Case study: "Feketelakás" campaign – cheaper, safer flat rentals in Hungary

In 2017, Habitat Hungary waged an advocacy campaign to raise public awareness on the issue of the insecurity and unaffordability of rental housing in the country. Habitat Hungary is one of 40 countries enrolled in Solid Ground, Habitat for Humanity International’s global advocacy campaign.

Tenure security, one of Solid Ground’s four subthemes, is living free from the fear of eviction. In Hungary, 300,000 families are in need of low-price rental housing. Families are increasingly exposed to legal complications due to unofficial contracts, and are forced to live with relatives and friends for undetermined amounts of time, adding to overall housing insecurity.

The political climate provides some challenges for doing advocacy work around secure tenure. For many years, Hungary’s government was socialist, meaning social services like low-income housing were available through the government. Now, Hungary’s illiberal government provides few social services, and creates significant barriers to approaching policymakers. The political and historical context leads to a gap in both public and private low-income housing services.

Habitat Hungary’s advocacy for tenure security took a multi-prong approach which included producing research, policy recommendations, and public awareness. At the start of the campaign, Habitat Hungary held a conference with key housing associations in the market and stakeholders. Team members carefully researched the situation in Hungary and studied best practices for addressing the issue of tenure security throughout the European Union, resulting in a hundred page paper.

From that research and the first-hand experiences of Habitat Hungary field projects, the advocacy team developed several policy recommendations to help tenants and landlords. One recommendation was to provide incentives through tax benefits and state aid to legally report rentals to the government. They also advocated increasing the number of social renting agencies and nonprofit housing associations. While the campaign has not yet produced significant policy change, Habitat has approached policymakers through consultancy and lobbying. Additionally, Hungary’s opposition parties have committed themselves to Habitat’s policy recommendations.

Habitat successfully engaged the public around the issue of secure tenure through a creative three month campaign push, reaching a million people through the media and half a million through social media. The campaign launched a petition which garnered over 6,000 signatures, more than double their goal. Many of those 6,000 signees then donated to the campaign’s work.  Habitat had 64 media appearances in country wide newspapers, television programs, radio shows, and online publications. Through the three-month campaign access to safe and affordable flat rentals became the most discussed issue in the country, clearly highlighting the success. Habitat Hungary achieved in building public interest around the issue.  

Habitat Hungary’s work provides an important public-facing advocacy model for other European countries struggling with the growing issue of housing affordability, and could eventually lead to advocacy within European Union institutions.