Manifest

Capitalismul și formarea pieței de locuințe: cauzele economice și politice ale precarizării și pauperizării locuirii

În ziua de azi, tot mai puțini avem locuințe adecvate, pentru că salariile noastre sunt prea mici și costurile locuinței sunt foarte mari. Jumătate din populația României cheltuie peste 40% din veniturile sale pe locuință, fiind afectată și de supra-aglomerare. Situația celor aflați în prag de sărăcie este și mai dramatică din aceste puncte de vedere. În plus, ei sunt deprivați de cele mai elementare condiții. Continue reading Manifest

#Allforprofit: The negative impact of World Bank involvement in the politics of housing in Romania

#Allforprofit: The negative impact of World Bank involvement in the politics of housing in Romania

Position paper of the Block for Housing (Blocul pentru Locuire)

I. The Block for Housing is critical towards the 2018 edition of the Bucharest “Housing Forum” and the housing policy proposals presented there.

II. The WB contribution to privatization, commodification and housing precariousness in post-socialist Romania

III. Main shortcomings of the WB Forum Proposal

IV. The perspective of the Block for Housing on the need for public housing

 

Spurred by the World Bank’s recent restatement of commitment to anti-social policies (during Bucharest Housing Forum 2018), in this document we aim to highlight how the typical World Bank (WB) approach to housing pursues housing market efficiency rather than effective social housing policies. We also analyze the shortcomings of the policy advocated by WB representatives during this year’s Forum and briefly discuss the historical contribution of the World Bank to the privatization and commodification of housing in Romania. We end with a list of positions and proposals on housing. We propose to Romanian stakeholders a new politics of housing, one which departs from WB-advocated market orthodoxy and builds instead on the principles of social justice and antiracism by placing a robust public housing policy at its forefront. This brief paper aims to contribute to the public and political debate on housing in Romania in order to identify solutions to what we call a housing crisis which affects the vast majority of the country’s population[1].

I. The Block for Housing is critical towards the 2018 edition of the Bucharest “Housing Forum” and the housing policy proposals presented there.

On September 12, 2018, in Bucharest, Habitat for Humanity Romania held the “Housing Forum” event. This is the second year when Habitat organizes a forum on housing where representatives of private interests – multinational corporations in the areas of banking, utilities and construction materials, as well as World Bank (WB) representatives – are notable invitees. These guests from the multinational private sector share their opinions about housing needs and the future of housing, advocating of course in favor of public strategies/political measures/profitable programs for their corporations and keeping quiet about problems they helped create.

Such events show the interest of the WB to engage with the topics of the two workshops organized at the forum: (1) the legalization of informal settlements and (2) the need for social housing. We take note of the way in which the two issues are integrated in the dominant discourse and practice of the Bank and subordinated to the core principles of its policy, namely the production of social housing in a way which serves the housing market by furthering the privatization, commodification and financialization of housing.

This year, the housing forum podium was taken over by two WB representatives who, in brief, affirmed the following:

  1. Housing policies must focus on supporting real estate developers and financial institutions, i.e. advocating precisely the view that led to the 2008 crisis and other older social catastrophes across the globe. Despite this ruinous track record, the WB has been imposing such market-oriented policies through their loan agreements for several decades. We are amazed at the forgetfulness of the World Bank in this concern.
  2. Tenants’ protection is blocking housing development. The statement is not only absurd, but also dangerous for the tenants already in vulnerable positions on the unregulated private rental market in Romania.
  3. Housing policies addressed to the poorest, who qualify for (the paltry) state support, ought to be distinguished from policies for the poor people who still have some amount of resources; the latter category are supposed to be left to manage on their own on the real estate and loan market. The proposal pays no heed to the fact that under these circumstances, the second, still precarious, category of persons would contract or go deeper into debt.
  4. The large number of small private owners in Romania stands in the way of the big real estate developers and investors and should therefore be reduced; private companies owning buildings to let should be encouraged instead. We are once again amazed by the World Bank’s positioning. After all, in the 1990s and 2000s, the institution imposed on Romanian governments housing privatization policies and the channeling of public money towards property owners. Now however, the Bank strongly prefers big real estate owners, corporations whose room on the market they consider to be limited by small owners.

In general, the WB’s reports and public interventions argue that the welfare state no longer functions. They fail to mention how WB loan agreements progressively undermined the welfare state in the past couple of decades.

WB’s reports and interventions tell us we cannot expect social and public housing from the state anymore, without mentioning that WB discourages the development of national/local programs for public social housing, because public housing limits the profit margins of real estate and other private interests the WB supports.

