Tenants of Mjølnerparken v. Danish Ministry of Transport and Housing
Copenhagen residents facing eviction under “Ghetto” law
The “Ghetto Package” was announced by the Danish government in March 2018 as a bundle of over 20 different legislative proposals affecting spheres as diverse as housing, education, and criminal justice. The government’s stated aim is to “eradicate” areas designated by the State as “ghettos” by 2030. The determining factor in whether an area is designated as a “ghetto” is whether it has a majority of residents who are classed by the government as being of “non-Western background.”
The “Ghetto Package” laws have far-reaching consequences, including the threat of eviction for thousands across Denmark. Those affected include a group of residents in Copenhagen, who are taking legal action.
The residents live in Mjølnerparken, Copenhagen, which is categorized as a “tough ghetto” under Danish housing law as amended by the “Ghetto Package.” The law includes a requirement for “tough ghettos” to reduce “common family housing” to a maximum of 40 percent by 2030.
“Common family housing” is a particularly Danish form of housing based on principles of democracy, egalitarianism, and affordable housing for all. It is a type of nonprofit housing which is run by housing associations that are intended to be self-governing and independent. The residents pay rent and the housing associations pay annual contributions to the National Building Foundation. The funds are used for matters such as the construction, renovation, or demolition of buildings, as well as for social projects such as activities for children and crime prevention programs. “Tough ghettos” are areas which have met the State’s criteria of “ghetto” for four or more years.
On May 14, 2019, the Board of the housing association for Mjølnerparken passed a development plan to sell two blocks of housing, to meet the requirement to reduce common family housing to a maximum of 40 percent. On June 20, 2019, the development plan was approved by the municipality of Copenhagen. On September 10, 2019, the development plan was approved by the Ministry of Transport and Housing.
The plaintiffs have lived for many years in the two blocks which have been earmarked for sale. They are now under threat of eviction prior to the sale.
Open Society Justice Initiative Involvement
The residents are represented by attorney Eddie Omar Rosenberg Khawaja from Homann, Jacobsen & Khawaja. Eddie Omar Rosenberg Khawaja and the Justice Initiative have worked together closely on the case. The Justice Initiative has also provided legal support for civil society submissions on the “Ghetto Package” to international monitoring bodies.
The case includes arguments under the EU’s Race Equality Directive and the European Convention on Human Rights:
Race Equality Directive
Direct discrimination. The plaintiffs are being treated less favourably than others, including those living in areas that are not classed as “ghettos” but have similar socioeconomic factors. They are stigmatized and under threat of eviction because the majority of the population of Mjølnerparken is classed as being of “non-Western background.” Countries included within the concept of “Western” lack geographical coherence but all have majority white populations.
Indirect discrimination. The approved plan puts racial/ethnic minorities at a particular disadvantage. It is not objectively justified by a legitimate aim and the evictions are not appropriate or necessary. At the least, integrative efforts must be consultative and not coercive or assimilating. The legitimate interests of the plaintiffs including the right to respect for their homes are unduly prejudiced.
Instruction to discriminate. The housing association must comply with the development plan as approved by the Ministry or risk enforcement action.
European Convention on Human Rights
The right to property. The approval of the development plan interferes with the plaintiffs’ leases and is not in the public interest nor necessary in the general interest and is manifestly without reasonable foundation.
The right to respect for home. The plan to evict the plaintiffs from their homes is not necessary or proportionate to legitimate aims. The underlying criteria are arbitrary and discriminatory.
Freedom to choose residence. The State has not shown why the plan to evict the plaintiffs from where they have chosen to live is necessary in the public interest.
Prohibition of discrimination. The plaintiffs have demonstrated a difference in treatment based on their status as residents of a “tough ghetto.” This does not pursue a legitimate aim and is not proportionate.
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