Brussels’ poorest families still waiting for payment of rent allowance

Brussels’ poorest families still waiting for payment of rent allowance
A sign detailing a property that is up for rent. Photo by Helen Lyons/The Brussels Times

Seven years after the introduction of a housing allowance, only 400 of the 10,000 Brussels households entitled to the support have received it.

The procedure for obtaining a rent allowance was simplified through an initiative of Brussels State Secretary Nawal Ben Hamou (PS), which led to many more applications, but Bruzz reports that payouts have been scant.

Families at the top of the waiting list for social housing were supposed to receive the assistance, as they’re forced to rent on the more expensive private market in the meantime.

The waiting list in Brussels has 49,000 households, and 12,500 are eligible for the new rent allowance of €100 a month. These are households or families living in uninhabitable or unadapted housing, and also those without homes at all.

A history of dysfunction

In June 2015, then MP Alain Maron (Ecolo) raised questions about the rent allowance, which he said was facing serious administrative problems: the procedure was onerous, and vulnerable members of the public had to fill out multiple documents in order to apply. Already people were waiting months for a response to completed applications.

Member of Parliament Vincent De Wolf (MR) complained that submitted dossiers were poorly followed up by the Brussels Housing administration.

“After endless waiting times and promising letters, nothing happens at all,” De Wolf said.

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Some of the problems were blamed on software. Solutions were approved and implemented, but still the number of households that actually saw support remained low over the years. In 2018, just 209 families received the support.

Without the allowance, those beneficiaries spent on average 58% of their disposable income on rent, which the allowance lowered to 46%.

But problems with the system persisted, and in 2021, only 400 of the eligible 10,000 received their allowance.

The latest reforms

Ben Hamou is hoping to reform the process further, allocating it proactively and semi-automatically in order to reduce the burden for both applicants and administration.

People who qualify will now get a letter in the mail from Brussels Housing, which they have to fill out and sign. They also have to attach a copy of their identity card and rental contract, then return the letter by mail or email.

Photo from office of Nawal Ben Hamou.

The basic amount of the allowance has also been increased, and now ranges from €120 to €280, depending on the situation and the composition of the beneficiary family.

The eligibility criteria are also slightly broader, making 12,500 households eligible for the allowance. Ben Hamou envisages a budget of €38 million for this purpose.

Issues persist

But while the Minister initially said that the first payments would be made in January/February, and that for those who applied before then the amounts for October, November and December would also be paid, this hasn’t been the case.

The poorest tenants on the Brussels private market will therefore have to wait longer for their rent allowance, and many of them for years before any sort of back-pay.

Thirteen full-time equivalents are at work within the administration around the housing allowances, Ben Hamou said in December in the Housing Committee.

“They are handling the incoming applications, and closing the old rental allowance files,” she said.

Member of Parliament Zoé Genot (Ecolo) asked Ben Hamou on Thursday afternoon in the Housing Committee about the rent allowances that have still not been paid, but the administration of Brussels Housing referred questions about the practical payment of rent allowances to the Ben Hamou cabinet, whose spokesperson was unavailable for comment on Wednesday.

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