Using their authority, the WB and other international organizations define the dominant discourse on housing, naturalizing it quickly by presenting it as neutral and self-evident.

The core principles of this discursive and ideological frame are:

  1. the state should finance housing programs that support real estate developers, securing their profit accumulation objective;
  2. informal settlements should be legally regulated in order to facilitate tax accumulation as well as new contracts for multinational utilities providers (i.e., more profit accumulation).

WB and other international banking organizations call on experts, NGOs, researchers etc. to find technical solutions which abide by these principles and their established discursive, ideological and political frame.

This is what we have witnessed at the forum organized by Habitat. Not only were there no dissenting opinions voiced by the other invited speakers, but the public was not allowed to actually speak. One had to sit quietly, send questions from a smartphone through an online application, and wait for the moderator to choose the “most popular” questions. This ensured an apparent consensus, so that the WB guests would not be disturbed.

II. The WB contribution to privatization, commodification and housing precariousness in post-socialist Romania

Actions undertaken by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in the past decades in Central and Eastern Europe (beginning with the 1970s), resulted in the privatization, commodification and financialization of housing. These phenomena reduced the adequacy and the security of housing for a large number of people.

In 1993, through a document called “Hou­sing: Enabling Markets to Work”, the World Bank compelled its Eastern European debtor countries to conduct swift housing privatization, retreat from the construction and development of social housing, and deregulate real estate development. The Bank continued to impose these public policy directions throughout the 1990s and 2000s and to exert pressure towards housing privatization. In the pre-EU-accession period, it insisted on the extension and deregulation of the real estate market[2].

While acting as a consultant for the Romanian government on European money (2014-2016), the WB elaborated the study which formed the base for the National Housing Strategy draft. On that occasion, the Bank reaffirmed its faith in housing market efficiency as solution for housing issues in Romania.

Meanwhile, in the past two decades, the costs of housing maintenance went through the roof, growing by 500% from 2000 until now, while salaries have seen negligible increase. In the meantime, thousands of houses sit empty in areas where people would want to live but cannot afford to and where real estate developers await big profits from their investments in tourism, speculation or financial schemes.

III. Main shortcomings of the WB Forum Proposal

Considering these antecedents, it is crucial to critically assess the World Bank’s proposal to limit social housing distribution only to “the most vulnerable groups”. The main shortcomings of their proposal are:

  1. It suggests that the “vulnerable groups” are exceptional cases and implies that “vulnerability” results from the personal/physical/cultural deficiency of the respective persons/groups who, for these reasons, are not capable to secure on their own the housing they need.
  2. It disguises the fact that the lack of adequate and affordable housing affects a large part of the population: 25% of Romania’s population lives below the poverty threshold, 40% are at risk of poverty and social exclusion, 18% of people experience in-work poverty, 50% of employees live on the minimum wage (according to Eurostat statistics).
  3. Their reasoning hides the fact that “the vulnerable groups” are vulnerable due to high housing costs, due to diminished income caused by austerity policies and generally by keeping labor force cheap, and due to housing inequalities and injustice;
  4. It also covers up the structural causes of this situation: high housing costs are not due to a simplistic supply and demand dynamic, but to the transformation of housing into a commodity, subjected to real estate speculative transactions[3].
  5. Such reasoning stresses that NGOs, private companies or various private-public organizations should distribute social housing, through particular projects. In our understanding, applying this proposal would further undermine the welfare state and the state’s capacity to fulfill its responsibility towards the public interest.

Having learnt nothing from two decades of dysfunctional policy-making, the World Bank and the (anti)social policies it imposes influence the current housing issues in Romania.

IV. The perspective of the Block for Housing on the need for public housing

Having worked for several years on the housing problems, the organizations reunited in the Bloc for Housing support the following stances and proposals on housing in Romania:

