State of play of the Greek Social Housing Policies

HOUSING EUROPE WORKING COMMITTEE

MEETINGS

21 and 22 November 2016

“State of play of the Greek Social Housing Policies”

 

Gabriel Amitsis

Associate Professor of Social Security Law

Department of Business Administration

 

 

 

Athens, November 2016

 

1. The current situation

The development of sound social housing policies constitutes a key challenge for the rudimentary Greek Welfare State in the context of the sharp financial crisis that affects Greece and its implications during the implementation of the Financial Stability Mechanisms [1]. However, the social housing discourse does not represent a major priority reform domain, although it may affect a broad range of persons unable to meet effectively their housing needs through the private market (particularly pensioners, long term unemployed, overindebted households and welfare claimants) [2], already hit by severe austerity measures.

A. Key social data

In 2016, Greece is experiencing its 8th consecutive year of recession (a public debt that equals 328 billion euros in July 2016) with:

  •  a rising unemployment rate, estimated in 23,5% in June 2016 (young unemployment rate: 50,3%)
  • a rising risk at poverty rate with 35,7% of the population (3.825.000 persons) at risk of poverty and social exclusion in 2015 and with 21,4% living below the EU statistical poverty line (income set at 60% of the median household income)
  • a weak and rudimentary national Welfare State (the only EU Member State without a national minimum income scheme) faced with strict fiscal constraints and, therefore, unable to cope with the huge social crisis
  • a social economy sector facing great difficulties in assuming a dynamic role due to institutional obstacles, financial difficulty and multiple prejudices.

Following a deep and prolonged depression, during which real GDP fell by 26%, the Greek economy is projected to grow again in the course of 2016 and 2017, but a full recovery will take time. The unemployment rate is still high despite a moderate

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[1] The First Economic Adjustment Programme was launched in May 2010 and committed a loan package of € 110 billion, of which € 73 billion was disbursed, subject to the strict clauses laid down in the First Memorandum of Economic and Financial Policies. The Second Economic Adjustment Programme was agreed in March 2012 with a loan package of € 130 billion in addition to the amounts not disbursed from the First Programme. On 19 August 2015, the European Commission signed – on a request by the Greek government, after expiration of the country’s Second Programme on 30 June – a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Greece following approval by the ESM Board of Governors for further stability support accompanied by a Third Economic Adjustment Programme. This paves the way for mobilising up to €86 billion in financial assistance to Greece over three years (2015-2018).

[2] According to Eurofound (2016), Inadequate housing in Europe: Costs and consequences, the three most frequently cited obstacles preventing the provision of affordable housing across Europe were:

  • high rent prices;
  • insufficient social housing;
  • the unavailability of loans or the inability to pay loans back.

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decline since 2013. The depression has pushed many people into poverty and income inequality has increased.

The social impact of the crisis has been extremely severe so far in Greece. The decline in household income, high long-term unemployment and the lack of a well-designed social safety net have all raised poverty and the share of the population at risk of poverty. Anchored poverty, which measures poverty relative to its precrisis income level, almost tripled between 2007 and 2013, and on this measure one third of the population was in poverty in 2013. High youth unemployment, the growing incidence of child poverty and higher poverty increase the risk that the depression will have permanent effects on employability and prosperity, and might impede intergenerational mobility and long-term opportunities for the younger generations.

B. Key data about the housing market

Before the crisis in Greece there was a very high ownership share [3] and a strong construction sector with no particular state intervention. However, the Greek housing market collapsed since 2009 [4], mainly driven by the drop of GDP per capita, the shrinking of residential lending and the rise in taxation [5], dragging investments and house prices down. Approximately €18 bn., or 8.2% of GDP, investments in construction were lost within 2008-2015, slowing further down the economic activity.

The Greek housing market currently is an “outlier” of the European markets, with a 41% decline in house prices between 2008-2015, a 72% drop in transactions volume within 2008-2014; on the other hand real estate taxes have grown up by approximately 6 times (€ 3bn.) in the five-year period 2010-2015, further contributing the economic downturn.

