessness in Greece, as little systematic research has taken place in the field. Furthermore, as there is no national- scale body dealing with homelessness and maintaining data relating to the extent of the problem, the demand for services, and the number and profile of service users, the records kept and data collected in individual services have not been systematically processed or combined so as to produce any reliable statistics for research purposes.

Apart from fragmentary information from individual services and data based on the estimates of professionals working with homeless people 1 , the main official sources of information are the 1991 national population and housing survey conducted by the National Statistical Service (ESYE) providing data on housing conditions country-wide, and three major field studies which are directly or indirectly related to housing issues in Greece, namely: the survey conducted in 1992 by the National Centre of Social Research (EKKE) on dwelling and household types in Greek cities, the survey conducted in 1998 by the Public Corporation for Housing and Urban development (DEPOS) in collaboration with ICAP on similar issues based on an extensive analysis of data collected from nearly 9,000 households, and the survey conducted in 1992 by the National Welfare Organisation (EOP), which focuses on the analysis of a range of primarily social characteristics (such as level of income, health and housing conditions) of the population based on a sample of 10,000 households throughout the country. In 1999, DEPOS conducted a follow-up research study on housing conditions in the Greater Athens area (DEPOS/MRC, 1999).

1 Such data are collected for the European Observatory on Homelessness on first-hand basis



2.1. Analysis of existing housing stock

2.1.1. Recent developments in housing production

Over the post-war period, the construction industry in Greece has functioned as a means to development and as a catalyst in the country's economy. In the absence of a robust stock exchange it attracted large sums of private capital and people's savings on a large scale. On occasions, as for example in 1979, construction contributed to the country's total Gross Domestic Product by more than 10% while it absorbed 40% of the total private capital (Table 4). During the last 3-4 decades, the housing market has been activated by private initiative, either through private developers or through individual small scale plot owners building their own houses. The funds invested in it were at times over 10 times the total of public investment in public works in Greece.

There are no reliable statistics on unauthorized building (i.e. people building their own houses without official permit) although it has been a particularly widespread phenomenon. Several researchers like DEPOS claim that most self-housing activity during the post war era has been legal whereas others support the opposite view. It is estimated that between 1955-64, 13% of new dwellings had no building permit (Economou, 1987). The percentage of illegal dwellings is now significantly lower, due to the fact that most illegal building activity has now been stopped, and most of the houses built illegally in previous decades have subsequently been legalized on certain conditions.

On the whole, during the post-war period the average rate of construction in the country was over 10 dwellings per 1,000 inhabitants per year, a very high figure indeed. These construction rates resulted in the amelioration of the housing needs of the country’s population. Thus, the overcrowded ratio of three persons per room of the early 50’s has now become two rooms per person while 5 million dwellings correspond to 3.3 million households.

Despite its significance both in economic and in social terms, the construction and provision of housing was left almost entirely to private enterprise. Public contribution never exceeded 5% of the total output, while no government showed any intention to intervene directly by

setting the rules of the game. The state’s main concern has generally been to promote more construction activity (e.g. by keeping construction costs low or by tolerating unlicensed building) rather than maintain certain construction and amenity standards in the newly-built housing areas. New dwellings often present technical deficiencies and whole areas are characterized by lack of efficient planning resulting in problems with regard to infrastructure and public utilities. Thus for the sake of profit-making, housing has not been viewed as a fundamental commodity but rather as mere merchandise. This basic misconceived protectionism led to a policy of non-intervention on the part of governments, which accounts for the fragmentation and lack of proper planning in most Greek cities. As urbanization has escalated and the private funding of housing construction diminished, these deficiencies have become more evident and problematic.

2.1.2. House ownership

The rate of house ownership in Greece is amongst the highest in the European Union. An 80% of Greek families own at least one dwelling and 70% live in their own house. According to the 1981 Population and Housing Survey, 70% of the housing stock was owner-occupied while only 26.5% was rented - all of it belonging to the private sector as there is no public rental sector.

The DEPOS/ICAP survey conducted in 1988 in Greek cities of over 50,000 inhabitants provides more detailed information as to the correlation between various social categories and type of accommodation. We notice that home ownership tends to follow the income pattern with a few notable exceptions. For example, there is a marked tendency, as well as capability, for households to achieve home ownership the older they grow. The EKKE 1986 survey reveals that the rate of home ownership is higher by 25-30% in such households (Maloutas, 1990). This is largely due to the fact that economic insecurity has generally urged Greeks to invest in housing rather than the stock market or other form of industry (see Table 4 in the appendix). This is usually expressed through people buying their house and often that of their children. It should be noted that most cases in the ‘other’ category in Table 5 concern accommodation provided to adult children or other family members free of charge.

2.1.3. The quality of the housing stock

Housing problems in Greece relate mainly to the condition of houses and their distribution among various social groups rather than their actual number. Largely due to reasons

discussed earlier, a large proportion of the country's housing stock although new, presents various technical and functional deficiencies. For instance, most apartment blocks constructed in urban areas during the first post-war decades offer poor light and air in certain rooms, particularly in the basements. Basement dwellings abound in cities like Athens, which have generally been developed during the 50’s and 60’s. The deficiency of former planning legislation that allowed such building was to some extent amended by new building regulations issued in 1985. Nevertheless, basement dwellings do exist and, apart from poor sanitation, they are prone to flooding which is a recurrent phenomenon in many cities, with devastating results. According to the EKKE survey (Kouveli, 1991, 1993 and Maloutas, 1990), 2.2% of the households researched lived in basements while the percentage is higher for students (7.1%), low income workers and employees (6.1%) and female menageries (3.0%). More recently, a large percentage of Asian and African workers live in basement or semi-basement flats in urban areas, because of lower rents.

According to the two main housing surveys of the late 80’s concerning the condition of the housing stock in Greece, most parameters by and large follow the income pattern. Thus, 69.5% of people working in the service sector and 67.4% of workers and craftsmen live in dwellings smaller than 75 sq.m. compared to only 31.2% of professionals and higher managerial staff, 44.6% of bigger shop-owners, and 50.9% of office employees (Table 6). Similarly, 38.9% of the households living in one-room dwellings earned less than 50,000 drs/month (1991 figures) while 49.1% of the households of the same income group lived in dwellings with 3 rooms (EOP, 1992).

Discrepancies in housing conditions appear in two directions. Some people may live in very small houses, yet housing density remains low because of the relatively small size of the household itself; as for instance in the case of pensioners, students, single women etc. On the other hand, many households live in houses that are relatively large in size but overcrowded due to the size of the household. Many middle and low-income households the leaders of which are aged between 30-54 years are affected by this problem. An additional factor is that quite often such households include members of the extended family as well. Overcrowding is a common problem among social groups like the Greek repatriates from Pontos or the gypsies.

The EOP 1991 country-wide survey revealed that 15.6% of the houses of pensioners and 13.9% of those of unemployed people do not have toilette facilities inside the house, as well as 34.8% of the dwellings of the lower income group of the same survey (below 50,000

drs/month). These alarmingly high indicators are to some extend accounted for by the fact that, unlike the other two studies, the EOP survey covered both rural and urban areas (EOP,


As regards the technical deficiencies of the housing stock, 22% of the dwellings of low income pensioners and 19.9% of those of unemployed workers/students etc. are in need of repair due to visible external damages while, according to the DEPOS/ICAP survey, 0.1% of dwellings of the Greater Athens area of over 35 sq.m. do not have electricity supply (DEPOS/ICAP, 1988).

Another parameter denoting the quality of housing is the age of the housing stock as housing

condition deteriorates with time. On the whole, higher income groups tend to live in newly built houses. For example, the incidence of professionals and higher rank army officers living

in new houses is 24.3% and 20.8% above average respectively, while among salesmen and

office employees it is 12% and 10% above average. In contrast, the incidence of workers,

craftsmen and service sector employees having new houses is 14.3% and 18.7% below average (Maloutas, 1990).

A very interesting dimension of the housing issue has been brought up by the recent survey

conducted by DEPOS in the Greater Athens area. This study revealed the differentiation

between the housing condition of foreign immigrants and especially Albanians compared to the rest of the population. The outcome of the study is presented in Table 7 in the Appendix. Among other data, it is interesting to note that Albanians (2.8% of the total sample) live in

0.65 rooms per person and occupy an average space of 15.1 sq.m, while foreign immigrants

as a whole live in 0.73 rooms per person (17.5 sq.m per person) as compared to the average of

0.78 and 18.6 for households considered as poor and of 1.13 rooms and 27.5 sq.m per person

for all households (DEPOS/MRC 1999).

2. 2.

Mainstream social housing provision

2.2.1. Provision of housing by the Worker’s Housing Organisation (OEK)

Social housing provision in Greece is minimal and is not addressed towards everyone in need.

The main body responsible for social housing is the Workers' Housing Organisation (OEK). OEK’ s beneficiaries are people employed in the private sector or in public sector corporations and organisations. All employees of these categories, who are also insured by one of the main public social security funds, pay 1% of their income as a regular contribution to OEK. To be eligible for housing provision by OEK a person must also meet additional requirements such as not owning a house or any other property and having a minimum of insured days of work. The minimum number of days required varies in accordance to the candidate’s family and social circumstances, thus giving additional points to people according to various social criteria (see Table 8 in the appendix).

