Brussels failing to pay rent allowance owed to city's most vulnerable

Brussels failing to pay rent allowance owed to city's most vulnerable
Social housing in Saint-Gilles. Credit: Ugo Realfonzo / The Brussels Times

Amidst the ongoing housing crisis in Brussels, some 50,000 households are on the waiting list for social housing, specifically aimed at single people and families with a limited income, with rent prices now increasingly beyond many people’s means.

But waiting lists are long, with people facing waiting times for as long as 12 years, and there is no guarantee that households eligible for social housing will actually be able to acquire an affordable home.

Therefore, Belgium offers rent allowances for the most vulnerable households who are waiting for social housing to become available, so they can rent on the private market in the meantime.

The rent allowance ranges from €120 to €160 per month depending on one’s income, with €40 per child on top of that.

The policy was introduced eight years ago, and 12,000 Brussels inhabitants currently meet the conditions to receive a rent allowance.

However, the Brussels Region has failed to pay most of them so far, a Bruzz analysis shows. Earlier this year, only 400 out of 10,000 households entitled to a housing allowance had received it.

Simplified procedure

The admission criteria for housing allowance were strict, the application procedure was complicated, and the computer system faced failures.

State Secretary for Housing, Nawal Ben Hamou, therefore decided to simplify the procedure and increase the amount. The renewed rent allowance policy was launched in October 2021 and was meant to be a solution for emergency housing.

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It has improved the complicated application procedure, as there were 14,000 new applications and 11,600 approved files, the State Secretary announced in parliament at the end of April.

Legal action

However, the large majority of those who qualify for the allowance still have not received any money.

One woman detailed to Bruzz how she immediately applied for the renewed rent allowance in October. In her situation, with one dependent child, this concerns a monthly amount of €200 euros. Seven months later, however, there has still been no response or support from the authorities.

After being forced to move into a cheaper apartment which was infested with mould on the walls, both she and her son developed allergies and had to visit the hospital.

Together with a dozen other victims, she engaged a Brussels law firm, which gave the Region a notice of default last week. If the rent allowance is not paid out quickly, they will file a lawsuit.

Even collective action is not excluded, lawyer Laurent Arnauts said at a press conference last week. “This is not about a premium for the installation of solar panels that has not been paid for years, but about essential support for the most vulnerable families in the region.”

If not now, when?

The Brussels Housing Department has therefore been criticised, as an anonymous staff member previously told Bruzz there have been problems for many years.

“The rent allowances service does not function properly, the employees process too few files. There is the computer science problem, mainly a lack of competence in the people who have to make decisions about it," he said.

Ben Hamou promised in late April that 1,068 files were about to be paid and that everyone who is entitled to it will receive their rent allowance by the end of September. They will also receive it retroactively from the day of their application.

However, that does mean the city's most vulnerable households will have to manage for months without any of the promised government support.

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