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City intervention when tenants are evicted

Question posed by Guy Foetz

My question relates, firstly, to the evictions as a result of a court order, with staff from the City of Luxembourg's Service Logement (Housing Department) in attendance. According to data published by the Service Logement (as at 4 September 2020), there were 18 evictions in August, and a further 7 were scheduled for September. I have also been informed that, little by little, the Service Logement is running out of capacity to rehouse tenants.

With this in mind, I would like to put the following questions to the College of Aldermen:

  • What are the total capacities of the City's shelters and furnished rooms, and how are they being used at present?
  • Does the City intend to increase its capacity for emergency accommodation, given the sharp rise in evictions since the ban (imposed during the pandemic) was lifted, and in view of the economic and housing crises? If so, to what extent?

The second part of my question relates to pressure put on tenants without the initiation of judicial proceedings, and without any response forthcoming from the City authorities. On Rue Glesener, one company cut off the electricity and water supply to eight families in order to force them out of their furnished rooms. I witnessed these people's utter despair for myself. Private individuals and the press had to get involved to help them and guide them as to what to do next. No representatives from the City authorities, the Office social (Social Welfare Office) or the Service Logement were there to offer them support. What means of providing information and support does the City intend to put in place to protect tenants from illegal action by property owners without scruples? The furnished rooms in question were infested with mould, and therefore uninhabitable. How is it that the Service Logement had allowed that accommodation to remain open in such a state? Once again, one has to wonder whether the City has sufficient human resources to rehome the affected people.

I was astounded when, on the margins of a meeting, the Alderman for social affairs told me my information on evictions was incorrect.
I was simply relaying what I had been told by the Service Logement.

I sincerely hope that, in future, the City will take greater care of its responsibilities in this area than it has done up until now.

Response provided by Maurice Bauer

The City of Luxembourg does its best to help people in situations such as the one on Rue Glesener described by Councillor Foetz. Mr Foetz has, unfortunately, got his facts a little muddled: in actual fact, the event to which he refers was a purely private matter that, at the time, had nothing to do with the City of Luxembourg. We sorely regret Mr Foetz having got the Service Logement involved in this matter, and the resulting negative press coverage for the department. The staff at the Service Logement work tirelessly to find solutions to such situations. The 26 members of staff are extremely dedicated to their duties, and my thanks go to them.

Had Mr Foetz analysed the figures given to him in greater depth, he would have come away with a somewhat different view of the situation. It is certainly true that there were 18 evictions in August. In 14 of those cases, people were evicted from housing, while in the other 4, it was commercial property that was being vacated. The City of Luxembourg is only kept abreast of evictions from non-commercial property. Of the 14 residential evictions, 3 were cancelled. In each of the remaining 11 cases, a solution was found. This means that the City received not a single application for rehousing in a municipal apartment or shelter.

Thus far in September, there have been 13 evictions, 4 of which have been cancelled. In one case, it was a commercial property. In two cases, the people in question were given accommodation in a shelter. In all other cases, a solution was found without needing to get the City authorities involved. It is therefore not true that the City of Luxembourg is automatically obliged to step in each time an eviction takes place.

In addition, Councillor Foetz failed to request the figures for last year for comparison. There have been a few more evictions in August and September 2020 than in the same period last year, but fewer in previous months compared to last year, owing to the freeze on evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. On balance, therefore, we are not seeing any increase in the number of evictions as compared to last year.

At present, the City of Luxembourg has 33 furnished rooms (28 of these in "Haus 1" in Hamm, and the other 5 on Rue Vauban). All are currently occupied. We also have the Moulin d'Eydt shelter, which has 13 rooms, and the Obenthalt shelter, which has 14. These shelters can accommodate up to 92 people. As soon as social housing becomes available, we try to rehouse residents from the shelters there. Hence, the situation is constantly changing. Right now, there are two empty places in the shelters, but that may no longer be the case tomorrow. The shelters are not only used to accommodate people who have been evicted, but also those who have been living in unsanitary conditions, who are unable to continue living in social housing or, for example, have been forced out of their homes by a fire.