According to OEK, the total number of potential beneficiaries are estimated to be around 1,800,000 people 200,000 of whom declare acute housing problems. Waiting lists are long and trade-unionists argue that, as things stand, it would take thirty years for OEK to meet current demand. However, the Organisation offers its beneficiaries a variety of benefits, including the acquisition of ready-made houses, low-interest housing loans and rent subsidies.

OEK has provided a modest number of family dwellings over the last decades. The Organisation's construction programme since its establishment in 1954 is depicted in Table 9. This programme constitutes OEK’s main contribution to social housing. Beneficiaries the annual income of whom does not exceed 2.2 million drachmas may take part in the distribution of ready made dwellings through the lottery system. Naturally, OEK's activity has been dependent upon availability of funds and this is evident throughout the period of its construction activity. Approximately 1500 units produced by OEK between the years 1994 and 1998 represent 1-2% of the total production of dwellings nation-wide. The allocation of the housing stock to beneficiaries is subject to considerable delays compared to the time required for their actual construction.

In addition to the provision of ready made apartments, OEK offers a range of low interest housing loans to its beneficiaries (see Table 11 in appendix). Such loans have been traditionally allocated through the National Mortgage Bank of Greece (EKTE), yet their handling has proved to be impractical. OEK has also introduced a system of smaller scale interest-free loans, partly in response to criticism of the delays in its operation. Such loans of up to 2,000,000 drachmas are intended to be utilised by beneficiaries to complete the construction of their homes or to repair or refurbish them. Nevertheless, the General Confederation of Labour argue that this is merely a way of by-passing the problem of long

waiting lists. Although attractive, as they are interest-free and repayable within 25 years, these loans result in beneficiaries losing their right to other OEK benefits.

Emphasis is placed on the escalation of loans according to the beneficiaries' income in an attempt to ensure capability for repayment. The social welfare aspect of OEK is reflected in the fact that OEK is particularly lenient in relation to the terms and conditions for the repayment of the loans and in practice never proceeds in repossession of properties in cases of beneficiaries unable or even unwilling to repay their loan. Special measures promoting repayment of loans with favourable terms are also introduced from time to time: for example, just prior to the National Election of 2000, 80,000 people who had received loans from OEK were offered the opportunity to repay their debt by paying only half of the amount owed.

An important fact in relation to social housing provision in Greece is the absence of a public rental sector as well as of housing benefit payable to all low income people living in private rented accommodation. In recent years, however, OEK has introduced a rent-subsidy system for beneficiaries living in rented accommodation. (see Table 10). Rent subsidy has proved very popular and consequently there has been a notable increase in the number of applicants and beneficiaries over the last few years. Nevertheless, the average of 30-35,000 grants per year that OEK has provided as rent subsidies during the last five years account for 5% of the country’s private tenants and only 20% of the tenants that belong to the targeted social category (YPEXODE, 2001).

The Workers’ Housing Organisation has traditionally been addressing the needs of its beneficiaries solely in terms of housing. Additional support and care is not really necessary in so far as the majority of the beneficiaries are concerned. However sometimes, as for example in the case of beneficiaries who belong to the Romani population (gypsies), provision of accommodation needs to be accompanied by social integration measures. OEK is not equipped to offer this kind of support, which is normally provided by other organisations which target particular disadvantaged groups.

In recent years, the OEK housing programme faces financial restrictions, like many times in the past, and as already mentioned the number of housing units offered cover the needs of only a small percentage of beneficiaries. The most significant issue however, as far as vulnerable social groups are concerned, is that OEK’s housing provision targets particular categories or people that are not necessarily the most needy ones, namely workers or low- income office employees fully incorporated into the social security system, and in any case

the economically active population of the country. As a result, large categories of the population, such as self-employed people, as well as the majority of the homeless who are or have been unemployed for long periods of time, are excluded.

2.2.2. Social housing provided by the Ministry of Health and Welfare

The Welfare Department of the Ministry of Health and Welfare in Greece has had a sizeable output of social housing activity in the past in three directions, in all cases accompanied by a complex set of rules and regulations as to who may be eligible for aid:

(a) The first category of housing aid is targeted towards repatriated persons and refugees who

are eligible for housing. Housing the refugees from Asia Minor who entered the country in masses during the early 20’s was a major task undertaken by the Welfare Department. A similar task was undertaken over the last decade in relation to repatriating Greek people who

had fled to Eastern Europe as political refugees during or after the Greek Civil War that followed World War II.

(b) Secondly, the Ministry offers housing support to households stricken by natural disasters,

like sliding, floods, earthquakes etc., which appear increasingly threatening in recent years. Presently, special aid schemes are in operation with respect to quake-stricken people in Ileia

and Patras, mainly subsidised loans to rebuild their homes, and flood-stricken people in the Greater Athens area, Karditsa and Lesbos. Apart from a token sum of 150-200,000 drs given to the homeless for their immediate expenses and a series of other benefits such as tax relieves, housing aid is proportional to the size of the dwelling and the extent of the damage caused.

In the case of the Athens earthquake of 1999, apart from the immediate financial aid of 200,000 drachmas offered to every household that suffered damages, the victims were offered subsidised loans for repairing their homes as well as rent-subsidies for the period required for the reparation (up to two years) in cases where their home was rendered uninhabitable. A number of people whose houses were ruined or suffered severe damages were housed in tents and containers in settlements specially set up for this purpose, and, in fact, continue to live there over a year later. Some of them feared that if they moved into rented accommodation and accepted the rent-subsidy they would lose their claim to be re-housed permanently or have their house repaired by the state, while in many cases, their houses were built without

official permit and therefore are not eligible for any compensation, but, nevertheless, they have nowhere else to go and hope to secure permanent housing as earthquake victims.

It should be noted that in the areas affected mostly by the earthquake a large number of dwellings had been built without proper permission, their construction not being congruent with official building standards and regulations. As a result, many families who have had their dwelling built literally with their own hands (see section 3.1.1.) and were generally poor, are not eligible for any compensation and are unable to repair or re-built their homes. Although they maintain their property and may construct a new house in the same plot, they are obliged to conform to building standards and regulations, employ professionals etc. which means considerably higher cost.

(c) the third type of social housing provision by the Ministry of Health and Welfare is based on law n. 775/64 and is called «Popular Housing». It constitutes the most important aspect of the Ministry’s housing policy as it aims at addressing the housing needs of the homeless population as well as of people living in inadequate conditions for economic reasons.

To qualify for housing, a person or family have to be homeless and/or live below the threshold of poverty and to be Greek citizens residing permanently in the region where the new dwellings are to be constructed. Dwellings (usually apartments) are offered to beneficiaries at cost prices while repayment is due in 40 six-monthly instalments. The beneficiaries of these programmes are selected by social and financial criteria such as the household’s low income, its housing situation, the number of people it comprises etc. If the number of potential beneficiaries exceeds that of the new houses, a lottery system similar to OEK’ s is used, the difference being that the procedure is repeated for three-member households (housed in two-roomed flats), four-member households (housed in three-roomed flats) etc.

Policies have included the provision of ready-made dwellings via modest small scale programmes in urban areas as well as the provision of sites for the establishment of new settlements in rural areas. Until 1986 the Ministry offered favourable loans for the construction of houses. The funding for the implementation of these housing programmes comes almost exclusively from the state budget and has been subject to severe cuts during the early 80’s until at some point social housing activity stopped altogether. Following a period of inactivity (1985-1993), four projects have been completed since 1993: one in Pateles (51 flats), one in Herakleion, Crete, (12 flats), one in Axios, Thessaloniki (50 flats and 16 shops)

and one in Serres (23 flats). In addition to the above, five more projects are currently under construction: in the island of Cos, in Chania, Crete, in Calamata, in Aridaia and in Farkadona, Trikala.

Still it must be noted that the constraints put in public funding by the efforts of the Greek Government to join the European Economic and Monetary Union over the last four years have prevented the implementation of costly programmes and policies. The housing construction programme of the Ministry of Health and Welfare inevitably suffered the results of this recession.

Although the Ministry of Health and Welfare caters for the housing needs of the poor, it generally operates in a manner similar to the Workers’ Housing Organisation, in that it does not offer any complementary services, along with housing provision. It may be argued, however, that many of the beneficiaries of the housing programme of the Ministry, typically being poor, even homeless and not always with a consistent work record, are likely to be in need of such services.

2.2.3. The function of DEPOS

DEPOS (Public Corporation for Housing and Urban Development), was established in the late 70’s designated, among its other responsibilities, to deal with social housing in relation to those social categories that are not incorporated in existing housing programmes. Yet this function of DEPOS has remained inert in as much as physical output is concerned, the Corporation concentrating in research and other studies rather than the provision of social housing. However, it would be unfair to DEPOS not to mention the construction of a whole sea-side village so as to provide houses for 100 families of repatriates Arcadians from America.

2.2.4. The provision of housing loans as a means of access to housing

Although the construction industry has had a significant contribution in the country’s economy, the housing loan system in Greece has traditionally been rather underdeveloped due to the banks’ credit policy. Access to housing has been primarily through people’s own savings (Maloutas, 1990). Thus, credit institutions did not play a significant role in meeting the needs of the broader public as only a small percentage of people buying a house made use of their services to that effect.

