HERO: European partners launch pilot project to support housing and financial inclusion of Roma in Romania

27 February 2023

Bucharest – An innovative EU Pilot Project to support Roma communities in Romania through housing and financial literacy is launched by the European Parliament (EP), the European Commission (EC), the Council of Europe Development Bank (CEB) and selected implementing partners in Romania.

The Housing and Empowerment for Roma (HERO), which was established in 2022 and will run through 2024, is a pilot project funded by the EP and implemented by the EC and the CEB in collaboration with public authorities, financial institutions and local community organisations. HERO will apply a social investment model to counter the socio-economic exclusion of Roma communities in Romania, Slovakia, and Bulgaria.

The Council of Europe estimates that approximately 1.85 million Roma live in Romania, constituting 8.3% of the country’s population. According to the “Romania - national Roma strategic framework 2022-2027”, 80% of Roma live under the poverty line. One in three Roma live in unregulated settlements without running water and one in ten Roma have no access to electricity. 25% of adults and 30% of children live in households where at least one family member went to bed hungry at least once in the last month.

The barriers Roma communities face are multifaceted. Cross-sectoral partnerships across public, private and civil society organisations present the best approach to breaking the cycle of poverty. And the HERO project is designed to do just that.

An amount of €580,000 is available under HERO for 120 persons from the marginalised Roma communities located in Bacău, Neamț and other counties to learn financial and construction skills, access micro-loans and have better access to gainful employment. The project will be implemented by local partners: BCR Social Finance IFN S.A., the Resource Centre for Roma Communities (CRCR) and Habitat for Humanity Romania.

As the lead implementing partner, BCR Social Finance will provide microloans and financial education, while local authorities will assist with the issuance of adequate permits and approvals for housing renovations. The goal is to ensure not just improved housing conditions but also access to financial services and increased financial security for Roma families so that they can positively contribute to the socio-economic development of their communities.

“I am pleased that BCR Social Finance together with our partners Habitat for Humanity Romania and Resource Center for Roma Communities Foundation (Fundația Centrul de Resurse pentru Comunitățile de Romi) has started to implement in Romania this socially innovative approach by making financial inclusion an integrated component of the inclusion efforts. Encouraging and enabling people to act for a better life and supporting their journey towards employment, financial literacy and improved living conditions will definitely trigger benefits for our entire society”, said Ștefan Buciuc, CEO of BCR Social Finance.

Paolo Gentiloni, European Commissioner for Economy, noted: “I am proud that the European Commission is implementing this EU pilot in support of disadvantaged Roma communities as part of its broader social impact investment initiatives. I hope this will serve as a blueprint for further national and European programmes supporting inclusion and resilience, like the InvestEU Programme. I am pleased that we are collaborating with the European Parliament and the Council of Europe Development Bank in this important endeavour.”

Ramona Chiriac, Head of the European Commission Representation in Romania, commented: “The European Commission is proud to implement the HERO project in Romania where many Roma are still disadvantaged, victims of prejudice and social exclusion. A large part of the Roma community continues to live in poorer conditions than the majority population. The HERO EU initiative will facilitate much-needed literacy training, construction skills, employment coaching and mentoring expected to result in better housing, employment and the improvement of living conditions. Roma have the right to equal opportunities – Let’s make it a reality for all!”

Peter Pollák, Member of the European Parliament, said: “Improving the living conditions of the Roma is the key to their successful integration into society. The ambition of the HERO pilot project is to enable vulnerable groups to finance their own housing through a loan to be repaid. It is a self-help construction project, which is also intended to help build their skills and be employed in the labour market. I am very happy that Roma in Romania also will have the possibility to benefit from it.”

Tomáš Zdechovský, Member of the European Parliament, added: “We started HERO as a pilot project in Slovakia. The project proved to be successful in giving Roma people the foundations to start a new life. I am delighted that we can expand to Romania. Roma people all around Europe deserve dignity and affordable housing. We will not stop in Romania, and I hope that HERO will become EU-wide. HERO is the best example of smart cooperation between policymakers, private stakeholders, and communities, earmarking funds where they are needed without incredible bureaucracy. We need more HEROes in the EU.”

Rainer Lovato, Deputy Director, Loans and Social Development Directorate, Council of Europe Development Bank, said: “The Roma communities continue to face barriers in accessing basic financial services, which is a major obstacle for economic and social inclusion. This project takes a comprehensive approach and addresses several areas that are key to integration such as access to housing, employment, and education. HERO reflects CEB’s strong commitment to fostering social inclusion and improving the quality of life of vulnerable populations, including Roma.”

Set up in 1956, the CEB (Council of Europe Development Bank) has 42 member states. Twenty-two Central, Eastern and South Eastern European countries, forming the Bank's target countries, are listed among the member states. As a major instrument of the policy of solidarity in Europe, the Bank finances social projects by making available resources raised in conditions reflecting the quality of its rating (Aa1 with Moody's, on review for upgrade, AAA with Standard & Poor's, outlook stable, AA+ with Fitch Ratings, outlook positive and AAA* with Scope Ratings, outlook stable). It thus grants loans to its member states, and to financial institutions and local authorities in its member states for the financing of projects in the social sector, in accordance with its Articles of Agreement.

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