Since 2013, Marc Bellis (EMM-CEPAC 1977) has been managing director of Solidarité Logement, an independent non-profit making organization that he co-founded in 2009 to provide decent housing across Belgium to those who could not otherwise afford it. The organization’s motto? Together, give hope a chance.
- What were your motivations to start volunteering?
After 35 years in the banking sector, I decided to give my life a new direction. I had been promising myself for a long time that one day I would work in volunteering to actively support those in greater need. So, when I turned 59, I finally did it. Over
recent years, I have been involved in both Médecins du Monde and the Ligue des Droits de l’Homme but now I am focusing on Solidarité-Logement / Solidariteit-Huisvesting.
- Why has housing become your top priority?
Housing is a sensitive issue. It is a right that almost comes before any other, since it conditions our access to other forms of rights. Officially, it is well recognised, but there is a huge gap between what is theoretically guaranteed and what actually happens on the ground. Politically, social housing is not a popular topic and public authorities easily tend to dismiss investing in it. In Belgium, social housing accounts for only 7% of total housing – half that in France or the Netherlands. In Brussels in particular, there are more than 40,000 unfulfilled applications and it takes an average of 10 years to be granted housing.
- How does Solidarité-Logement help fill this gap?
When we started the initiative, our efforts were mainly dedicated to fundraising while maximizing the leverage effect. The money we collect is mainly used to support associations directly in contact with the people who most need our help. Along with our transparency policy [Solidarité-Logement is VEF-AERF certified], we make sure not to deal with individuals but with professional associations, to ensure fair and equal treatment. Yet, the more professional Solidarité-Logement becomes, the more we look forward to funding and developing our own projects. So far, eleven different projects have been funded or initiated by Solidarité-Logement. We also try to find sustainable solutions to housing issues. With that in mind, we also train people to be independent.
- In Belgium, who are the people most affected by the lack of social housing?
We quickly realised that young people, especially young women, are particularly vulnerable to the housing shortage. Though they often face difficulties entering the labour market, they are not eligible for social housing as seniority of application is a determining factor. This is particularly true of youngsters who grew up in children’s homes and who have nowhere to go when they turn 18.
How can people SHOW THEIR SUPPORT?
– By joining the association as a volunteer and helping in its success by bringing in their own skills and knowledge.
– By making financial donations to the association (with possible tax relief, from 40€/year; BE28 0882 4636 3120).
Marc Bellis: +32-471-90.35.56
Text: Clément Jadot