This trend has changed in recent years mainly due to the sharp drop of interest rates and the

impressive entry of the private funding sector in the housing scene. An indication of the drop

in interest rates is given by the fact that the annual rate of Greek Government bonds has fallen

from 24% in 1990 to 8.2% in 1999.

A rather small percentage of beneficiaries enjoyed the privileges of subsidised loans either

through OEK (the Workers’ Housing Organisation) or through the housing programmes of the Ministry of Health and Welfare. Both bodies were initially more interested in providing ready-made dwellings rather than housing loans to their beneficiaries, although this has changed in recent years.

Housing loans in Greece may be divided into three categories on the basis of the type of institution issuing the loan and the degree of insecurity of tenure involved:

(a) The first category of housing loans relates to unsubsidised loans granted by banks of the

public or private sector in the open loan market. Although unfavourable in terms of interest, these loans are usually repaid without problems as the banks always check the beneficiaries’ repaying capacity through their income declaration before granting the loan. In recent years, there has been a marked increase in the commercial banks’ interest in providing housing loans

as well as in people’s interest in them, due to the drop of interest rates that resulted from the steady decline of inflation in Greece.

(b) The second category of housing loans concerns loans on particularly favourable terms,

namely loans offered by public institutions or by banks to their employees or to civil servants.

In the latter case, the monthly instalment is usually subtracted from the beneficiary’s salary,

and therefore repayment is normally unproblematic unless the recipient suffers a job loss.

Public employees in Greece enjoy the benefit of low interest loans offered by the Post Office Savings and Loans Fund and the Deposits and Loans Fund (TPD). The number of loans provided by these institutions is directly dependent on the surplus fund according to the objectives of their housing policy. The loans provided by Post Office Savings and Loans Fund are issued with considerable delay due to deficiencies in surplus funds. Furthermore, the amount lent is limited and normally the prospective home-owner has to contribute at least another 50% to meet construction costs. Loans in this category also include the ones provided in the past by the National Mortgage Bank and the National Housing Bank, two

public institutions traditionally specialising in housing loans, which have recently merged under the umbrella of the National Bank of Greece. The main difference between the second and the first category is that institutions belonging to the public sector, unlike private banks, are generally governed by a socially minded approach. This is reflected both in the selection of their beneficiaries and in the tolerance they demonstrate in cases when repayment problems appear. Thus the ex-National Mortgage Bank faces a huge debt resulting from as many 40,000 loans with repayment problems.

(c) The third category of housing loans are the subsidised ones provided by the two main social housing institutions mentioned above, namely OEK and the ‘Popular Housing’ program of the Ministry of Health and Welfare. These are only technically issued by the National Bank of Greece which is not involved in their repayment.

OEK beneficiaries tend not to repay the loans they receive even though these are the most favourable in the subsidised loan market. The same is noted when beneficiaries are asked to contribute the small share demanded from them by OEK when they receive a ready-made dwelling following a lottery procedure. Although the beneficiaries’ share does not exceed 18% of the commercial value of the property, people in liability have in fact formed a union aiming at waiving all arrears on their property.

With regard to the issue of security of tenure, an important factor is that the OEK loans may not lead to repossession or auction. There are also other cases of loans which do not present insecurity of tenure as there is no danger of repossession. Loans offered to repatriates from Pontos with the guarantee of the state and interest-free loans offered to victims of natural disasters belong to this category.

2.3. Housing Costs

Housing production in Greece has been particularly dynamic in the post-war period, especially during the 50’s and 60’s, mainly due to the massive urbanization movement resulting from the scarcity of employment in rural areas. Housing production reached and, at times surpassed a rate of 10 new dwellings per 1000 people per year - a process that materialized to a great extent through ‘self-housing’ (i.e. people building or supervising the construction of their houses themselves). This procedure kept construction costs relatively low; housing was fairly cheap and, by and large, the government had no reason to intervene

directly. Moreover, the flourishing construction industry acted as a catalyst in the country's economy as a whole, and hence enjoyed the governments' tacit support either through tolerance of unauthorized building or through favourable legislative measures.

Self-housing, which has been the dominant manner in which the poorest settlers achieved

access to proper housing in the past, has now ceased or at any rate diminished considerably. This is due to a combination of factors, namely the decrease in urbanization rates, a tightening

of control, developments in construction technology and the fact that today few non-builders

can build. Dwellings are now constructed mainly by construction enterprises that, though small-scale, contribute significantly to the determination of property prices. Moreover, the social security system in Greece forces owners of plots to employ professional builders and other craftsmen to build their houses. The elasticity in housing production costs due to the owners’ own labour has, therefore, diminished considerably.

A measure of the relative significance of housing costs compared to the prices of other

consumer goods is given by Table 12 which portrays the relative consumer price index. According to this Table, the proportion of housing in the formation of the overall price index has been increased by 5 % over a 12-month period, i.e. between September 1999 and September 2000.

In recent years the market value of property has increased, especially in urban areas where

there has been a rise in demand and therefore a shortage of existing housing, or in developing

areas (e.g. smaller towns where university departments were recently set up, resulting in a rise

in demand for cheap housing by the in-coming student population). It is estimated that,

between 1990 and 1999, rents generally rose by 35% while an increase of 23.2% is reported between 1990 and 1994 (YPEHODE, 2001). On the other hand, there has been a clear drop

in prices in areas of Athens affected by the earthquake of 7 th September 1999, and a

corresponding rise in areas less affected, where the buildings were viewed as of better quality and safer as a result.

The overall rise in production costs and in the commercial values of properties, leading to rises in rents as well, have naturally made access to housing harder for many low to middle income people. On the other hand, housing loans have become increasingly popular and widespread in recent years, due to the considerable drop in interest rates. This means that although the value of properties has increased, buying a house by means of a loan has become

cheaper, and therefore housing is more accessible to many people from the above category that could not previously afford a housing loan.



As already mentioned, housing and the construction of dwellings in Greece has always been primarily a concern of the private sector, and primarily of individuals rather than large companies. Provision by the state is minimal and mostly amounts to favourable measures and policies facilitating access to housing for low income group. In effect there is no social housing owned and managed by statutory bodies, whether central or local government agencies. Consequently, institutional and organisational issues and problems regarding to the role of housing providers, housing management and partnerships between agencies do not actually arise in Greece. In this section, relevant issues concerning the Greek reality will be discussed.

3.1. Access to housing for the poor

3.1.1. Self'-housing as the main mode of housing for the poor in the post-war era

During the period following the second world war Greek governments have been supporting the housing production indirectly by promoting urbanization and inflating plot ratios in the cities as well as by keeping construction costs low. During the first two post-war decades, the urbanization movement has been enormous as people from rural areas abandoned their villages and their employment in agriculture in order to seek work in cities. This phenomenon has had an immense impact on big cities as most of the new settlers gathered in the periphery of existing conurbations. Cities like Athens and Thessaloniki more than doubled in size between 1950 and 1970. New settlers would normally build, or supervise the building of their dwellings themselves in much the same way as in the villages they came from. In most cases, they would buy the land, but ignore planning and building regulations, aiming simply at fulfilling their housing needs. The state tacitly accepted this phenomenon and as time passed illegal housing became part of the broader city and was connected to public utility networks. Eventually large areas that surrounded the main cities and consisted chiefly of such housing were incorporated into the City Plan and legalized.

3.1.2. Family solidarity as the means to the access to housing

State intervention to housing in Greece has been minimal, and therefore the role of the Greek family in filling the gap left by the absence of an advanced Welfare State is particularly crucial in relation to housing. The provision of housing has traditionally been the most

common form of aid to family members in need, especially to new couples. Apart from cohabitation between parents and adult children as well as with elderly family members, the most common form of housing provision has been, and still continues to be the ‘dowry’, often in the form of a house or flat provided to most married couples by the bride’s family. Table 2 shows that even low income families would normally manage to provide their children (particularly their daughters) with housing (see also Maloutas, 1990 and Kouveli, 1993).

3.1.3. Tenancy and security of tenure

To attain a good picture of the pattern of property ownership in Greece one should note the fragmentation of land ownership, a feature dominant in rural as well as in urban property. Although many people make money exclusively from renting property, the market is characterized by a large number of middle or even low-income owners who rent their apartments. Thus in Greece tenants are altogether just a little worse off than landlords.

According to the DEPOS/ICAP survey the highest percentage of tenants is found among middle to lower income employees of the commercial and service sector (46.25%), the unemployed and the conscripts (44.05%) as well as housewives, students and others (51.50%) compared to a total of 33.82% of tenants in cities of more than 50,000 inhabitants. Figures vary greatly according to the tenants’ age group. Thus 84% of people under 25 live in rented accommodation, compared to 17% of those over 55. Average rents do not vary significantly according to social categories, a factor clearly against the low income groups. Households with many members pay a relatively low rent per sq.m of space they occupy regardless of income group, however great disparities are noticed among income groups with regard to residence sizes.

