Following our notifications in July 2021, the City Hall of Cluj-Napoca decided to postpone the eviction of Szabo Iosif and his family from a modular house near the landfills in Pata Rât, Cluj-napoca. The City Hall told all the institutions and organizations we contacted that a closer social investigation into the family’s situation revealed the necessity to postpone the eviction. Regretfully, however, the chain of evictions initiated by the same City Hall continues.
Now, on 1st September 2021, 7 families living at Stephenson Street no. 15 received a demolition notice from the bailiff. If the demolition proceeds, two of the families will be evicted (11 people, 5 of which are children, 1 person with disabilities, and 1 single mother), while the rest of the families will continue to live in one overcrowded apartment within the formal housing structure at that address. The City Hall did not take any measures to prevent this situation and did not offer any adequate housing options to the people affected.
The Social Housing NOW! movement, with support from the RomaJust organization, has assisted the families in requesting two appeals from the Cluj Courthouse on 3rd September 2021: one appeal contests the legal enforcement, the other asks for a temporary suspension of the legal enforcement. These court procedures helped to postpone the enforcement of the demolition (which is a de facto eviction for the people living in the informal units). However, the appeals offer some extra time at best, time in which we hope the Cluj City Hall will receive messages from the institutions we reached out to (the President, the Government, the People’s Lawyer, the National Agency for the Roma, the National Council for Combating Discrimination, other commissions and european institutions), to stop the demolition/eviction until adequate social housing is offered to those who would be made homeless by the demolition. With the support of the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) we asked for the case to be mediated at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), so we are also expecting their intervention on behalf of the people threatened with eviction.
The alarming situation of the informal settlement on Stephenson street no. 15
This time we are asking for your support on behalf of 7 families, who received a notice on 1st September 2021, through which they are being summoned to “dismantle the illegal constructions on the western side of the house in Cluj-Napoca, Stephenson Street no. 15, in front of apt. no 1” in 2 days’ time (until 3rd September 2021). In case of non-compliance, a bailiff accompanied by the SMZ IMPEX SRL firm will arrive on the 3rd of September at the location to “make the technical measurements necessary for implementing the enforceable title”, “represented by Civil Sentence no. 5173/2014, pronounced by the Cluj-Napoca Courthouse in the 5173/2014 case.” Apart from this document, the people addressed did not receive any proposed solution for their situation from the City Hall.
Please intervene with the City Hall of Cluj-Napoca, represented by mayor Emil Boc, by requesting the postponement of the demolition until proper housing solutions are found for the 7 families who face homelessness if the enforced legal procedures continue. The argument that this intervention does not constitute an eviction, but merely the demolishing of an informal construction is false. The buildings in question are not empty, they are currently inhabited by 11 people, of whom 5 are children under 18 years old and one is a person with disabilities. Moreover, the 7 families that received the demolition order include 19 people, who live crowded in one of the apartments of the old house built in the 1970s by the state-owned construction company, which later became the property of Transylvania Constructions.
Ask the City Hall to start a social investigation into the demographic, socio-economic and medical status of the families before enforcing any intervention that would leave them homeless. Such an investigation would legally allow the City Hall to postpone the implementation of the enforced eviction. More importantly, the City Hall should offer real solutions to the people who have been living in inadequate conditions and insecurity for so many years. It could, for example, bring into the residential circuit and make use of the block of flats on Gării Street, which is under its administration, and which has been empty for so many years.
By carrying on the proposed demolition, which leaves the people mentioned above with no other housing options, the Cluj-Napoca City Hall infringes on many national and international legal regulations, an event which cannot be overlooked by any local, national, or international organization or institution. We are referring here to the legislation that protects the right to adequate housing, the right to social housing for those who have an income smaller than the median wage (according to article 42 of the Romanian Housing Law 114 from 1996), the right to proper housing for people who belong to socially marginalized groups, the right to housing for all children and for all people with disabilities, as well as the right to not be forcefully evicted, which means to not be left without adequate housing options in case of eviction.
Neglect of the fact that people live in the buildings that the City Hall wants to demolish comes not from a lack of knowledge about this particular situation. Based on our actions, we know of at least one document from 2016 (Zonal document on the housing situation on Stephenson Street no. 15. History, housing situation, and requests from tenants). At that time, City Hall replied that it will take the necessary steps to solve the housing problems summed up in the letter below. Nevertheless, after 5 years, the City Hall does not provide active, feasible solutions, but the “solution” of demolition, neglecting the fact that this translates into the forced eviction of those who live in these settlements. Further on, we sum up their history of living on Stephenson nr. 15.
A short history of the housing situation on Stephenson street
There is a building consisting of five apartments on Stephenson George street no. 15. The families started living here at the end of the 1970s, when the (currently) eldest members were employees of the State Trust for Constructions, being, therefore, tenants of the respective building. Construction workers took part in the construction of many blocks of flats in Cluj-Napoca before 1990, their labor was highly valued, as it still is today in the case of those who continue to work in construction.