The Greek housing market is characterized today by oversupply. Indicatively, in 2002, there were 64 house properties per 100 people, while in 2014 this rose to 71 properties per 100 people, or 1.7 per family. The housing oversupply will hinder the recovery of the house prices, unless the market will recover slower than that of the Greek economy, unless measures to reduce oversupply and enhance demand are taken.

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[3] The Home Ownership Rate in Greece, as reported by the Eurostat, decreased to 74% percent in 2014 from 75,8% in 2013. This rate averaged 75.87% from 2003 until 2014, reaching an all time high of 77,20% in 2010 and a record low of 74% in 2014.
[4] At their peak, in 2005, in the euphoria of the Olympic Games, there were 250,000 sales in Athens. However, due to the tremendous rise in property taxes since 2011, owners may be desperate to offload, but there are few who want to buy.
[5] A new property tax was imposed in 2011 on all built property (it did not amount to more than 1% of housing values), while all subsidies and tax relief on interest paid on mortgage loans were repealed.

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According to a recent study [6], if no actions are taken for the rejuvenation of the house market, in a realistic scenario for Greek economic growth, where GDP per capita returns to pre-crisis levels in 2030, it is estimated that:

  • demand and supply in the Greek real estate market will balance at about 2047
  • annual investments in real estate will reach €4.5bn on average, and
  • house prices will return to pre-crisis levels after 2050.

C. Key data about affordable housing

There are no official estimations about homeless persons or persons unable to meet effectively their housing needs through the private market. Public authorities have not adopted yet relevant criteria and indicators, although specific recommendations based on the FEANTSA European Typology on Homelessness and Housing Exclusion (ETHOS) have been put forward in the Greek National Strategy to prevent and combat the lack of housing.

However, international organizations emphasize a significant increase (25-30%) in homelessness in Greece [7]), while data from the 2011 National Population Survey (National Statistical Service of Greece) provide a preliminary profile of groups at high risk of homelessness:

On the other hand, 7% of Greek residents suffered severe housing deprivation in 20138. The European Quality of Life Survey shows that in 2011 40% of people in the lowest income quartile in Greece live in homes with damp or leaks.

 

 

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[6] See PwC Greece, The Greek Real Estate Market 2016 Report, 2016.
[7] A FEANTSA Report (On the Way Home?, 2012, p. 21) states that “Despite a lack of reliable statistical data, there are clear indications of a large and rapid increase in homelessness. Service providers estimate that Greece’s homeless population also rose by 25% between 2009 and 2011 and reached 20,000”.
[8] The severe housing deprivation rate, as reported by Eurostat on the basis of EU-SILC data, is defined as the percentage of the population living in an overcrowded dwelling (defined on the objective basis of availability of rooms for inhabitants), while also exhibiting at least one of four housing deprivation measures: a leaking roof, damp or rot; no bath/ shower; no indoor toilet; or a dwelling that is considered too dark.

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2. The Social Housing Framework

A. The Constitutional Framework

The institutional framework for the establishment of social housing policies is laid down in the Constitution of 1975, which includes specific provisions on housing. In this respect, art. 21 provides that:

“(1) The family, as the basis for the preservation and progress of the nation, as well as marriage, mother and childhood are under the protection of the State.

(2) Large families, war invalids and invalids of peacetime, victims of war, war widows and orphans, as well as the incurable physically and mental1y sick, are entitled to special State care.

(3) The State will care for the health of citizens and will adopt special measures for the protection of young people, the elderly, invalids, as well as for assistance to the needy.

(4) For those without any or with insufficient accommodation, housing is subject to special State care.

(5) The design and the implementation of demographic policies fall among the responsibilities of the State.

(6) Persons with special needs are entitled to take advantage of measures, which guarantee their personal autonomy, employment inclusion and participation in the social, economic and political framework of the country”.

