In 2014 a new social support service, “housing mediator”, was established and tested to help families from vulnerable groups improve their living conditions. This initiative was implemented by Habitat for Humanity Bulgaria in partnership with “Club of NGOs – Targovishte”, Foundation “Health and Social Development” – Sofia and CDC “Vasil Levski 1965” – Kyustendil with the financial support of the Program for support of NGOs in Bulgaria under the EEA FM 2009-2014. The housing mediators also worked in the town of Dupnitsa within the framework of the INTEGRA Program of OP Human Resources Development.
The aim of establishing the new community service was to help families in the long run to overcome economic and social inequalities and become more adaptable to the changing economic and social environment. Beneficiaries of this service were low-income families, including Roma families living in poor housing conditions.
Housing mediators were selected among representatives of communities in which the service was being tested. They underwent specialized training, which provided them with additional knowledge in the relevant areas. The role of the housing mediator was to advise and support community members and households in the process of improving their homes or resolving other ongoing housing and living issues. They helped a total of 270 clients in the following areas:
• Providing consultancy and assistance regarding repair activities;
• Providing information on procedures and documents for accommodation in municipal homes;
• Providing information on affordable and legal banking and non-banking services;
• Providing information on the rights and obligations of property owners with regard to the possibility of legalization of housing and utility bills, payment of taxes, etc.
The housing mediator service has been piloted for six months in three regions by six residential mediators and it was part of a package of integrated measures to improve the housing conditions of vulnerable groups, including:
• providing microfinance for home improvements;
• organizing life skills trainings “Family Budget Management” and “Home Maintenance”;
• providing additional social and health support from local partner organizations.
The project results were summarized and analyzed in a “Report on the Pilot Provision of the Housing Mediator Service”. This was disseminated to local and national stakeholders in order to identify mechanisms for long-term provision of the service on a national level.