2021.04.14 08:00

Municipality workers jump queue for social housing in luxury Lithuanian resort – LRT Investigation

Rūta Juknevičiūtė, LRT Investigation Team, LRT.lt2021.04.14 08:00

The municipality of Neringa, which covers the Curonian Spit known for its luxurious resorts, has the country's longest social housing waiting list. Yet the ones getting new flats are the municipality employees, LRT investigation team reports.

Currently, 57 people or 29 families are waiting for social housing in the country’s smallest municipality Neringa on the Curonian Spit, according to the Ministry of Social Security and Labour. On average, the waiting process for young families could last as long as 12 years.

In order to speed up the waiting process and build the needed social housing stock, the country's smallest municipality received 158,000 euros from the European Union in 2017, but the planned construction in the town of Preila is yet to start.

Meanwhile, the municipality has built an eight apartment building for its employees. The construction in a picturesque corner of the resort town Nida started in 2017 and was finished in 2019. The price tag on the project was 679,435 euros, more than three times the cost of the planned social housing project.

The new apartments were leased to the employees of the municipality and its subordinate companies in October 2020.

Neringa Mayor Darius Jasaitis claims that, previously, his employees had to live in basements or drive to work from the city of Klaipėda, which is 50 kilometres away.

“The new housing was necessary to keep the employees in Neringa, we already have a huge shortage of staff,” he says.

Employee housing has been a problem for years, according to Neringa municipality. Real estate prices in Neringa are among the highest in Lithuania, so middle- or even higher-income families cannot afford housing here.

“Moreover, there are almost no long-term rental options on the marker. Monthly rates are very high, especially during the tourist season,” the municipality said in a written response.

Rent in the new municipality housing goes from 96 to 225 euros per month.

Apartments for municipality employees

One of those who received the municipal apartment lease agreement was Audronė Tribulaitė, the head of the social affairs department at the municipality and a member of a council responsible for the distribution of new apartments

According to the municipality, the official stepped aside from decision-making during the meeting in which the lease contracts were granted. Yet, a previous statement by the mayor suggests the council met up to four times to finish the distribution process.

Andrius Bagdonas, a former member of Neringa Council and now a member of the Lithuanian parliament, says the situation is a conflict of interest.

“If you are a member of the council allocating housing for municipal employees and you receive a flat yourself, it's not only a bad gesture but also a clash of a civil servant's private and public interests,” he said.

In two separate cases, the municipality signed leases with employees of companies subordinate to the municipality, whose representatives were also members of the council. Both of them did not step aside during the decision-making process.

One of the tenants is a member of a local scooter club that also includes the mayor and other municipal employees.

Personal relationships in a community as small as Neringa should not be surprising, according to Mayor Jasaitis.

“In small municipalities like ours you can question any decision made by everyone,” says Jasaitis. “I personally know all the residents of Neringa.”

The right to live in a new apartment has also been granted to the municipality's spokeswoman Sandra Vaišvilaitė, who is currently on maternity leave.

Housing for owners

According to publicly available data, some of the individuals who received municipality housing had previously purchased real estate themselves. However, not in Neringa, but in the nearby city of Klaipėda.

Accommodating employees in prime real estate of Neringa raises some serious questions, says head of the parliamentary Social Affairs Committee, Mindaugas Lingė.

“Neringa is quite close to Klaipėda, and the relocation of employees is unnecessary,” Lingė says.

In 2019, LRT Investigation Team reported that Neringa municipality employees, who received heavily subsidised lease agreements for municipal housing, did not live in Neringa themselves, but rented out the properties to holidaymakers coming to the most expensive Lithuanian resort.

Read more: Nida politicians make money by subletting public housing to tourists – LRT Investigation

According to the Neringa mayor, around 40 municipality employees are still waiting for housing.

“That's why we are planning to build even more houses for our employees in the future,” Jasaitis says.

The planned social housing project is also taking shape, he claims.

“We had a legal conflict with the Construction Inspection, which refused to issue building permits,” Jasaitis says. “We won all the court cases against the state and now we hope to start the construction.”

The Labour Ministry's data shows that Neringa municipality is still leading the country in terms of how many people are waiting for social housing.

Yet, in addition to the planned four one-room social housing units, two additional apartments will be built for municipal employees.

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