The College of Aldermen will continue investing in the large-scale construction of housing. Two years from now, the City is likely to have an extra hundred social housing units available. This will also give us more flexibility in managing our shelters. I thank both the Service Logement and the Service Biens (Municipal Property Department), which have gone to great lengths to purchase the plots we need. The College of Aldermen is trying to purchase as many plots of land as possible, in order to be able to invest in the large-scale construction of housing. Thanks also go to the Service Architecte (Architecture Department), which is doing its utmost to ensure this accommodation can be completed as soon as possible. These efforts will continue in the years to come.

The question regarding the provision of information and support needs to be addressed at national level. Should any changes be needed in terms of the protective measures, the relevant legislation will need to be amended. The law was amended in 2019. It may need to be amended once again, but for the time being, we are working on the basis of the legislation currently in force. The 26 staff at the Service Logement regularly deal with requests for advice, and are committed to providing those people with the guidance and support they need.

Response provided by Lydie Polfer

I would like to make the point that no tenants are ever evicted, be it from residential or commercial premises, without a court order. The decision to take such measures rests not with the City of Luxembourg, but with a court, which follows a very specific procedure. In the case of a residential eviction, City of Luxembourg staff members are always present. On occasion, people have been evicted from municipal shelters for violent behaviour, which, of course, we cannot stand for. I join Alderman Bauer in expressing my thanks to the Service Logement for the valuable work they do. They are available 24 hours a day – even at weekends – to help whenever a family is in need. We never leave families without support in a critical situation. I am displeased, therefore, that this situation has been presented as though the City of Luxembourg had failed in its duties. This is absolutely not true.

Tenth anniversary of the Luxembourg City Film Festival

Question posed by Claudine Konsbruck

The Luxembourg City Film Festival (Luxfilmfest) celebrated its 10th anniversary in March 2020. Unfortunately – like so many other events – it was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic. My question, which I filed in March, related to how the festival has developed over the past decade.

It had very humble beginnings in 2007, as "Director’s Cut", and was eventually renamed. I would be interested to know how audience figures have changed, how funding is regulated (nationally or at municipal level) and what plans there are for the future. We are all hoping that the COVID-19 pandemic dies down over the next few months!

Response provided by Lydie Polfer

Indeed, this year's festival regrettably had to be cancelled shortly after it started, because of the pandemic. Since 2010, it has been known as the Luxembourg City Film Festival. From the start, funding has been organised so that the City of Luxembourg and the State give equal grants. To begin with, the State and the City authorities both provided €100,000 in funding for the festival. Today, the figure stands at €400,000 each. A string of other institutions also support the festival, in particular, the Film Fund, the Œuvres Grande-Duchesse Charlotte, the National Audiovisual Centre (Centre national de l'audiovisuel) and the Chamber of Commerce.

In 2011, 41 films were presented, with 79 screenings in total. By contrast, in 2020, there were 127 films on show, with 190 scheduled screenings. In 2011, some 4,700 people attended. In 2018, that number had risen to 30,000. This undeniable success demonstrates that the right artistic decisions have been made. The festival helps enrich the city's cultural offering, stimulates the economy and social life, and its influence spreads even beyond Luxembourg's borders.

Over the course of the past ten years, the organisers have been working to constantly improve the festival. The Ministry of Culture (Ministère de la Culture) and the City of Luxembourg are both happy for things to continue in that vein. The organisers would, of course, be delighted to be able to do even more. This year, we stuck to the same budget as last year, but we are open to sensible suggestions, and will maintain regular contact with the festival organisers.

I propose that Councillor Konsbruck, who is head of the Cultural Commission, invite the organisers to a meeting of that Commission to discuss the matter in detail.

Pedestrian and cycle path running between Cents, Neudorf and Weimershof

Question posed by Claudie Reyland

An initial project to build a pedestrian and cycle path between Cents and Weimershof/Kirchberg, with an elevator to link it to Neudorf as well, was approved by the municipal council in 2008. At the time, the bridge was to be built near to the church in Neudorf, with a pillar near the Neudorf cultural centre. Unfortunately, the project was shelved because of the economic crisis.

A new project was unveiled in 2015. This time, the bridge was to have two pillars, and pass over the old pre-school. 2017 saw the proposal of yet another project: a suspension bridge would be built over Neudorf, with a pillar (housing an elevator) erected in the vicinity of Neudorf church. In March 2019, I filed a question with the College of Aldermen. An information meeting was organised in Cents in June 2019. During this well-attended meeting, two projects were unveiled, and most of the residents who attended were enthusiastic about one of them. In July 2019, the College of Aldermen promised that I would soon get a response to my question.