Between 1985-88, 55.8% of the tenants faced a rent raise that averaged 24.59% of the initial price. The distribution of raises has been even across the various socio-economic categories of tenants; in fact, the percentage of raises was slightly lower than average in the lower income groups. More acute pressure however has been put on households with many members as well as the older ones. A similar overall pattern is observed in the case of evictions; however their impact may be more devastating for the lower income groups. According to the DEPOS/ICAP study, 13% of all households surveyed were asked to vacate their lodgings at some point. In an analysis of this indicator we notice that 21.7% of unskilled workers, 17.91% of the unemployed and 15.66% of the pensioners of lower categories faced the threat of eviction, all the above groups presenting percentages slightly higher than average.

Discrepancies are more evident in Athens where 15% of all households faced threat of eviction but only 9.59% of self-employed professionals compared to 25% of unskilled workers, 17% of pensioners and 19% of the unemployed. It should again be noted that families with many members are more prone to be evicted as 19.3% of couples with more than three children were asked to leave their houses (DEPOS, 1990).

3.2. The efficiency of housing policies

3.2.1. Social housing and the shortage in public funding

The drop in public expenditure since 1985 has had a significant impact on social housing programmes as well as on most welfare services. The two main public providers of social housing (i.e. OEK and the Ministry of Health and Welfare) have suffered severe budgetary cuts that have had a direct impact on their policies. This impact is evident in relation to the production of physical output as well as to the cuts in most social services.

3.2.2. Discrepancies in the distribution of the housing stock

One of the main problems the system of housing provision presents concerns the inequality and discrepancies in the distribution of the housing stock and loans. To start with, the system clearly favours those with a consistent work record rather than the most deprived and therefore most needy (Maloutas, 1990). Workers and office employees of the public or semi- public sector, for instance, have much easier access to housing than their self-employed colleagues because of the way the security system operates. The fact that OEK' s beneficiaries do not always belong to the less privileged social groups with pressing housing needs has resulted in 20% of the houses provided being leased rather than owner-occupied. This phenomenon is more frequent in areas of OEK housing where the average income is higher. On the other hand, housing provided by ‘Popular Housing’ (i.e. the social housing provision programme of the Ministry of Health and Welfare), seems to cover pressing housing needs in most cases, as suggested by the low proportion of houses (2.6%) that are being rented to others (Economou, 1987).

The distribution of housing loans among the various income groups is also unequal and tends to favour higher incomes. This is partly due to the fact that loans are generally provided by banks who need to assurance that recipients will be able to repay them. As a result, the

acquisition of a house through a loan for the lower income groups should necessarily be paired with a satisfactory current salary or even with selling another piece of property to meet the total cost. At the same time, in the post-war years the loan system was particularly favourable to those employed in the public sector. According to the EKKE survey, 22.7% of civil servants who acquired a dwelling did so by means of a housing loan, compared to only 9.9% of the rest. 51.3% of all housing loans were given to civil servants while only 31.6% of the people who acquired a lodging are employed in the public sector. It is therefore not surprising that 59.6% of public employees live in accommodation they own compared to 50% of those employed in the private sector (Maloutas, 1990).

3.2.3. Disadvantaged social groups

The fact that low income groups in Greece have traditionally relied upon their own means to satisfy their housing needs and the absence of adequate social housing provision have resulted in certain groups being particularly vulnerable to the risk of homelessness. The system is clearly very unfavourable towards people affected by unemployment with no other income - who have no means of securing housing whether by buying or renting. A growing number of people is affected by this situation and certain social groups appear particularly vulnerable in relation to housing: immigrants or refugees, young people, people leaving prisons or young people leaving care institutions, drug users, the long-term unemployed, social groups particularly affected by poverty such as the Romani (gypsies) are among the most vulnerable.

These groups are virtually excluded from the system of mainstream provision. As they have no consistent work record they lack the capacity to repay a loan, and those affected by unemployment are also unable to buy or rent privately. Finally, these groups consist largely of individuals with no family support or whole families in great need, and therefore they lack the security provided by the safety net of the Greek family. Although there are some services and programmes that target such disadvantaged group, there is actually no access to permanent housing and security.



In Greece, housing policies aim at implementing the constitutional right to housing and are designed by central government on a national basis. Although they may concern particular areas or regions, local authorities have no significant input or power. We may generally suggest that some local authorities are more sensitive to social problems than others and there are some municipal services set up by local authorities for homeless people or other groups - notably, the Municipality of Athens Centre for the Homeless providing meals and other services and the arrangement to provide accommodation in local hostels paid by the local authority. On the whole, however, any significant decisions regarding policy or service provision come from central government and therefore we will not distinguish between local and national policies and practices.

4.1. The right to housing and the social rights of the homeless

The Greek Constitution states the right of all citizens to social housing, yet this remains basically theoretical as it does not correspond to concrete policies or any statutory duty of central or local government relating to provision of housing for the poor. The right to social housing falls into the broad category of non-directly enforceable social rights that were introduced into the Greek legal order through the Constitution of 1975. According to article 21 (par.3 and 4): “The State will care for the health of citizens and will adopt special measures for the protection of young people, elderly, handicapped as well as for the relief of the needy” and “For those without any or with insufficient accommodation, housing is subject to specific statutory measures”. These provisions constitute the primary legal basis of public housing policy in Greece and seem to suggest that the protection of certain vulnerable groups is a main objective of public action as far as housing is concerned. Yet, their vague nature remains to be further specified by various policies and measures (Amitsis, 1994).

The Greek law does no distinguish among citizens on the basis of their residency status. A person is always required to give an address in all his/her dealings with the state, yet this relates more to the provision of a contact address rather than an actual living address. In this sense, a homeless person may always cite the address of a friend or relative or even that of an institution and would not be threatened of losing one’s rights.

Although it appears that the question of having or not having an address does not affect a person’ s statutory rights, a homeless person is clearly at a disadvantage in terms of claiming their rights. It would appear that the task of helping them should be the job of social workers employed in welfare services; however, the most cases the onus is on the person concerned to produce the papers required to prove that they are in need. The bureaucratic procedures that

govern public services, including welfare services and services for homeless people (requirement for medical papers, proof of status, proof of low or no income etc.), clearly place

a homeless person at in a disadvantaged position in terms of claiming his/her rights and

gaining access to services, as in many cases they would be unable to produce the papers


4. 2.

Recent legislative changes concerning social welfare and mental health

Law 2646/98 has been the outcome of serious consideration of the inefficiency of existing government social policy. It aimed to provide the framework needed to groups threatened by

poverty and social exclusion by setting up what has been called the National System of Social Welfare which is intended to cater for the acute social needs of any individual living legally

in the country. An important notion introduced is that services to people in need will now be

offered through the cooperation of public agencies with non-profit making organizations of the private or voluntary sector. In view of this, a system of registration is to be introduced on the basis of specific criteria of eligibility that have not been formulated as yet as well as an inventory of the services operating nation-wide.

Recent legislation relating to the structure and responsibilities of the various sub-divisions of the Ministry of Health and Welfare introduces a special ‘Department for the Protection of Vulnerable Groups’ as a sub-division of the Ministry’s Directorate of Social Awareness and Solidarity (P.D. 95/2000, art. 22, par.2a). The responsibilities of the Department for the Protection of Vulnerable Groups include:

the development and implementation of programmes and special measures for the social protection of individuals or groups in a state of emergency due to natural disasters or other unforeseeable occurrences

the development and implementation of programmes of social protection or financial assistance of people in financial need, of people socially maladjusted (tramps or beggars), of Greek repatriates as well as people fleeing to Greece from other countries

under threat of violence or because of other emergency, as well as of other vulnerable population groups

the evaluation of proposals regarding the need for general or specific measures for securing suitable accommodation to families that are homeless or live in unfavourable conditions and are economically unable to secure accommodation by their own means as well as the introduction and implementation of programmes of housing assistance

the housing resettlement of victims of natural disasters who are not included in programmes of the Ministry of the Environment, Urban Development and Public Works (YPEHODE)

the supervision of the progress of housing projects currently under way

An important feature of this legislation in relation to homelessness is the fact that it clearly recognizes homeless people as a vulnerable group and renders the state responsible for their

protection and assistance.

what its implementation will amount to in practice remains to be seen - something that also holds for the recent mental health legislation which targets a particular sub-group of homeless people as well.

However important this may seem on the level of policy, however,

Recent mental health legislation (N. 2716/1999) directs the creation of a network of mental health services promoting the psycho-social rehabilitation of people with mental health problems under the supervision of psychiatric hospitals and other approved statutory mental health organizations. It introduces a variety of residential projects (‘hostels’ and ‘guest- houses’) for ‘people with mental disorders and serious psycho-social problems who are homeless or lack a suitable family environment’. These projects aim at providing accommodation to ‘individuals with mental disorders who lack a family environment, or their temporary removal from their family environment is considered to be therapeutic, or need a period of adjustment and retraining into living in the community’. The guest-houses are supposed to have a capacity of up to 15 beds and are divided according to the degree of support and the length of stay offered into short-stay (up to 8 months, high support), medium stay (up to 20 months, high to medium support) and long stay (up to 36 months, medium to low support). The hostels aim at providing psycho-social rehabilitation and a high degree of support to up to 25 individuals with mental disorders (including people needing psycho- geriatric care, people with mental disabilities, and people with mental health problems capable of living in the community but needing a high degree of supervision). There is no restriction as to the length of stay in these projects and therefore, in practice, they aim at providing a permanent home to the residents. Individuals in mental distress may also be

placed in supported or ‘protected’ flats - of up to six residents per flat - where a lower level of support is provided by the appropriate statutory mental health services, or even in ‘foster- placements’ with families which may in some cases belong to the wider social environment of the person concerned (but not first-degree relatives). A range of psycho-social services aiming at the social re-integration of the target group are supposed to be provided at the same time in collaboration with other bodies and organizations.

