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Danish court rejects tenants’ discrimination appeal against eviction

Residents of a social housing area in Danish town Helsingør whose tenancies were revoked have lost an appeal against the decision at a high court.

Danish court rejects tenants’ discrimination appeal against eviction
A file photo of the Nøjsomhed housing blocks in the town of Helsingør. Photo: Ritzau Scanpix

The Østre Landsret high court on Monday upheld an earlier district court ruling that the residents were not the subject of discrimination when they were evicted from their housing under the terms of Denmark’s 2018 “Ghetto Law”.

Under the law, underprivileged areas with a high “non-Western” population must implement redevelopment plans if they fulfil a number of social criteria.

READ ALSO: Denmark cracks down on ‘non-Western’ neighbourhoods

The neighbourhood in which the residents lived, Nøjsomhed, was in 2018 included on the government’s list of parallel societies – then referred to as the “ghetto list”. The housing association responsible for the social housing, Boliggården, subsequently drew up a redevelopment plan in 2019.

As part of that plan, Boliggården in January 2020 advised residents in seven housing blocks that they would be required to move out, making way for extensive renovations.

The housing association’s leadership has denied that it intentionally targeted the ethnic background of its residents and said that the objective of the plan was to change the profile of residents in the area by attracting new tenants who are in full time work.

The high court ruled on cases related to seven evicted tenants amongst around 100 families who were instructed to leave Nøjsomhed.

The residents have already moved to temporary housing and two have been permanently rehoused, news wire Ritzau writes.

Monday’s verdict appears to end hopes any of the residents had of returning to their former homes.

In the case, the court was required to address whether the redevelopment plan and the selection of the specific blocks for renovation was a form of direct or indirect discrimination based on the ethnicity of the residents.

Of the three judges in the case, two found it not proven that the residents were evicted based on “an assessment of their ethnicity”. One judge did find this to be the case.

However, all three judges agreed that the term “immigrants and descendants from non-Western countries” (Danish: indvandrere og efterkommere fra ikke vestlige lande, ed.) does not refer to a group of people with the same ethnic background.

As such, the decision by the housing association was found not to be in breach of laws against racial discrimination, which address discrimination of persons of a specified “ethnic origin”.

The “Ghetto Law”, passed by the previous centre-right coalition government and continued by the current Social Democratic administration, includes several measures intended to combat what are considered to be parallel societies in underprivileged neighbourhoods.

The neighbourhoods were formerly officially termed “ghettos”, but this wording has now been scrapped.

To qualify as ‘parallel societies’, housing areas of more than 1,000 people, where more than half are of “non-Western” origin, must fulfil two of four criteria.

Areas that fulfilled the criteria are then required to take measures to combat parallel societies under the 2018 law.

The four criteria are: more than 40 percent of residents are unemployed; more than 60 percent of 39-50 year-olds do not have an upper secondary education; crime rates three times higher than the national average; residents have a gross income 55 percent lower than the regional average.

In addition to redevelopment obligations, areas on the list can be subjected to special treatment under the law, including stricter punishments for specified crimes and a requirement for small children to attend daycare.

Nøjsomhed is no longer on the government list. It was removed in December 2021 after its number of residents fell below 1,000.

The former residents have the option of applying to appeal the decision at the Danish Supreme Court (Højesteret).

The Helsingør case is the first of its kind to reach the Danish court system, but comparable protests have occurred in other underprivileged areas encompassed by the parallel societies law, including neighbourhoods in Copenhagen and Odense.

READ ALSO: Danish government reduces number of areas officially termed ‘ghetto’

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HOUSING

Denmark reduces number of areas classed as ’parallel societies’

The number of underprivileged areas termed ‘parallel societies’ by the Danish government has fallen for the third consecutive year following an annual update.

Denmark reduces number of areas classed as ’parallel societies’

The updated list of ‘parallel societies’ and vulnerable housing areas was published by the Ministry of the Interior and Housing on Thursday.

The number of housing areas classed as parallel societies falls from 12 in 2021 to 10 in the new list.

Three areas were removed from the list (Aldersrogade and Tingbjerg/Utterslevhuse, both in Copenhagen, Agervang in Holbæk), while one was added (Askerød in Greve).

The number of ‘vulnerable housing areas’ (udsatte boligområder) and ‘redevelopment areas’ (omdannelsesområder) is also lower than on the 2021 list.

A ‘redevelopment area’ or omdannelsesområde is the new term replacing ‘hard ghetto’, used for areas which have been on the parallel societies list for five consecutive years.

The terms ‘parallel society’ and ‘underprivileged housing area’ have replaced ‘ghetto’ in the government’s official descriptions, after the latter word was scrapped because it was considered to be derogatory towards marginalised areas.

The lists are important because included areas can be subject to special treatment under Danish laws.

To qualify as ‘parallel societies’, housing areas of more than 1,000 people, where more than half are of “non-Western” origin, must fulfil two of four criteria.

Areas that fulfil the criteria are then required to take measures to combat parallel societies under a 2018 law originally titled the “Ghetto Law”.

The four criteria are: more than 40 percent of residents are unemployed; more than 60 percent of 39-50 year-olds do not have an upper secondary education; crime rates three times higher than the national average; residents have a gross income 55 percent lower than the regional average.

In addition to redevelopment obligations, areas on the list can be subjected to special treatment under the law, including stricter punishments for specified crimes and a requirement for small children to attend daycare.

READ ALSO: EU court to judge residents’ discrimination case against Danish government

The decline in the number of housing areas on the three lists is a positive development, according to Solveig Råberg Tingey, CEO of BL, an organisation representing subsidised housing associations in Denmark.

“The positive trend is the result of a lot of great local work over several years with efforts in relation to jobs and education and social schemes,” Tingey told news wire Ritzau.

“It’s very important that we continue this work in the coming years,” she said.

The list of underprivileged housing areas is updated every year on December 1st.

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