According to Flemish social housing law, candidates cannot not have a property of their own. But the families have been found to possess apartments, houses or land abroad - in some cases due to an inheritance. The investigation has caused unrest among the Turkish community in Lier, as a big part of the families have roots in Turkey.
Some families may return to their property in Turkey, instead of searching accommodation on the private market in Belgium. Others may be forced to sell their property abroad to pay the fine, or will have to divide the sum between different generations.
The social housing company in Lier worked together with a specialised Dutch firm to check things. The situation of 59 families from Slovakia, Georgia, Poland, Spain, Morocco, the Dominican Republic and Turkey was scrutinised and while not all results are there, 25 cases turned out to be positive so far. The reason why more Turkish families are concerned, may be because it is easier for detectives to get hold of data from Turkish data banks, VRT journalist Stef Meerbergen explains.
An investigation was started into the situation of 59 families from various countries
"We had warned the families"
Marc Vanden Eynde, the director of the social housing company in Lier, realises the news may come as a blow to some families, "but we warned the families that the investigation was underway. We also suggested an amicable agreement if they would come forward, but nobody did."
The issue is a delicate one: while fraud cannot be tolerated, the rules are being criticised. What is the difference between owning a property and having 200,000 euros on your bank account or owning an expensive car (two things which are no problem), some ask. Others are warning against a witch hunt. This being said, the Flemish government is determined to step up social housing checks in the future.