The key concept underlying this legislation is that of ‘care in the community’ as an alternative to institutional care, by means of an organized network of residential and other rehabilitation services. The notion is well-established in most E.U. countries, however is constitutes a mile stone in Greek policy, considering that in Greece, despite the recent de-institutionalization movement (see relevant section in chapter 5), the majority of people with mental health problems or mental disabilities either remain in institutions - not because their medical condition dictates so but rather due to the lack of suitable community alternatives - or are cared for by their families at an enormous cost for the families, as in most cases there is minimal or no involvement of professional mental health services. Although, therefore, the legislation concerns primarily ‘mental health’ rather than homelessness as such, in effect it tackles homelessness with regard to this particularly vulnerable population group. This legislation however has not as yet been implemented on a national scale and there is a number of financial and policy issues related to its implementation. For instance, for a hospital to set up a residential project in the community, the permission of the local authority is required, which local authorities may be reluctant to give because of social problems or reactions from local residents they may anticipate or because of other problems in the collaboration between local authorities and health authorities.

4.3. Welfare benefit provision in Greece

The Ministry of Health and Welfare is responsible for the provision of welfare benefits, administered by ‘Social Welfare’ services operating throughout the country. Welfare benefits consist mainly in a monthly allowance payable to people with chronic illness or disability, single mothers, families with more than 3 children, people over 65 with no income and other vulnerable groups. There is also free health care to people with very low or no income who have no other medical insurance. However, welfare benefit provision in Greece is minimal, and does not even aim at meeting the cost of living of people with no other income. Furthermore, there is no housing benefit provided to people who are homeless or at risk of

homelessness because of inability to pay rent. Welfare benefits are simply meant to provide some financial aid to people in need - rather than actually cover their cost of living. The state does not take responsibility for people unable to cover their basic living and housing expenses - again, we have to note that it is the immediate or broader family that normally undertakes that task.

The prospect of a ‘minimum guaranteed income’ in the form of a benefit payable from the state budget to all citizens who have no means of their own or live below the threshold of poverty, is currently an issue under debate within government circles. It is estimated that as many as two million people might be eligible for it. The notion is well established in most E.U. countries. Its implementation on a national scale in the form of a statutory duty of the government to provide a minimum income to all citizens is a very controversial issue among politicians at present, as it is argued by many to be a strain impossible for the Greek economy to bear. However, it would represent an important step in social policy in terms of securing a minimum standard of living for people that currently fall through the net of service provision and are vulnerable to the risk of homelessness.

4.4. Tax relief and exemptions related to housing

Access to housing is facilitated by tax relief in relation to the acquisition of a person’s or a family’s first and main residence. There is full exemption from taxation for the purchase of the first and main residence up to the value of 17,000,000 drachmas. Moreover the annual interest of housing loans and the rent paid for a person’s or family’s main residence are exempt from taxation.

Property Tax is exponentially proportional to the size of property. Taxation also depends on the size of dwellings in property transactions. In the case of property transfer, people are exempt from transfer tax when property is their first and main residence and up to a certain size (120 sq.m.). Similarly there is tax reduction in cases of parental donation, a common practice in Greece, and in some cases a means of passing over property while the parent is still alive, thus evading the much higher inheritance tax.

4.5. Policies against unemployment

In recent years, European Union policies, as well as European Union funding, have been directed particularly towards combating social exclusion, especially in so far as it is related to exclusion from the job market. A number of training or re-training schemes have been introduced targeting either ordinary unemployed people or specific vulnerable groups facing social exclusion (such as single mothers, repatriates, former drug users, people with mental health problems, gypsies etc.). This training is offered by institutions created specially for this purpose which are called ‘Centres for Vocational Training’ (KEK) which have recently been subject to an accreditation procedure. In the case of vulnerable groups, vocational training is accompanied by a package of ‘complementary services’ (i.e. psycho-social support services) provided by special agencies that work in partnership with the institution offering the training.

Greek government policies in line with European Union ones, as well as with Greek public opinion, also reflect the conviction that unemployment is the most serious present-day social problem and the main causing factor of social exclusion. The Greek government has also introduced a range of new employment training courses and schemes in addition to the ones previously offered by OAED (Organization for the Employment of Labour Force). Moreover, OAED has introduced a section dealing specifically with ‘special needs’ people or vulnerable groups, and operating in all its main branches. In recent years, it has also introduced a wide range of subsidised post schemes in the public sector as well as in collaboration with private employers as a means of combating social exclusion of particular groups, namely young unemployed or long-term unemployed, people recovering from mental health problems, recovering drug users, former prisoners, people with disabilities etc. People from these groups, who meet specific criteria, may also be eligible for funding by OAED in order to start their own business - a scheme recently introduced which is reported to exhibit amazingly good results. At this point we may note that in Greece in particular, policies to combat unemployment are directly relevant to the issue of homelessness given that, unlike in most European Union countries, there is no housing benefit or other subsidy payable to unemployed people so as to cover the cost of accommodation.


homelessness among vulnerable groups










Social policies that incorporate systems for the protection of low income groups do exist in


The provision of housing to certain low income people, tax-relief associated to the

acquisition of a first home, the subsidised loans and the non-repossession policy of public lending institutions are examples of policies facilitating access to housing for a number of low income people. However, these policies, just like social housing provision itself, address primarily the economically active population, thus excluding the majority of the homeless who are affected by long-term unemployment as well. Moreover, certain groups particularly vulnerable to the risk of homelessness are excluded from any housing provision.

The recent emphasis on employment training as a means of combating unemployment and social exclusion is relevant to homelessness, as unemployment is the main factor leading to inability to secure housing, given the absence of a public housing sector addressing the needs of unemployed people. However, the training provided in most cases does not lead to permanent employment, especially in so far as people from disadvantaged groups are concerned. Unemployment remains a major problem and various recently introduced training courses and schemes serve primarily as a means of the trainees securing a small income during the period of their training rather than a job after completing it - a fact that generates much cynicism among those affected by the problem about the government’s attempts to address it.

In relation to policies concerning the protection of ‘vulnerable groups’, the present reality is that the majority of people belonging to the above mentioned ‘vulnerable groups’ receive little or no assistance unless they meet very specific criteria. Thus many victims of natural disasters seem to remain housed in tents or containers indefinitely, ‘socially maladjusted people’ (such as tramps, beggars [including children], or people with mental health problems) are generally ignored unless they are perceived as dangerous or break the law, families unable to secure suitable accommodation live in squalid conditions unless their case happens to attract media attention, applicants for political asylum have to wait as long as 2 or 3 years for their application to be processed while in the meantime in many cases they receive no social assistance (apart from medical care from Doctors of the World and sometimes food or clothes from various churches) and the majority of the long term mentally ill continue to live in institutions. We may conclude, considering the above in the light of the constitutionally sanctioned ‘right to housing’ of anyone in need, that the gap between making policies and actually implementing them remains an major problem in Greece, to this day.

There is a number of attempts to address the needs of particular vulnerable groups by various bodies and associations. Service provision targeting specific groups will be examined in the

next chapter. However, we may note that it remains fragmentary and rudimentary, especially in so far as the permanent housing resettlement of homeless people is concerned.

On the whole, therefore, despite some encouraging legislative and policy changes in recent years, and the existence of measures for the social protection and assistance of low income groups there is a notable lack of integrated and effective national-scale policies and procedures for tackling or preventing homelessness and social exclusion among vulnerable groups.



5.1. Tackling homelessness: Services for homeless people

Three statutory ‘social shelters’ providing emergency accommodation have been in operation in Athens since the mid 80’s. The first one is situated in Omonia, an inner city area notorious for high incidence of drug use and homelessness. Its operation has been suspended following the Athens earthquake of 7 th September 1999, due to damages caused in the building. The other two social shelters are in the Greater Athens areas of Careas and Vouliagmeni. Their target group is single homeless people from the streets, as well as people facing personal and social difficulties that resulted in temporary or long-term homelessness - such as young people leaving care institutions, ex-prisoners, people who became homeless due to a family crisis or break-up, elderly people with no family support who need temporary accommodation until a longer term arrangement is made etc. A number of beds are occupied on a regular basis by people from all over the country visiting Athens for various reasons - e.g. to receive out-patient medical treatment or to accompany a relative admitted to hospital - who cannot afford to pay for accommodation, but who clearly are not homeless.

With regard to the criteria for admission, prospective residents have to be Greek nationals and must not suffer form any infectious disease, have psychiatric problems or problems related to alcoholism or drug-addiction. Proof of identity, proof of low income as well as medical certificates are required for admission. The length and complexity of the admission procedure makes access to the shelters difficult for people in crisis sleeping in the streets who need direct access and most of whom would be unable to produce the documents required.