 

B. The Legislative Framework

There is not any single Legislative Framework for the development of a Social Housing Agenda. Different statutes regulate various aspects of social housing policies, as:

a) The implementation of social housing programmes by the Workers Housing Organization (W.H.O.), a legal body of public law supervised by the Ministry of Labour, Social Insurance and Social Welfare [9]. These programmes were self-financed by special social insurance surcharges on wages partly paid by the employer.
W.H.O supplied a marginally small number of built housing (for ownership) but a significant number of heavily subsidized loans to buyers and owner-builders and an equally significant number of lump-sum rent subsidies to renters belonging to a broad category of wage and salary earners.

b) The protection of over-indebted mortgage loan debtors from eviction and auctioning in case of prolonged arrears when their dwelling is the main residence.

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[9] This body was sacked in 2012 and its programmes were discontinued at the end of 2011.

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c) The implementation of supportive measures for homeless, a new group at high risk of poverty and social exclusion, which was for the very first time recognized by the art. 29 of the Law No. 4052/2012:

“1. The homeless are recognized as a vulnerable social group to which social protection is provided. Homeless persons are defined as all persons legally residing in the country, who lack access to safe and adequate accommodation, owned, rented or freely released, and which would meet the technical requirements and basic amenities for water and electricity.

2. The homeless include particularly those living in the streets or shelters and those who are hosted, out of need, in institutions or other forms of institutional care”.

d) The payment of rent subsidies particularly for single parent families, long-term unemployed and people with limited resources [10], which was for the very first time introduced by the art. 2 of the Law No. 4320/2015.

C. The Administrative Framework

(a) The Ministry of Labour, Social Insurance and Social Solidarity is the responsible body for developing policies to prevent and combat homelessness. After the adoption of the Law No. 4052/2012, it has elaborated two relevant Action Plans:

  • a Homelessness Action Plan (April 2013);
  • an Action Plan for a Network of Immediate Social Interventions to address the psychosocial needs of the poor and the homeless (May 2013).

Both Action Plans were not implemented in practice due to financial and administrative constraints. In any case, the 2013 NAPH does not correspond to a genuine rights – based national strategy but rather to an operational plan for the development of emergency and temporary accommodation infrastructure. In this way, although the NAPH recognized the importance of the housing led approach, it remained strongly focused on the classic “stair case” approach.

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[10] The benefit was paid during 2015 and its monthly amount was 70 € for a single person and 220 € for a family with more than three children.

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3. A new Social Housing Agenda

A. The National Social Inclusion Strategy (2014)

The Ministry of Labour, Social Insurance and Social Solidarity designed – for the very first time – a common framework of principles, priorities and targets aiming at the coordination, monitoring and evaluation of all policies on national, regional and local level to combat poverty and social exclusion. This framework was adopted in December 2014 as the National Social Inclusion Strategy (NSSI) following a consultation process with key stakeholders and interested groups.

The NSSI was submitted to the European Commission and received with positive comments in January 2015 [11]. It introduces activation, empowerment and sustainability principles in the political economy of welfare in Greece, while it identifies as key priority groups:

  • Poor elderly people excluded from social insurance pensions;
  • Poor uninsured children without parents;
  • Poor uninsured adults with no working capacity (disabled / mentally ill);
  • Poor long term unemployed excluded from social insurance unemployment benefits;
  • Groups at high risk of social exclusion (single-parent families, homeless, third country nationals).

The NSSI includes four Policy Objectives:

  • Combatting extreme poverty;
  • Preventing and combatting child poverty;
  • Promoting inclusion of vulnerable groups;
  • Good governance of inclusion policies.

The development of policies on social housing and tackle homelessness is a key priority within the first pillar “Access to basic goods” of the No. 1 Objective to combat extreme poverty, which includes the following measures:

Measure 1.1.1 – Access to basic subsistence means
Measure 1.1.2 – Access to basic health care
Measure 1.1.3 – Protection in case of crisis
Measure 1.1.4 – Access to adequate housing
Measure 1.1.5 – Access to electric power
Measure 1.1.6 – Access to financial services
Measure 1.1.7 – Access to Justice
Measure 1.1.8 – Access to cultural and recreational activities.