After 1990, once buying the apartments became an option and in line with their material possibilities, two of the families bought the apartments in which they had been tenants. Other two apartments are in different stages of the acquisition process. Given that the families have extended and the health issues that some of their members suffered from, and also given the lack of access to social housing, between 1995-2007 many young families had no other option but to extend informal lodgings around the old, initial house. All this happened under the conditions in which purchasing or renting housing from the market became impossible for people with low income because of the prohibitive prices.
Housing insecurity entrenched by the causes mentioned above has worsened dramatically since 2013, and also since real estate developers started showing interest in this land. Neighbors’ complaints also started emerging at this time. In the context of these complaints, the City Hall of Cluj-Napoca initiated a process of identifying and monitoring the families, starting with fining one of the families in the old house for the illegal construction of an annexed building (signed statement no. 183, issued in 27st September 2010). A few days after, because of the severe health problems and the stressful situation generated by the fine, the person in the cause died. This tragic event prolonged the legal action initiated by the City Hall against those who built the annex without proper authorization (file nr.25071/211/2012), and Civil Sentence no. 678/A/2014 stood on the side of the City Hall. As a result, the families living in the annex in front of apt. 1, on the western side of the whole house, should have demolished their lodgings. However, at the time these people lacked access to adequate housing options, as they continue to do today, which means that dismantling the informal annex would push them into homelessness.
What actions should the local authorities have taken, at least since 2019?
On the 26th of July 2019, Law no. 151 from 24th of July 2019 was published in addition to Law no. 350/2001 regarding urbanism and spatial planning. A year later, Order no. 3.494 from 27th July 2020 for the amendment and completion of the Methodological Norms for the Application of Law no. 350/2001 on urbanism and spatial planning, was also published in “Monitorul Oficial” of Romania.
The legal regulations above define an informal settlement as a grouping of minimum 3 units used for housing purposes, built spontaneously, inhabited by people or families who are part of vulnerable groups as defined by the Law of Social Assistance no. 292/211, and who do not have any legal rights upon the homes they inhabit. The case on Stephenson Street no. 15 fits this definition, therefore here we are faced with an informal settlement.
Further, the regulations above establish the following obligations that the Mayor of the Cluj-Napoca Municipality should have fulfilled since then in relation to such an informal settlement:
- they should have identified the lands within their administrative territory where informal housing has been built, including the one on Stephenson Street no. 15;
- they should have created and updated the database on the number of people living in informal settlements, i.e. on Stephenson Street no. 15;
- they should have informed the residents of informal settlements about the provisions of this law and initiated a process of consultation and participatory planning in order to identify solutions tailored to the specifics of the informal settlement and to community needs, including on Stephenson Street no. 15;
- they should have initiated and coordinated the necessary steps to identify the legal and economic status of the lands occupied by informal settlements and to regulate them, including on Stephenson Street no. 15;
- if the regulation requires the partial or total dismantling of the respective informal settlements (which, as shown in the demolition decision, is the case of the informal settlement on Stephenson Street no. 15), the authorities should have ensured the relocation of their inhabitants, either by providing social housing or by supporting the reconstruction of housing on properly equipped land (identified and made available by local public administration authorities, in accordance with the law); furthermore, they should have informed, consulted and obtained approval from the residents in relocation situations in advance.
Based on the notification received by the 7 families on Stephenson Street no. 15, apt. 1, from the bailiff on September the 1st 2021, we can state that the City Hall of Cluj-Napoca:
- has not done any of the above, but simply wants to demolish the informal buildings without worrying about the fate of the people who will be forcibly evicted as a direct result of the demolition;
- should immediately notify the bailiff in order to stop the proceedings initiated for the purpose of demolishing the informal buildings;
- should urgently start providing adequate social housing for people who can no longer live in those inadequate and unsafe conditions.
Why is the City Hall putting pressure on the people living on Stephenson street no. 15?
The push for demolishing the informal units, along with the 500% property tax increase in the case of those who own apartments in the old building, are not measures meant to better the living conditions of the residents.
These pressures are in tune with the so-called “urban renewal” plans that are being conjured up in the area, which lead to gentrification through real estate development that currently includes: Liberty Residential and Liberty Technology Park on Gării Street (across the road from Stephenson 15), a new construction site on Stephenson Street no. 11, the demolition of the Cortizo building (former TDS platform) on the Oașului-Gării corner, in order to make way for new real estate investment by the Hexagon company, the reconversion of the Armătura industrial platform into potential real estate development projects, and last but not least through the “reinvigoration” of the Armătura Park mandated by the City Hall.
Press release, released on 7 September 2021 by Căși Sociale ACUM!/ Social housing NOW (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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