Although some social work support and information is provided, the length of stay in the shelters is normally limited to 3-4 months and residents are responsible for making their own arrangements for future accommodation during this period. In theory, this is supposed to amount to the prospect of getting a job in order to secure private-rented accommodation, however unrealistic this may be for the majority of their target group. There is no link between the shelters for the homeless and permanent housing and the shelters themselves have no provision for the resettlement of their clients.

As a result, although the brief stay at the shelters may provide important help to people who became homeless as a result of a particular life-crisis, to those waiting to be referred to

another institution, or to low income people visiting Athens for a limited period of time, it does not tackle the problems of the majority of the homeless, who are affected by long term unemployment as well. The level of social functioning of the latter is not sufficient to allow them to find work and secure rented accommodation within the few months of the stay at the shelters and the shelters themselves cannot offer any more help towards that goal. As a result, the very people who are most vulnerable and in need of support often have to return to the streets.

The Municipality of Athens has set up a day care service for homeless people - an innovative service of its kind in Greece. The Centre for the Homeless caters for about 200 people on a daily basis. Approximately 98% of them are Greek, while only 2% of other nationalities. Research data suggest that the number of street homeless people in the city of Athens is approximately 350. The services offered at the Centre include provision of daily meals, provision of clothing (from donations), facilities for personal care and hygiene (showers, laundry facilities, etc.) as well as medical care at municipal surgeries. There is continuous assistance and social work support. The Municipality has also introduced a scheme for the provision of temporary accommodation to homeless people in partnership with two (private- owned) hotels in the centre of Athens where the municipal authority undertakes to pay the cost - the only local authority initiative of this kind in Greece. Similar rules and procedures for admission apply as in the statutory shelters. The length of stay is limited to six months while, as in other services for the homeless, residents are expected to make alternative arrangements for themselves during this period, as there is no resettlement into permanent housing.

Recently, other municipal authorities have also made similar attempts to provide services to homeless people, such as provision of hostel accommodation in collaboration with various churches and charitable organisations - however there remain isolated initiatives and do not amount to any integrated local authority policies to address homelessness in a consistent manner.

5.2. Housing provision for particular vulnerable groups

5.2.1. De-institutionalization programmes for psychiatric patients

Hospital patients and people in prisons or other institutions, are not regarded as homeless. However, many of those accommodated in asylums or in hospitals’ special annexes with no other home to return to, do fall into this category as in many cases it is the lack of community alternatives that results in their continued stay in institutions. It is estimated that the vast majority of people living in psychiatric institutions in Greece would be able to live in the community if the appropriate housing and support services were available.

The mid 80’s marked the beginning of a systematic effort for the de-institutionalisation of long-term psychiatric patients. The abominable living conditions of psychiatric patients in Greek institutions, especially in the notorious psychiatric hospital of Leros, attracted a great amount of negative publicity, which, among its negative consequences, set the ground for the provision of funding by the EEC (regulation 815/84) for the de-institutionalisation and social rehabilitation of these patients.

Since then, de-institutionalisation programmes have been launched in all public psychiatric hospitals, and they constitute an important innovation for Greek society. The main guiding principle is that psychiatric patients, regardless of their diagnosis and the severity of their condition are capable of achieving some degree of social reintegration if the appropriate support system and resources are made available to them. About 800 patients were moved to hostels, guest-houses and other supported living projects which were set up during the first phase of the de-institutionalisation programme. In addition to these, a number of day-care services were set up offering training and support and promoting the all-round social re- integration of the former patients. Although these supported housing projects, termed ‘psycho-social rehabilitation units’ aimed at offering temporary housing, in reality there is no restriction as to the length of stay and they function as permanent home for most patients of the first phase of the de-institutionalisation programme as the majority of them are elderly, many having spent a big part of their lives in institutions and are not realistically capable of independent living.

At the same time, a more general philosophy of community care was introduced aiming among other things to change the general public’s views of mental illness, which was reflected in various policies as well. Psychiatric wards were introduced in 27 general hospitals throughout the country, with a view to reducing the accumulation of people with mental health problems in psychiatric hospitals and their resulting social exclusion. Psychiatric patients were treated for a few weeks or months and then discharged and followed-up while living in their homes, just like any other patients. With regard to housing, things have not

always been simple. As mentioned above, until the mid 80’s the housing problems of

psychiatric patients who lacked a supportive family environment were dealt with by them remaining in institutions, simply because there were no housing alternatives for them. Despite the significant progress achieved, de-institutionalisation programmes have been subject to severe funding limitations and, the majority of psychiatric patients continue to live

in asylums due to the lack of appropriate community facilities, although efforts have been

made to improve living conditions in the country’s main institutions.

In 1999 the second part of the de-institutionalisation programme was launched, which concerns 55 new ‘social rehabilitation units’ - supported housing projects for people with mental health problems - with a capacity of accommodating approximately 700 people, which have either recently started or are about to start operating in the near future.

A contributing factor to the recent de-institutionalisation programmes in so far as the two

main public psychiatric hospitals of Athens - The Psychiatric Hospital of Attiki (Dafni) and

Dromokaition - are concerned, has been the Athens earthquake of the 7 th September 1999, which caused severe damages to many of the hospital buildings rendering them uninhabitable, thus forcing officials to seek alternative solutions for accommodating the patients.

5.2.2. Service provision for the Romani population (gypsies)

The substandard living conditions of gypsy settlements in Greece have attracted a growing amount of concern in recent years. Attention has also been drawn to the long term marginalization and social exclusion of the gypsy communities. Despite the announcement in 1996 by the Greek government of a ‘National policy framework for the social inclusion of the gypsies’ little has been done in the direction of developing a social support network, and even less in terms of the prospect of an integrated, long term policy aiming a social inclusion. Since 1995, local governments, especially mayors in areas with large numbers of gypsy population, attempted to develop a systematic policy for the support of gypsy population living in tents, caravans, containers etc. who do not benefit from existing services. There are about 45,000 people living in accommodation of this kind and as many as 200,000 people of gypsy origin who in their majority face social marginalization and exclusion. There is widely shared view that living in settlements is a deliberate choice related to their tradition rather than the outcome of real life necessity, and therefore the gypsies are not considered as homeless. Representatives of the gypsy communities argue strongly against this view,

stressing that this type of accommodation is not a choice but purely a consequence of poverty. Living conditions in the settlements themselves are often appalling, posing threats to the health of the inhabitants and it is becoming apparent that treating the whole situation simply as a cultural choice overshadows the lack of any effective state intervention to address the problem.

The ‘Hellenic inter-municipal network for the support of Greek gypsy citizens - ROM network’ was set up in 1996 on the basis of the idea that the gypsy communities are geographically distributed throughout the country and therefore there is a need of a national scale policy and strategy of social inclusion, but also that the varying living conditions and special features in each area call for action and intervention on local level. There are 52 municipalities participating in the ROM network today, a fact demonstrating an interest, to start with, on the part of many local authorities to develop positive inclusion strategies on local level. Representatives of the gypsy communities stress the need for the development of social housing as well as other inclusion strategies, which however should not aim at assimilation of the gypsy population into mainstream culture but should rather take into account the cultural identity and particular needs of the target group.

In line with the above, a programme has been implemented aiming at addressing issues such as the housing conditions, the exclusion from the labour market as well as the exclusion of gypsy children from the education system resulting in high rates of illiteracy:

General policy measures include the encouragement of social bodies which directly or indirectly exercise inclusion policies targeting the Gypsies as an disadvantaged social group, the establishment of a dialogue among the state, local governments and representatives of the gypsy population and the development of a sound mechanism for the constructive use of national, peripheral and E.U. funding available.

Educational measures include the establishment of a travelling student log book to facilitate the school attendance of gypsy children whose parents are travellers (this refers to a very small percentage of the gypsy population in Greece), the sensitisation and further training of teachers on the principles of transcultural education, a campaign aiming at attracting a larger number of gypsy students to schools of all grades as well as to reduce school drop-out rates, preparatory work with young people in the organized settlements aiming at their induction to the educational system and the provision of opportunities for

vocational training. There is also an effort to promote gypsy art and culture as well as the participation, mainly of the young, to cultural and sports activities.

In relation to health an welfare there have been systematic attempts to provide basic health care through mobile units providing health services, programmes for the vaccination of children, as well as information about health issues, encouragement of the gypsy population to develop links with the health system and research on the health condition, the needs and the views of the health services held by the gypsy population.

The integration programme for the Romani population appears fairly ambitious, and there are a number of problems and obstacles in its implementation, a major one being the need for co- operation among a multitude of central and local government agencies many of which are sceptical as regards the suitability of these measures for the specific target group.

5.2. 3. Housing provision for Ethnic Greeks from Pontos

The number of Greek-origin people from Pontos (in the ex-USSR) repatriating to Greece has escalated to over 140,000 in the last decade, following the collapse of the socialist regime, a fact that has given rise to a need for policies and services to address the housing and other needs of the in-coming population.