Hence, I ask you again:

  • What is the status of this project?
  • What has been produced thus far? What studies have been done?
  • Which one of the proposed projects was finally selected?
  • Which project does the College of Aldermen prefer?
  • When will the project be presented to the municipal council?
  • When is the bridge going to be built, and when will it open to the public?

Response provided by Patrick Goldschmidt

As you quite correctly point out, this project has been in the pipeline since 2008. Up until 2017, strangely, there was no progress at all on these plans. At a public information meeting in 2019, we said we would prefer the pillar to go near the old pre-school, and would be driving that option forward. This is exactly what our departments have been doing since then. In fact, our hope was to present the project to the municipal council in the summer of 2020, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, progress on planning has been slower than expected.

The situation as it currently stands is as follows: the files relating to the surveys that need to be done on both sides of the valley have been prepared, and were sent to the Ministry of the Environment (Ministère de l’environnement) for approval in August. The relevant forestry officers have had their say, and we expect a response from the Ministry of the Environment in the next few weeks. The surveys, which will take only a few weeks, can commence immediately once we hear from the Ministry. Our departments have been instructed to continue working with the external architects. If all goes well, the basic preliminary draft study will be presented to the College of Aldermen in late 2020, or in January 2021 at the latest. Should the College of Aldermen approve the project, it can be put to the municipal council in summer 2021. We will then issue calls for tender, and then proceed to carry out the project, which is likely to take several years to complete. In any case, the College of Aldermen is determined to bring this project to fruition.

Response provided by Lydie Polfer

It is my hope, now, that we can get the project off the ground as quickly as possible. I wish to be absolutely clear about this: the project on which we are working is the proposed suspension bridge above the old Neudorf pre-school. I hope construction will not take as long as did the panoramic elevator linking Ville-Haute and Pfaffenthal. In that case, complications on the ground meant a delay between 2008 (when the municipal council gave the green light) and 2016 before the project could be completed.

I would like to point out that only last week, the Pfaffenthal elevator was awarded not one but two prizes. The Neudorf elevator will also blend in seamlessly with the urban landscape, something that was met with widespread approval at the information meeting in Cents. The City of Luxembourg is obliged to follow the procedures in place. We would be very grateful if you could encourage the State authorities to help move things along more quickly.

vel'OH!

Question posed by Christa Brömmel and Tom Krieps

Tom Krieps:

The quality of the vel'OH! bikes is constantly declining. Many of them are unusable because the saddles are too low, the baskets are broken, the tyres are flat or the gears are broken.

These problems have been reported to the operator, who appears to have no interest in addressing them. However, certain people are simply helping themselves to the bikes, which is perfectly easy to do, as there is no anti-theft system in place. Does the City of Luxembourg intend to take action to improve the vel'OH! service, which is popular in spite of its shortcomings?

Christa Brömmel:

We are seeing increasing dissatisfaction with the vel'OH! service, apparently because of inadequate maintenance.

I have conducted a small-scale survey of users, which highlighted the following problems: the bikes are often uncomfortable, or even dangerous, to ride, because the electric pedal-assist system is almost always out of action, the brakes are improperly adjusted, the height of the saddle can no longer be adjusted, the handlebar sleeves are missing, and the pedals, baskets or wheels have been damaged. The €1.5 million paid to the operator, JCDecaux, is also supposed to cover upkeep of the bikes.

I would therefore like to put the following questions to the College of Aldermen:

  • How many bikes are currently available under the scheme, and at how many stations? How is the maintenance of the bikes arranged? Given that the condition of a bike displayed on the app rarely reflects reality, are there plans to improve the app so it can offer more reliable information?
  • How many bikes are repaired each day? What are the most frequent problems, and what causes them?
  • Since the vel'OH! service began operating, how many bikes have had to be replaced because they were beyond repair? What percentage per year does this represent?
  • Is the City of Luxembourg kept regularly informed about the state of the service, and of the complaints that have been lodged?
  • What are the obligations stipulated in the agreement between the City and JCDecaux to ensure there are always functional bikes available to users? How does the City of Luxembourg ensure these obligations are being met, and who performs these checks?
  • When and how does the College of Aldermen intend to contact JCDecaux to ensure a proper service is provided to users?
  • At what stage are the plans to extend the vel'OH! network to include stations in other districts (Neudorf, Weimershof, Dommeldange, Beggen, etc.) and to the municipality of Walferdange?

