Stable homes and well-regulated neighborhoods provide an important stepping stone for families. However, the ongoing existence of non-regulated neighborhoods not only exacerbates multigenerational poverty and restricts property ownership, but also poses important health and safety problems. Unfortunately, more than half of Bulgaria’s Roma live in unregulated neighborhoods, with 80% of residents lacking access to sewage and hot water and many others also without electricity and running water.22 This is why one of TSA’s most pioneering efforts is aimed at the regulation of long standing Roma neighborhoods. Families living in these neighborhoods lack security, and many share that they are afraid of being forcibly evicted from their homes. This uncertainty adversely impacts future generations, with a child’s early development undermined by toxic stress and worry. Moreover, relegation of Roma to the informal economy and a lack of documented property prevents them from being able to utilize their homes as assets and sharply limits these residents’ ability to break the poverty cycle. This deep, multi-generational cycle is demonstrated in the high percent (72%) of Roma who live below the poverty line.23 Because a family’s economic success is so closely linked with this issue, TSA is working in close partnership with municipal and regional authorities, as well as local residents, to address this challenge. Our approach takes into account local voices and their strong desire to maintain social cohesion within their communities, while also identifying pragmatic alternatives for municipalities. We begin by matching teams of legal experts, architects and local advocates with residents of unregulated communities. Our aim is to map each neighborhood, to create an urban plan, and to introduce this zoning plan into the general cadaster for the city. Ultimately, we seek to help residents purchase land plots and to legalize their housing structures. By creating zoning plans, we are promoting a sense of stability and permanence in the community, which will lead to a more stable and healthy home environment- an important precondition for a child’s development and later success. Moreover, by legalizing neighborhoods, we are lessening social distance and promoting integration of neighborhoods into the larger community. Finally, our approach builds home equity, which is an important first step on the ladder of economic self-sufficiency.
Employment and Income Generation
Employment is one of the most dignified and sustainable outcomes for individuals and families, which is why all of TSA’s programs are designed with this end goal in mind. To prepare individuals for the labor market, we start by considering how best to develop human capital – a cycle that starts in the child’s earliest years, continues with their transition to early learning, and culminates with their education and graduation. These efforts contribute toward an individual’s ability to generate income and to achieve economic self-sufficiency. This is a long-term goal, but the end results are immediate, with, for example, Roma high school (secondary school) graduates in Bulgaria typically earning 83% more than their peers without a degree.24 Still, with 53% of Bulgaria’s Roma engaged in unskilled, low-paid work25, the need for ongoing efforts in vocational training, improved qualifications, and small business development continues to be critically important. Of particular concern are women and youth, who with the Roma experience the lowest rates of labor market participation in Bulgaria.26 Young Roma women are especially isolated from the labor market, which is why TSA is supporting projects such as the Nurse Family Partnership program, which has been shown in the U.S. to reduce a mother’s reliance on welfare and to increase her employment. The “Springboard for School Readiness” project has also demonstrated that parents whose children received free kindergarten increased their monthly income. The Family Economic Success program is designed to help beneficiaries who want to increase their income, but lack skills, knowledge, or pathways to employment. We begin by focusing on projects that bolster the entire family, such as support for the start and expansion of family businesses and small farms, through hands-on mentoring and support, together with access to capital. Special attention is also directed toward youth. Many lack the skills needed to connect with the labor market. This includes hard skills as well as soft skills such as communication, teamwork, critical thinking, and problem solving, with one fourth of all employers citing soft skills as a reason for difficulty in filling a vacancy.27 For this reason, TSA has supported projects that help young people to develop a variety of hard and soft skills as well as deepen necessary knowledge for a specific profession. Lastly, given that discrimination continues to play a role, TSA is also working closely with employers to address stereotypes and to create better pathways for minorities to access employment opportunities