The Greek government started the implementation of a housing scheme for repatriates from Pontos even prior to the political changes in the ex-USSR. The Department of Health and Welfare in co-operation with the Department of the Environment and Public Works and the Agricultural Bank, introduced a scheme for the distribution of 324 dwellings from the newly constructed projects of EKTENEPOL (a quasi-public construction company) in the northern towns of Xanthi and Komotini to expatriate households from Pontos in the late 80's. These dwellings were handed out via interest-free loans, which were subsidised by the Greek government by 35%.

In 1990, a special body called EIYAPOE was set up by the Ministry of the Interior, with the aim of providing accommodation and support to Greek repatriates in the process of integration through a three-phase programme. As part of this programme, EIYAPOE has set up four guest-houses - in the cities of Athens, Thessaloniki, Alexandroupolis and Xanthi - offering accommodation for up to a month upon arrival and specialised counselling and advise on issues of immediate concern. At the end of this period repatriates are moved to

specially organised ‘admission camps’. These camps may accommodate up to 5,000 people for a period of up to 6 months although, in practice, people very often stay in the admission camps much longer, while waiting to be moved into permanent housing. The final phase of the EIYAPOE programme concerns the housing resettlement of the repatriate population. The choice of the areas for the resettlement, by the Greek government is motivated, in part, by the need for population increase in certain under-populated areas of the country, such as Eastern Macedonia and Thrace - and especially, the desire to increase the percentage of the Christian population in the latter. It is also claimed that in these areas there is increased potential for the utilisation of labour force.

Two types of housing support are offered to that effect: The first one is a rent subsidy scheme. EYIAPOE subsidises the rent for families in the process of resettlement into private rented accommodation. The percentage of the rent paid by EYIAPOE decreases gradually, until the family is in a position to meet the cost of living independently. The second form of housing support concerns the construction of dwellings by EYIAPOE in co-operation with special construction companies, which are offered to repatriate families on very favourable terms. The EIYAPOE programmes, although quite ambitious, are able to address the housing needs of only a small percentage of the repatriate population, the majority of whom either seek assistance through friends and relatives or have to cope on their own. It is estimated that nearly 6,500 individuals have reached the final stage of the programme and have been forwarded to permanent accommodation in Macedonia and Thrace (YPEHODE, 2001)

In addition to the above, a number of benefits have been introduced by various government departments to address immediate financial needs of the repatriate population as well as indirect measures such as special licences to maintain flea-market stalls and systematic assistance in the process of seeking employment. Support services aiming at promoting the all-round social integration of the repatriate population also include provision of health care, provision of information regarding the Greek society and system of public services, Greek language classes, vocational training or re-training wherever required, preparation of children for joining the Greek educational system etc.

Although quite ambitious, the EIYAAPOE programme has only been able to cover the housing needs of less than a quarter of the target population. The majority of the latter are forced either to seek assistance from friends and relatives or to cope on their own. Thus, apart from the approximately 15,000 people who have participated in the housing programme, a fairly large number of repatriates live with friends and relatives, others still live in caravans in











5.2.4. Housing provision for refugees





There is an estimated influx of 4,000-5,000 people a year seeking asylum in Greece, most of them originating form Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Africa as well as the former Yugoslavia. The number has increased sharply in recent years. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees supervises three non-governmental organizations, namely the Greek Council for Refugees, the Foundation of Social Service and the International Social Service, which provide legal and social assistance to asylum-seekers who are recognized as political refugees according to the terms of the Geneva Convention. The only official admission centre is the Refugee Admission Centre in Lavrion - a small town in the outskirts of Athens - which provides accommodation to approximately 300 refugees, while their application for asylum is being processed as well as while waiting to be moved elsewhere. Their length of stay at the Centre may vary, depending of the length of the procedure, or whether they will be granted a permit to emigrate to another country. Approximately 75% of these refugees remain in Greece and are normally expected to get a job and move into private-rented accommodation, as there is no long-term accommodation provision upon leaving the Centre.

Among voluntary organizations, the Doctors of the World and Voluntary Work have set up services providing accommodation, health care, counselling on legal and immigration issues, assistance with seeking employment and general support to a number of refugees and asylum seekers. The vast majority of them, however, live in extreme poverty, and extremely poor housing conditions, due to the lack of official housing and social provision and the dysfunction and long delays in the procedures regarding granting asylum.

5.2.5. Non-governmental initiatives in service provision for disadvantaged groups :

examples of good practice


disadvantaged groups, which has already been mentioned in various sections above, is












particularly important in the light of the considerable gaps and inadequacies in statutory service provision in Greece.

Several voluntary organizations have developed initiatives aiming at tackling homelessness, as there is general consensus that it constitutes a major problem and an area where official service provision is particularly inadequate. However these initiatives refer to provision of emergency rather than permanent accommodation and therefore the housing and other needs of their target groups are tacked only temporarily. Furthermore these initiatives are severely restricted by shortage of funds.

Among those who care for the provision of such services and we may mention ‘Voluntary Work’ and ‘Doctors of The World’ working with refugees - already mentioned above - as well as offering support to other categories of homeless people, ‘Onissimos’ an association of ex-offenders providing temporary accommodation and support to young prison-leavers, ‘Elpida’ that provides emergency accommodation to people suffering from AIDS, and ‘Arsis’ offering a range of support services to socially disadvantaged young people with a view to promoting their social re-integration.

‘Arsis’ may be noted as an example of good practice, at it specializes in work with a particularly vulnerable group, namely socially excluded young people and young offenders, many of whom face homelessness or live in very adverse family conditions. The services offered include counselling, group work, workshops, vocational guidance and training, including practice placements, as well as a range of social, cultural and recreational activities. The work of Arsis has focused particularly on homelessness as affects its target group, emphasizing especially the problems faced by young people leaving care or reform institutions. Arsis has set up a Guest House for Young people, providing temporary accommodation along with a range of support services. However, although this guest house is an example of a particularly important and much needed service, its operation has not been consistent due to chronic funding difficulties faced by the organization and has been suspended following the Athens earthquake of 7 th September 1999, due to damages caused in the building.

Arsis has also initiated a systematic campaign against homelessness aiming at drawing attention to the problem and trying to sensitize officials and the general public as well as to link other services and organizations working with homeless young people in a network in order to pursue effective solutions.

5.3. The inadequacy of existing policies promoting social inclusion and participation of excluded people in the implementation of action

Despite a number of policies and initiatives targeting particular groups that are considered as vulnerable, in Greece there is total lack of an overall, integrated social policy promoting or even allowing access to housing for disadvantaged groups. Housing needs of most vulnerable groups are usually dealt with by bodies that are responsible for health and welfare issues rather than housing alone, as these groups do not even have access to bodies dealing with social housing. Furthermore, the fragmentary character of social administration results in these needs being either overshadowed, or separated off from other needs concerning overall social inclusion and a decent standard of living. The housing needs of vulnerable groups thus only attract attention in extreme cases considered as ‘crises’ or ‘emergencies’, or if case is highlighted by the media or is perceived as a danger because of violence or offending involved. The ‘welfarist’ or ‘professional’ handling of crises normally takes place either in traditional institutions (prisons, asylums, child care institutions etc.) or in more recently introduced guest-houses and shelters which are severely limited by the temporary nature of the services they provide due to lack of adequate funding and resettlement facilities.

The task of addressing the needs of specific disadvantaged groups is often undertaken by Non-governmental organizations (e.g. the Doctors of the World working with refugees, Arsis working with socially disadvantaged young people etc.) or by associations representing particular minority groups (gypsies, people with disabilities etc.) who wish their views to be taken into account in relation to issues that concern them. Such organizations operate to a large extent as campaign groups advocating the rights and pointing out the needs of the people they represent. Their operation relies largely on the personal commitment of the staff and of volunteers and their actual provision of services to their target group is limited due to shortage of funds. Such organizations are generally governed by a philosophy of client empowerment and user-participation but lack the power to significantly affect or implement policies on a large scale.

The housing and overall social exclusion of disadvantaged and vulnerable groups is not therefore effectively tackled within the existing network of policies and practices. Furthermore, we may suggest that there is not simply a lack of methods for promoting the participation of excluded people in the implementation of action, but rather an institutionalized perpetuation of the exclusion in so far as official policy is concerned.




As pointed out above, the legislation regarding the provision of social housing in Greece has not been updated so as to take into account contemporary social reality, and particular disadvantaged groups that have emerged as a result of recent social circumstances. This is, first and foremost, reflected in the very fact that the main statutory housing provider, OEK, is addressed primarily towards middle to low income employees with a consistent work record, and actively excludes the most needy and the homeless or those facing an immediate risk of homelessness. OEK’ s policies also favour families with children, regardless of their economic situation, something that, in line with other welfare policies, reflect the Greek government’s preoccupation with tackling the demographic problem rather than homelessness. The same is reflected in the so-called social criteria for being offered employment in the public sector, where applicants are given preference (additional points in a point system) in proportion to the number of children they have, or according to the number of children in their family of origin (regardless of whether the applicant lives with the family of origin at present).

Even the statutory shelters for the homeless, which officially aim at providing emergency accommodation to homeless people, are governed by bureaucratic procedures that make access by street-homeless people or by those most in need extremely difficult. More importantly, they have no resettlement facilities, thus offering no long-term solution to those homeless people who are unable to secure employment and private rented accommodation within the period of their stay at the hostel, and are often forced to return to the street. Homelessness and overall social exclusion are not, therefore, effectively tackled even by services targeting the homeless as such.

