Social Housing in Bosnia and Herzegovina: Refugees Find Home After Three Decades

Photo by Sam Tarling for CRS

You are here

It's a warm August day in the village of Tinja near the town of Srebrenik, in the northeast of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The clear blue sky and sunny weather perfectly reflect the mood of a group of people gathered in front of a newly built residential building. However, the primary reason for the joy and happiness on their faces is not the weather. It’s something else: after years of living as displaced persons they are now receiving the keys to their new homes.

Photo courtesy of CRS partner

"I don't know if I will end up in heaven, but this is heaven for me now,” Mina Musić said. Mina has been living in three different accommodations since she had to leave her home during the war in the nineties. “I spent eight years in Babajići, five in Čokačani, and fifteen nearby here. I won't be moving around anymore. I thank everyone who participated in this. May you all be well and happy, and may God grant you all your wishes."

Mina participated in the project “Closing of Collective Centers and Alternative Accommodation by Providing Public Housing Solutions” (CEB II). Implemented with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) support, Mina and 20 other displaced families living in a collective center near Tinja have now resolved their housing situation. Collective centers were designed to be temporary accommodation for people who had to flee their homes during the war, but almost three decades after the war ended, many people were still living in them. They could not return to their homes as they are in parts of country without even the basic infrastructure needed for dignified living.

Mirsad Husejinović, a refugee from the Drina River basin, was one of those who moved into a new, permanent home.

"I have two children, and we have moved through several collective accommodations,” Mirsad said. “It wasn't easy, but better times are ahead. I'm delighted that we have moved into this beautiful building. I'm surprised by its appearance and design; it's modern and well-built. I want to thank everyone who participated in this project.”

With the handing over of the keys to the new residents of the Tinja building, the last collective center in the municipality of Srebrenik has been closed. However, there are still many collective centers in BiH where people live, and their housing issues will be resolved thanks to the collective efforts of all those involved in the project.

Closing Collective Centers through Social Housing Solutions

The 1992-1995 war in BiH left behind destroyed homes and about 2.2 million refugees and displaced people, which was more than half of the country's population. Almost three decades after the war, many still live in collective accommodations.

Under Annex VII of the Dayton Peace Agreement, which ended the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, relevant institutions recognized social housing, pioneered by CRS in 2007, as a model for resolving the housing issues of displaced people and other materially disadvantaged groups. Designed as apartment buildings, they offer affordable, dignified living conditions for people who have limited resources.

The CEB II project aims to end the existence of 121 collective centers and alternative accommodations, where around 7,200 people live in inadequate facilities.

To address their housing needs, the construction or reconstruction of 2,045 non-profit social housing units in 68 buildings and facilities is planned in 46 cities and municipalities in BiH. This would end the operation of all collective centers in the entity of Republika Srpska and 76% in the entity of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Photo courtesy of CRS partner

The project, coordinated by the Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees of Bosnia and Herzegovina, is implemented by the Federal Ministry of Displaced Persons and Refugees, the Ministry of Refugees and Displaced Persons of the Republika Srpska, and the Government of the Brčko District. Relevant cantonal ministries and local authorities are also involved in the implementation, with the support of UNHCR, CRS, and the Association 'Your Rights'.

The project is funded through a loan from the Council of Europe Development Bank (CEB) and contributions from local authorities.

CRS has provided technical assistance through grant funds secured by the Western Balkans Investment Framework (WBIF) and bilateral donors from Norway, Spain, Italy, and Slovakia.

Creating a Legal Framework

As the legal framework for social housing in BiH was nonexistent, CRS initiated the legal regulation of this area. Thanks to its experience and innovative approach, CRS was recognized as capable of providing technical support in this crucial task.

By signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the state Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees and a contract with the European Development Bank, CRS assumed the role of providing expert assistance to the relevant ministries and municipalities involved in the CEB II project in creating the legal framework for social housing.

In addition to establishing the legal framework at the local level, work is also underway to draft laws on social housing. This is challenging, given the complicated administrative structure of the country, which has 13 administrative units with their own governments and laws.

In practice, this means that fully regulating this area requires passing 13 laws on social housing. So far, CRS has assisted in enacting six laws at the entity and cantonal levels and will continue to support the remaining cantons in passing laws.

Establishing the legal framework will enable the long-term sustainability of the social housing system and ensure that the most vulnerable groups have access to it.

Pioneers of Social Housing in Bosnia and Herzegovina

CRS's engagement in the field of social housing in this country goes back much further than the CEB II project. In 2008, CRS initiated the pilot project "Social Housing in Bosnia and Herzegovina," supported by the Embassy of the Netherlands in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migrations (the humanitarian bureau of the US Department).

Thanks to CRS's social housing projects, 268 housing units were built for displaced and readmitted individuals in eight local communities.

Vital to the success of these projects was the fact that all of them were financially supported and implemented in partnership with the relevant institutions.

After initially being mainly implemented by international organizations, BiH state authorities began implementing two major social housing projects: the Regional Housing Program (RHP) and CEB II.

Within these projects, more than 3,000 housing units are being built for displaced people from collective centers and socially vulnerable categories who cannot resolve their housing issues without state assistance.

Photo by Sam Tarling for CRS

Over the years of dedicated work in this field, CRS has significantly contributed to helping many displaced people resolve their housing issues after an extended period. Equally importantly, significant steps have been taken towards legal regulation of social housing, enabling continued activities until the final goal is achieved—to provide all those in need with a roof over their heads and living conditions worthy of human beings.

Despite complex system in BiH, CRS' expertise enabled adoption of six laws on social housing, covering more than 75% of cities and municipalities in the country, to provide equal access to housing to significant percentage of BiH population that belong to vulnerable categories.