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[11] The Strategy was approved by the European Commission as the policy document fulfilling the respective national conditionality for leverage of ERDF and ESF resources of the Thematic Objective 9 “Poverty & Social Exclusion”.

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The NSSI recognizes homelessness as a major social risk and includes specific measures to prevent and combat housing deprivation. In this context, groups at risk of homelessness and housing deprivation include:

  • rooflessness persons (without a shelter of any kind, sleeping rough);
  • houselessness persons (with a place to sleep but temporary in institutions or shelter);
  • persons living in insecure housing (threatened with severe exclusion due to insecure tenancies, eviction, domestic violence),
  • persons living in inadequate housing (in caravans on illegal campsites, in unfit housing, in extreme overcrowding).

It is now implemented through the so called Regional Social Inclusion Strategies drafted by the welfare services of the 13 Regions; they include a set of active inclusion programmes for persons at risk of homelessness.

 

B. The National Strategy to prevent and combat homelessness (2015)

In October 2014, the Ministry of Labour, Social Insurance and Social Solidarity signed a programming agreement with the Technological Educational Institute (A.T.E.I.) of Athens in order to get the necessary scientific support for the elaboration – for the very first time – of a National Homelessness Strategy.

The A.T.E.I. of Athens promoted an extensive desk research to identify European best practices and highlight current experience of national key stakeholders in order to draft a concerted long term homelessness strategy, through which, the competent Ministry could successfully transfer the housing led techniques in the Greek context.

The elaboration of the National Strategy to prevent and combat homelessness (NSPCH) 2015-2020 was finalized in May 2015. In terms of philosophy, the NSPCH incorporates the basic policy principles of the National Strategy for Social Inclusion (N.S.S.I.) 2014-2020 oriented towards the safeguard and revitalization of the national social fabric through the enhancement of public policies for the prevention and combatting of poverty and social exclusion. The main dimensions of the NSPCH are focused on the rational development of a set of interventions, which will:

  • cover not only the traditional focus groups of homeless (rough sleepers and people residing in inadequate dwellings), but also vulnerable groups who are being at high risk of homelessness due to financial and/or social factors;
  • aim not only at the coverage of priority emergency housing support needs, but also at guaranteeing long term stability in the coverage of housing needs in order to achieve the reduction of homelessness;
  • contribute to the promotion of the social dimensions of the new development model for Greece, based on the protection of basic human and social rights through comprehensive interventions for the prevention and combatting of poverty.

The NSPCH adopts the following long term strategic goals:
1.  No person legally and permanently residing in Greece should be denied the access to its owned residence due to absolute poverty.
2.  No person legally and permanently residing in Greece should be denied the access to its rented residence due to absolute poverty.
3.  No person legally and permanently residing in Greece should have to sleep rough for more than 24 hours in the street due to lack of housing alternatives.
4.  No person legally and permanently residing in Greece should have to stay for more than 7 days in a place not suitable for ordinary housing due to lack of housing alternatives.
5.  No person legally and permanently residing in Greece should have to spend more than 6 months in a total period of 2 years at temporary accommodation shelters due to lack of housing alternatives.
6.  The immediate provision of access to permanent, safe and dignified residence is always chosen as a priority housing alternative against the placement in temporary accommodation facilities.
7.  The placement in institutional care facilities cannot be used as a housing alternative in case of persons who are not in real need of institutional care.
8.  The release from prison or from health care or institutional care facility should always be combined with the provision of a viable housing solution or a mid-term lease.
9.   Homeless persons should be referred to activation programs only when activation is the most appropriate means for their social and economic re-integration.
10. All policy measures for the social inclusion of homeless people are designed and implemented with a primary focus on the protection of human dignity.