Response provided by Patrick Goldschmidt

As you correctly pointed out, vel'OH! is a service provided by an external company. The City of Luxembourg plays no part in this company's internal operations. The City of Luxembourg pays JCDecaux €1.5 million a year, equating to €15 million over a 10-year period. The decision on this was made by the previous members of the College of Aldermen. At the time, it was decided that the set price for users should be lower than it is in other countries. The reason for this is that we wanted to see how the fleet of bikes, all of which have an electric pedal-assist system, would perform in practice. A year or two ago, we wrote to JCDecaux requesting that they make upgrades, because the system was not working as it ought to. JCDecaux also had to pay fines for failing to provide an operational service.

In recent months, the City of Luxembourg has been receiving relatively high numbers of complaints, because the service is not working properly. We immediately pass such complaints on to JCDecaux so they can contact the users in question and make sure the problems are solved. Of course, one imagines that JCDecaux themselves are receiving complaints.

The City of Luxembourg first informed JCDecaux of the situation and invited them to respond, and subsequently sent a formal demand. In July, we received a response listing the problems that JCDecaux had identified. In part, the problems listed related to the quality of the customer service (calls going unanswered, lack of knowledge of locations or inadequate language skills on the part of JCDecaux staff), but also the technology or the state of the bikes. A number of users had fallen off because of technical problems with the bikes. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of users has gone up, but so too has the number of instances of vandalism. Sometimes, two or three people will share a bike. On other occasions, bikes are found abandoned in green spaces. This means a great deal more work for JCDecaux. At the height of the pandemic, the company had fewer staff available, and experienced delays in the supply of replacement parts. JCDecaux has promised to solve all problems reported up to the end of August. We received practically no complaints in September, but this does not necessarily mean that there are no longer problems.

At a meeting scheduled to take place within the next few weeks, we will be discussing our agreement with JCDecaux representatives. The existing agreement includes a number of provisions. We shall be demanding that those conditions be met. JCDecaux's tender was based on their experience of providing similar services elsewhere in the world. The proposal to have a fleet of 100% electric bikes was relatively advantageous, because JCDecaux believed there would be fewer instances of vandalism in Luxembourg than there have been in some French cities. However, it is imperative JCDecaux stands by its tender by making sure the bikes are in proper working order. If the discussion with JCDecaux leads to any new developments, we shall, of course, keep the municipal council informed.

Response provided by Tom Krieps

I always complain to JCDecaux when something is not working properly, which means that the company is immediately made aware if there is a problem. Recently, near to my office, I parked a bike which was missing its saddle and its pedals. I informed JCDecaux. The bike was still there three days later, without a saddle or pedals! Complaints made to the company are not dealt with properly.

Response provided by Patrick Goldschmidt

JCDecaux are obliged to provide us with regular reports on bikes that are available and bikes that are being repaired. We do not yet have this information. Yesterday, I was sent a photo showing one of the bikes in the Pétrusse. We shall be discussing all the problems with JCDecaux.

Question posed by Christa Brömmel

Could the College of Aldermen briefly comment on progress with connecting the district of Pulvermühl to the vel'OH network?

Response provided by Lydie Polfer

As we have already exceeded the time allotted to the "Questions from municipal councillors" item by 20 minutes, I suggest we move on and come back to it later. In general, I would ask that councillors keep their questions and statements as brief as possible, so that we can deal with more questions per session.

Response provided by Patrick Goldschmidt

If you will allow me, I will respond, but very briefly. We would very much like to install a vel'OH! station in Beggen, but before that can happen, we need the minister in question to give the green light to install the promised and long-awaited cycle path on the Arcelor site. With the path installed, it will be far safer to cross the "Krommlängten" on a bike. We have already spoken to partners in other municipalities, such as Walferdange. We will also be talking to JCDecaux to find out when they intend to extend the network to neighbouring municipalities.

Response provided by Lydie Polfer

The Minister for Transport (Ministre des Transports) is very keen to make the cycle path in question a reality, but other ministries are holding up the project. It is therefore to be hoped that the government will act to remove barriers so that the project can be carried out as soon as possible.