Social policy aiming to address the housing needs of particular disadvantaged groups consists mainly in various housing programmes targeting particular groups, which were presented earlier in the report. These programmes however, cater for only a small percentage of the population concerned, and present a number of problems and inadequacies, the main one being the lack of provision of permanent, proper housing.

Access to housing is also indirectly promoted by the tolerance traditionally demonstrated by Greek governments to non-repayment of housing loans and, specially, to unauthorized

building of houses which have been on repeated occasions legalized subsequently on favourable terms. Although this practice is no longer nearly as common as in the past, there are still from time to time government decisions such as the decision to provide water and electricity facilities to unauthorized houses of Greek repatriates from Pontos on favourable terms (Eleftherotypia newspaper 27/12/1999) or a recent favourable arrangement for the repayment of outstanding debts (i.e. government decision to rule out the total sum of the interest and 40% of the capital owed by recipients of subsidised housing loans taken out before 1990 which have not been repaid [Elefterotypia newspaper, 26/6/2000]).

However, in the light of current social reality, there is virtually no provision for a number of vulnerable groups who face the risk of homelessness, such as young people or single unemployed people without family support, immigrants or refugees who have applied but have not yet been granted political asylum (or do not qualify for political asylum), drug users on long waiting lists for methadone treatment, people leaving prisons, hospitals or other institutions - the common element which defines then as ‘vulnerable’ to the risk of homelessness being the lack of family support in addition to their other adverse circumstances. This reality, once more, highlights the fact that the family - rather than any form of state provision - constitutes the main safety net against homelessness in Greek society to this day.

There is a clear need for a social housing sector providing permanent housing to homeless people on the basis of need, while other complementary measures are also required in addition to that. The separation of housing from the other social needs of vulnerable groups leads to insurmountable difficulties in relation to their social inclusion and integration. It is therefore necessary to adopt an integrative, holistic approach to the problem, and implement policies and measures that address housing along with other support needs in a complementary manner.

The introduction of a ‘minimum guaranteed income’ payable to anyone in need and of housing benefit to payable to all people who cannot afford the cost of private rented accommodation would be important preventative policy measures for those facing the risk of homelessness. However, these constitute primarily welfare policies and cannot make up for the lack of proper housing policies for disadvantaged groups.

Given the considerable rise in recent years of people and groups in need of housing as well as support in relation to a range or different problems or crisis situations, there is a need for

supported accommodation schemes offering emergency or transitory accommodation, as well as resettlement into permanent housing where required. The existing welfare institutions or housing schemes, guest-houses, hostels etc. do not suffice to cover the need, and as a result they are often over-crowded or accommodate people with heterogeneous problems, due to lack of alternatives. It is estimated (according to the presentation by Arsis in the national meeting of FEANTSA members in Athens in Jan. 2001) that considering the present situation, the housing provision (accommodation plus complementary support services) required per group to cover about 50% of current need is approximately as follows: 2,000 places for refugees, 1,500 places for people accompanying relatives or visiting Athens for health reasons, 200 places for children and young people in probation, 200 places for adult ex- prisoners, 1,000 places for elderly people, 1,000 for people with mental health problems, 200 places in shelters for women facing domestic violence. The figures give some indication of the extent of the problem and the range of population groups it affects.

Another important issue relates to the chronic economic problems as well as the insecurity difficulties faced by many housing programmes and services of the voluntary sector regarding continuation of funding. It seems evident that continuous, guaranteed funding by central government is an important pre-requisite for the long-term planning and the proper operation of services belonging to the voluntary sector and of programmes initially set up with E.U. funding.

Another aspect of the problem pointed out earlier in the report concerns the lack of methods and mechanisms for promoting the participation of excluded people in the implementation of action. The task of advocating the needs of specific categories of socially excluded people is left primarily to non-governmental organizations and campaign groups, which are generally governed by a philosophy of client empowerment and participation but lack the power to influence significantly or implement policies on a large scale. It is important to introduce mechanisms ensuring that the views of disadvantaged groups concerning their needs are heard and taken into account on the level of policy-making and service provision, in order to combat and safeguard against ‘institutionalized exclusion’.

Summing up the above, we may therefore suggest that action to tackle housing exclusion by official government in Greece remains fragmentary and rudimentary and the participation of excluded people in the implementation of actions minimal. Moreover, the ‘welfarist’ or charitable approach to the housing and other needs of vulnerable groups usually adopted by various government bodies and institutions perpetuates rather than tackles the problem, and

needs to be revised. The social exclusion of vulnerable groups is institutionalized through their complete exclusion from mainstream social housing provision - so that their housing needs are not even registered as such - combined with the lack of any alternative provision addressing their needs on a long term basis. There seems to be a clear and immediate need for systematic and coordinated action - on the level of policy as well as of service provision - to fill these gaps.

An integrated national-scale policy promoting access to housing for vulnerable and disadvantaged groups - or rather tackling the virtual lack of social housing provision for these groups is a necessary prerequisite for the above. An important component of it would be the introduction of a national scale body dealing with homelessness and coordinating research, policy making and service provision in the field.


TABLE 1 Size, number of households and percentage of one-member households in Greece 1951-1991






























ESYE, Population Department

TABLE 2 State and family intervention to access to housing













Couple of pensioners









Families of high income professionals









Young low income employees









Housewife households









Families of workers and low income employees









Families of self-employed


















Aged people living alone




















1. Provision of ready made dwelling


2. House constructed or bought exclusively through subsidised loan

3. House constructed or bought through subsidised loan and own savings


FAMILY INTERVENTION 1. Free concession (not only between close relatives)


2. Parental donation or dowry

3. House constructed or bought through own savings and family donations


Household housing condition survey, EKKE/ESYE/Ministry of Housing and Environmental Planning, 1986-7 (cities with population over 50,000 inhbs)


TABLE 3 Applications for political asylum


Number of


Cases granted



































(to 30/6)

* Due to an accumulation in applications for political asylum, since 1998 applications of previous years are being examined as well

TABLE 4 Private Investment in Housing Construction ( % of the country’s GDP)


private funding (% of GNP)

capital imported for housing construction




million USD




million USD



1082.4 million USD




million USD

Source: National Statistical Service; Bank of Greece


TABLE 5 Type of accommodation related to social categories (%)
















employing more than 5 employees







Managers in companies with 1-4 employees, salary earners,


shop-owners with employees, army officers, pensioners of the





above categories



Other middle income shop-owners and office employees,


lower army officers, pensioners of the above categories






Low income office employees and pensioners







Lower commercial and service employees







Skilled labour





E. Unskilled labour, farmers etc.






F. Pensioners of the cat. D + E







Labour and pensioners who did not note category







Soldiers doing their military service, unemployed labour






Students, women doing household, others












Source: DEPOS/ICAP 1988 survey


TABLE 6 Housing conditions according to social groups

Social group


Available space

Overall quality



sq.m. or

average figures

% of total households


A.Self-employed professionals, managers in companies employing more than 5 employees





ext.damages 8.5





in the basement



b'rooms 2.2



poor light in kitchn 13.5


Managers in companies with 1-4 employees, salary





ext.damages 8.6

earners, shop-owners with employees, army officers, pensioners of the above categories





in the basement


b'rooms 2.0



poor light in kitchn 17.6


Other middle and low income shop-owners and





ext.damages 10.6

office employees, lower army officers, pensioners of the above categories





in the basement


b'rooms 1.8



poor light in kitchn 16.6


Lower commercial and service employees, skilled





ext.damages 13.9






in the basement



b'rooms 1.8



poor light in kitchn 16.1

E. Unskilled labour, farmers etc.





ext.damages 15.3





in the basement


b'rooms 1.7



poor light in kitchn 14.3

F. Pensioners of the categories D + E





ext.damages 22.0





in the basement


b'rooms 1.5



poor light in kitchn 13.2

G. People who did not note category, conscripted





ext.damages 19.9

soldiers, unemployed labour, students, women at home with no other occupation etc.





in the basement


b'rooms 1.4



poor light in kitchn24.9






ext.damages 14.6





in the basement


b'rooms 1.7



poor light in kitchn 17.2

Source: DEPOS/ICAP 1988 survey (cities over 50,000 inhabitants)


TABLE 7 Housing conditions of low income households, Athens 1999











in total





Average size of household

















building built b.








lack of basic






















persons -1












%sq.m/person< 25









Dwelling smaller than needs in sq.m.





Dwelling smaller than need in rooms





Bedrooms fewer


than needs










Source: Depos-MRC research 1999

TABLE 8 Minimum insured days of work for eligibility to OEK Housing Programme

worker with 2 children


working days

worker with 3 children


working days

worker with 4 children


working days

worker with 5-9 children


working days

worker with 4-9 children and one disabled family member


working days

worker with more than 10 children


working days

political refugees (Greeks) or blind


working days

seriously disabled and paraplegic


working days

new couples


working days

earthquake victims


working days

single persons


working days

Source OEK


TABLE 9 OEK Construction Programme ( in million drs.)



Given to




Given to