For the achievement of the aforementioned strategic goals, the NSPCH includes the following operational targets:
1.  Establishment of an Inter-ministerial Committee against Homelessness
2.  Establishment of a National Advisory Committee against Homelessness
3.  Development of a Support Services Network for the Prevention of Evictions
4.  Development of a Network for the Referral to Housing of Persons in High Risk of Homelessness
5.  Introduction of a National Program of rent subsidy (housing benefit) for households at risk of absolute poverty
6.  Creation of a Homeless National Registry for the immediate registration and monitoring of the target groups
7.  Creation of an Immediate Relief System for the coverage of basic subsistence needs of persons already facing the risk of homelessness
8.  Assessment, evaluation and reform of the existing network of temporary accommodation facilities for the homeless
9.  Implementation of 5 pilot projects (Local Comprehensive Intervention Projects against Homelessness) in the 5 major cities of Athens, Thessaloniki, Patras, Iraklio and Ioannina in order to test new techniques and come up with best practices and evidence based conclusions.
10.  Development of an operational network of central government authorities aiming at the coordination of all social inclusion interventions targeting homeless people.
11.  Development of Local Intervention Networks to promote social inclusion of homeless people.

 

The personal scope of application adopts subsidiarity and selectivity principles. The beneficiaries of the NSPCH are persons legally and permanently residing in Greece [12] who:

a) are at high risk of homelessness due to structural economic and social factors, which endanger their capacity to address their housing needs through their own means or
b) are already experiencing lack of housing or lack of adequate housing, according to the following typology:

  • “new generation” of short term homeless due to long term unemployment and low income
  • rough sleepers experiencing multiple deprivations
  • people living in inadequate or inappropriate dwellings.

In this context, the so called high priority groups for the NSPCH include:

  • rough sleepers;
  • persons living in places or vehicles not suitable for ordinary residence (ex. cars, warehouses, tents etc.);
  • persons living in temporary accommodation facilities;
  • persons temporarily living in institutional care facilities and prisons;
  • persons in high risk of losing their home due to economic and social factors.

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[12] It should be noted that the provision of accommodation and basic services to irregular undocumented migrants corresponds to one of basic intervention pillars of the national migration and asylum management system and, therefore, does not fall under the competence of the national welfare system.

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C. The Social Housing Strategy (2015)

In October 2014, the Ministry of Labour, Social Insurance and Social Solidarity signed a programming agreement with the National Social Research Center (E.K.K.E. – www.ekke.gr) in order to get the necessary scientific support for the elaboration – for the very first time – of a National Social Housing Strategy. The elaboration of the Strategy was finalized in May 2015. In terms of philosophy, the NSPCH is not focused on the priority groups of the NSSI (groups at high risk of poverty and social exclusion), but rather on persons unable to meet effectively their housing needs.

Key instruments of the National Social Housing Strategy are:

a) The implementation of social housing programmes for private employees by a new public body in the type of the Workers Housing Organization, which will be supervised by the Ministry of Labour, Social Insurance and Social Solidarity.

b) The introduction of a means test housing rent benefit for at least 400.000 tenants.

 

4. Future perspectives

Greece is one of the very few EU Member States without an inclusive social safety net (in the form of a national General Minimum Income Scheme) [13] and without any integrated social housing regime. In this respect, the development of social housing policies in Greece is subject to a complex set of external and internal factors, which include:

a) The introduction of a concerted institutional social housing framework which will take into account:

  • the recommendations laid down in the National Strategy to prevent and combat homelessness and the National Social Housing Strategy [14]
  • the recommendations laid down in the Action Plan on Housing, which is among the so called social clauses of the Third Stability Programme for Greece.

b) The introduction of an administrative social housing framework. In this context, the Deputy Minister of Labour, Social Insurance and Social Solidarity announced in September 2016 plans about the establishment of a new social housing organization, which will manage the stock of public housing that remains vacant and that will combine rehabilitation of housing units with access to jobs.

c) The recovery of the domestic house market through policy initiatives as [15]:

  • reduce the housing oversupply, through massive redevelopment of part of the dwelling stock, along with infrastructure and technology investments;
  • give incentives to foreign investors and simplify the real estate regulatory framework;
  • reduce real estate taxation;
  • facilitate transactions and deal with fragmented ownership, through the creation of a «Land Bank», a mechanism for concentrating property rights [16].

