Tackling housing poverty in Portugal: just a change

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WESTBURY, New York – To tackle housing poverty in Portugal, Just A Change works to restore and build housing for impoverished Portuguese communities. Housing poverty in Portugal is still a widespread problem, but organizations like Just A Change hope to address it.

Housing, poverty and development

In 2017, nearly 113 million people were the risk of housing poverty or social exclusion. About 23% of the total population cannot heat their homes while 200,000 cannot shower. In addition, more than 50,000 have no running water or sewage system. To show these disparities, death rates have increased at 28% during the Portuguese winter due to the lack of insulation of the dwellings.

The development of Portuguese infrastructure and production has boosted economic growth. Those who do not benefit from the new improvements face higher living costs and difficult housing markets. Despite heavy agricultural production and education improvements, food insecurity and low income are driving young Portuguese workers a way. Those who cannot afford to leave face desperate housing conditions and poverty.

Just a change

Just a change (JAC) is a non-profit, non-governmental organization founded in Lisbon to rebuild and renovate the homes of Portuguese living in housing poverty. Since 2010, it has renovated more than 279 houses and 70 institutions, helping more than 4,600 people in 22 municipalities.

JAC helps people with their housing projects and generally targets old houses that are poorly built and lack basic living conditions. The benefactors are often elderly and many lack the financial means or the strength to rebuild their own homes.

Just A Change operates in several municipalities nationwide to implement their housing projects. He begins by presenting his approach to local municipalities. Local governments usually already have a good understanding of the issues in their communities. These municipalities establish an intervention protocol defining the budget, the number of housing units and the project schedule.

The municipalities then help to set up the logistical part of the intervention such as accommodation and meals. They often rely on local support. JAC, in turn, oversees the purchasing of materials, professional contractors and the construction process.

Interview with Rita Lucena

In an interview with The Borgen Project, Rita Lucena, communications and fundraising manager at Just A Change, said that the housing crisis across Portugal requires different response processes depending on whether the area is urban or rural. . She said rural areas are increasingly empty and their populations are aging. It is not fundamentally necessary to provide more housing on these lands, but rather to help renovate and maintain their homes, which are often old buildings without modern infrastructure.

Meanwhile, the needs of urban areas are more diverse and more difficult. Real estate transactions in Portugal hits a record $ 10.1 billion home sales in the second quarter of 2021, the highest since 2009. In a country of just over 10 million inhabitants and an aging population, Portugal is doing its best to attract new talent and talent. workforce in offer immigrants low tax rates and a relaxed lifestyle. However, Lucena said soaring prices due to foreign real estate investment are pushing families and residents away from cities.

“Housing is a constant topic of discussion and new policies. The answers come both from central and local government authorities, but also from private and social entities, ”said Lucena. “We had municipal elections across the country on September 26, so housing was the main topic of discussion in every district. “

She said this has dramatic effects on housing poverty in Portugal because the traditional society has little awareness. She also shared that one of the challenges of JAC is to influence the legal framework of Portugal on this issue and to help local actors to integrate the collaborative approach of JAC.

The impact of housing

Lucena said JAC’s renovations help provide a safer and healthier quality of life. Including families in home improvement plans helps give them a sense of self-actualization. She believes that by improving the living conditions of the people, her organization has reduced poverty and crime and improved public health and energy efficiency. “Lack of adequate living conditions is one of the most devastating types of poverty, as it affects all aspects of life,” said Lucena.

With over 5,000 volunteers, Lucena said JAC teams can deliver a multidimensional approach to home improvement by capitalizing on the diversity of skills of their teams and partnerships. A major partner, Energias De Portugal, helps the organization to improve the energy efficiency and thermal insulation of its project by helping it with efficient water heating systems, solar panels or other equipment.

Another partnership is with Entrajuda, a nonprofit organization that helps other nonprofits find solutions and engage with partners. Lucena shared that financial benefactors like Leroy Merlin, Sonae, Jerónimo Martins, Prio and other donors are helping to complement JAC operations. She believes they are essential to the housing intervention process once the renovations are complete. Finally, the local entities of the third sector are essential for the signaling and control process and the coordination with the municipalities. In addition, they help universities attract new volunteers and promote fundraising campaigns.

Adapting to a pandemic

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lucena has said JAC needs to scale down its operations. While she had planned to recover more than 80 houses in 2020, she managed to complete seven establishments and 33 houses. However, the organization is always proud of its ability to respond to the urgent housing poverty needs in the community.

“As we were all forced to stay at home, the relevance of having decent shelter to stay safe from the virus became even clearer,” Lucena said. “The JAC has therefore planned an ambitious year 2021, aware that it would always be a difficult year, with clear and demanding objectives to ensure the renovation of as many homes as possible, generating an impact in each intervention. “

She said since 2021 it has operated in 13 different locations and mobilized more than 300 volunteers. She explained that this had adapted the work teams to reduce the number of volunteers. In addition, it followed strict health protocols to ensure the protection of beneficiaries and volunteers.

Future plans and perspectives

More recently, Lucena said JAC has completed a very demanding national response. She then plans to take over an intervention project in Lisbon and Porto focusing on urban poverty in housing. In addition to these operations, Lucena explained that JAC is looking to expand its operations to other parts of the country. She said she was looking at a replication model where each city and town would have their own JAC hub. These poles would implement the JAC’s intervention programs and activities autonomously, reporting annually to their headquarters in Lisbon. If successful, Lucena hopes that this model will then be extended to other countries.

-André Silva
Photo: Provided by JAC


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