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[13] The introduction of a national MIS is among the social clauses of the Troika Stabilization Programmes, clearly emphasised in the Second (2012) and the Third (2015) Stability Programme.
[14] The final drafts of both Strategies (with an Operational Plan) were submitted in May 2015 to the Ministry of Labour, Social Insurance and Social Solidarity in order for the implementation to start. However, until the present day, the Ministry has not initiated any implementation activities and there is no indication of future progress.
[15] See PwC Greece, The Greek Real Estate Market 2016 Report, 2016.

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d) The introduction of housing regimes for asylum seekers and recognized refugees during their residence in the Greek territory. Greece is the EU Member State most impacted by an unprecedented refugee crisis. 851.319 third country nationals have arrived in Greece from Turkey in 2015 [17]. Nearly half of all the arrivals made landfall on the beaches of Lesvos, an island which is separated from Turkey by a 10-kilometre channel, home to 88.000 inhabitants.

But an already struggling Greece is backing into an even greater refugee crisis due to the introduction by other European governments of tight border restrictions on the hundreds of thousands who have fled war and conflict in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries [18]. Almost 62.000 persons were “trapped” in the end of November 2016 within the Greek territory.

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[16] The Land Bank will a) transfer building coefficients to appropriate reception construction areas, targeting at the concentration of the fragmented ownership and the massive reconstruction of the dwelling stock; b) convert property rights into long-term lease rights (leasehold) from properties in underdeveloped areas, which will be available to private individuals, investors or developers for large scale developments.
[17] These figures are estimates from UNHCR on daily arrivals to each country from one or more borders. They are based on the most reliable information available per country, including information from UNHCR border teams, authorities and humanitarian partners. The Greek Government estimates their numbers to 911.471.
[18] During the end of 2015, all people who arrived and were registered in Greece were allowed to cross into the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. On 19.11.2015, however, the FYROM authorities announced that only Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans would be allowed to cross, while since the end of February 2016 the borders have been closed. On 28.3.2016 the FYROM Parliament extended the closing of its borders with Greece till 31.12.2016.

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Documentation

Amitsis, G. (2015): “Challenges to combat extreme poverty in Europe – The paradigm of the Greek National Social Inclusion Strategy”, Paper in the International Conference “Absolute Poverty in Europe” (Salzburg University, Salzburg, 27-28.8.2015).

Amitsis, G. (2015): “The development of national MIS under economic adjustment programmes – Ambiguous lessons from Greece and Cyprus”, Paper in the International Research Seminar “Minimum Income Protection in Europe” (University of Antwerp, Antwerp, 25-27.11.2015).

Amitsis, G. (2016): The development of national asylum policies in times of economic recession: Challenges for Greece”, Transnational Social Review, 6(1-2), pp. 204-208.

Arapoglou, V.P., Gounis, K., and Siatitsa, D. (2014): Final report – Caring for the homeless and the poor in Greece: implications for the future of social protection and social inclusion, University of Crete and London School of Economics and Political Science.

CECODHAS (2012): The nuts and bolts of European social housing systems, Housing Europe Review, CECODHAS Housing Europe, Brussels.

Chondraki, P., Madianos, M. G., Dragioti, E., and Papadimitriou, G. N. (2013): “Homeless mentally ill in Athens area: A cross-sectional study on unmet needs and help-seeking“, International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 60(6), pp. 544-553.

Eurofound (2016): Inadequate housing in Europe – Costs and consequences, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.

European Parliament (2013): Social Housing in the EU, IP/A/EMPL/NT/2012-07, Brussels.

Housing Europe (2015): The State of Housing in the EU 2015, A Housing Europe Review, Brussels.

PwC Greece (2016): The Greek Real Estate Market 2016 Report, Athens (in Greek).

Theodorikakou, O., Alamanou, A. and Katsadoros, K. (2013): “Neo-homelessness’ and the Greek Crisis”, European Journal of Homelessness, 7(2).

 

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