  1. Because WB is part of the housing problem, the only reasonable attitude for those interested in housing is to oppose the solutions this institution proposes, promotes and imposes.
  2. Banking corporations, construction, energy, real estate transactions and investment companies aim to extract as much profit as possible from the housing programs – public money and money from groups on the verge of precarity. If public interest was genuinely pursued, there would be no reason and justification for representatives of private interests to be invited to formulate public housing policies.
  3. The NGOs that join the World Bank in carrying out their projects must become aware of being used to legitimize dubious housing policy. Otherwise, NGOs associating with private actors of the housing market and with international loan organizations must acknowledge their role in and take responsibility for promoting the same measures that led to the real estate bubble and to the 2008 financial crisis which endangered millions of lives.
  4. We consider the development of a public housing stock as the main solution for addressing the housing need. In this matter we are in line with those academics and activists who critically address the processes that subsume cities to profit and who defend the right to housing and to the city[4] 
  5. Social housing for people with low income (not only for those vaguely and narrowly defined as “vulnerable groups”) must be ensured as part of a broader public housing policy enforcing the principle of universal right to housing. Such policy must be based on centralized documentation of the need of public housing in general and of social housing in particular; it also must be operationalized through multi annual measures funded by the state (possibly co-financed through European funds).
  6. Social and public housing programs are not only about new constructions, but also about finding ways to convert vacant buildings, to use buildings the state might purchase from the market specifically for this purpose, or utilize real estates that the state might expropriate for the public interest purpose of being converted into social housing.

The Block for Housing (Blocul pentru Locuire, BPL) is a decentralized network of organizations and groups that struggle for the empowerment and for the political organization of communities against housing injustice. BPL sees its role as one of bringing together active groups and movements that advocate for a just and anti racist politics of housing. At this moment, the members of BPL are: Social housing NOW! (Cluj), Common Front for the Right to Housing (Bucharest), Right to the City (Timișoara), and E-Romnja (Bucharest).

Notes:

[1] 80% of the population earns under the medium income, 50% lives with the minimum wage, 25% lives with the risk of poverty.

[2] Between 1990 and 2004, the International Monetary Fund, the WB’s sister institution, concluded several Memoranda (most importantly, the two Private Sector Adjustment Programs) with successive Romanian governments, all of which conditioned lending on privatization of state assets. These led to an even greater reduction of all types of social support for the impoverished. Moreover, the World Bank fully collaborated with the Romanian National Bank on privatization policies, especially bank loan deregulation, thus contributing to the overburdening of many families. Thus, in 2000, The National Privatization Strategy was developed in the spirit of these agreements. The Strategy reiterated the major areas in which the restructuring and privatization process had to be accelerated, thus calling for a fast restructuring of the banking sector, privatization of state-owned companies and state support for the business environment. Romania’s accession process to the European Union (2004-2007) continued this politics of conditionality regarding the privatization of state enterprises. The 2009 Memorandum agreed by the Boc government with the troika of IMF, European Commission and World Bank conditioned loans (destined to “weathering” the financial crisis) on the implementation of austerity policies and “reform of the state” – meaning cuts in social spending (E. Vincze, ‘The ideology of economic liberalism and the politics of housing in Romania”, in Studia Europaea, LXII, 3, 2017).

[3] In the city of Cluj, for example (see “Cărămida” http://casisocialeacum.ro/caramida/), the increase of real estate transactions, from 200 million euros in 2013 to 594 million euros in 2017, went hand in hand with the increase of the real estate prices. It also extended the phenomenon of buying a house to rent or flip (sell further at a higher price). Since housing became the object of real estate speculation on behalf of big real estate developers and big owners of residential and office buildings, it ceased being viewed and provided as a right (see on these developments across different countries for example in D. Madden & P. Marcuse, “In Defense of Housing”, Verso, 2016; or in M. Aalbers’ numerous works on housing financialization).

[4] For example N. Brenner, P. Marcuse, M. Mayer, D. Harvey, The European Action Coalition for the Right to Housing and Right to the City (housingnotprofit.org). Moreover, we align with them regarding the critiques of affordable housing policies based on private-public partnerships or on the public subsidies of private investors. Since the market price or the exchange value of housing keeps increasing (as real estate speculators hunt for more and more profit through this business), and since – due to the lack of public housing – people’s housing needs might be only met through the market, one may conclude that, in Romania, the impoverishment of the laborers, the high rates of overcrowding (almost 50%) and of housing cost overburden (16%, rising up to 46% in the case of private renters and of owner occupiers with bank loans) are also a result of the dramatic low percentage of public housing.

totulpentruprofit – Banca Mondială în politica locuirii din România

BLOCul pentru Locuire – poziţia sa critică faţă de evenimentul „Housing Forum” (12 septembrie 2018, Bucureşti) şi faţă de propunerile de politici de locuire prezentate acolo 

Propunerile BLOCului, din poziţia sa critică, sunt următoarele:

  1. BM este parte din problema locuirii şi singura atitu­dine pe care putem să o avem este una de opoziţie faţă de lucrurile pe care această instituție le propune, le promovea­ză şi le impune.
  2. Corporaţiile bancare, din domeniul construcţiilor, energiei, tranzacţiilor imobiliare şi investiţiilor îşi doresc să extragă cât mai mult profit din programele pentru locuinţe -bani publici şi bani de la categoriile aflate la limita vulne­rabilităţii. Dacă noi avem în vedere interesul public, atunci reprezentanţii intereselor private nu au de ce să fie invitaţi la formularea de politici publice pentru locuire.
  3. ONGurile care sar în această barcă condusă de BM, căutând să îşi ducă la capăt proiectele, trebuie să conştien­tizeze cum devin instrumente în această politică a locuirii. Dar, desigur, nu contestăm capacitatea acestor organizaţii de a fi conştiente de ceea ce se întâmplă: probabil că, de fapt, aderă la ideologia BM şi la principiile sale bazate pe promo­varea profitului privat. ONGurile care se asociază cu actorii privaţi ai pieţei de locuinţe şi cu organizaţiile internaţionale de creditare ar trebui să îşi asume faptul că promovează ace­leaşi măsuri care au dus la bula imobiliară şi criza financiară din 2008-punând milioane de vieţi în risc.

Textul întreg poate fi citit aici: http://artapolitica.ro/2018/11/25/totulpentruprofit-banca-mondiala-in-politica-locuirii-din-romania/?fbclid=IwAR18vOp2e1MpRMHl-MsJ_G36nU77ERiWXuAZMS_tKiC2dFbfFHjs4qBreew

 

 

Locuirea precară ne scoate în stradă

În 17 decembrie 2018, comemorăm 8 ani de la evacuarea de pe strada Coastei a 350 de persoane de etnie romă. Solidaritatea cu evacuații de peste tot ne scoate în stradă în fiecare an. Anul acesta, revolta față de diversele forme ale nedreptății locative ne unește.

Pentru că:

· locuirea a devenit marfă scumpă din care băncile, fondurile de investiții și dezvoltatorii imobiliari scot un profit ușor și rapid, totul în detrimentul cetățenilor, care în fiecare an sunt forțați să plătească prețuri tot mai ridicate pentru condiții tot mai precare. Nu e o mândrie faptul că orașul Cluj a devenit cel mai scump municipiu din țară, ci un simptom al unei probleme care afectează tot mai mulți clujeni. În timp ce o mână de speculanți profită, nouă ne este tot mai dificil să ducem o viață decentă aici.

· multe cartiere vechi ale Clujului sunt dominate azi de șantierele pentru profit ale dezvoltatorilor imobiliari. Locuințele vechi dispar și împreună cu ele și vechii locatari. Micii proprietari își vând proprietățile către marii investitori; chiriașii de la privat care nu pot ține pasul cu chiriile mari încep să își caute chirii în periferii; chiriașii ale căror contracte expiră în locuințele din vechiul fond de stat sunt supuși și ei unor presiuni de a părăsi zona; ocupanții unor terenuri sau spații locative goale din motiv de lipsă de alternativă sunt evacuați de autoritățile publice.

Vrem case pentru oameni, nu pentru profit!
· în Cluj, doar 1.3% din fondul de locuințe sunt locuințe fond de stat. Anual se depun în jur de 400 de cereri de locuințe sociale, iar primăria distribuie doar câteva, cele eliberate prin evacuare. Avem nevoie de locuințe publice, pentru că ele asigură dreptul la locuire pentru toți și contribuie la reducerea presiunii de pe piața imobiliară. Locuințele publice sunt soluție la criza locuirii.

· orice evacuare care transformă oamenii în persoane fără locuințe adecvate este ilegitimă. Ești evacuat/ă de bancă? Sau de proprietarul privat? Sau de primărie? Cei care ocupă un spațiu fără acte, fac asta pentru că nu au alternative, primăria Cluj-Napoca îi face neeligibili pe viață la locuință socială. Vrem un Cluj fără rasism și fără evacuări.

· prețul chiriilor din Cluj a luat-o razna. Proprietarii și agențiile imobiliare au speculat creșterea populației orașului din ultimii ani pentru a-și maximiza profitul pe termen scurt. În lipsa intervenției municipalității, piața chiriilor a dus la împovărarea tot mai serioasă a chiriașilor. Solicităm drepturi pentru chiriași!

· în Cluj studiază în jur de 80000 de studenți, din care doar 14000 au acces la un loc în cămin. Lipsa locurilor în cămine împinge studenții către chirii private. Tot mai mulți trebuie să muncească în timpul studiilor pentru a-și permite să locuiască în Cluj. Vrem un oraș universitar cu cămine!

Ridică-te și tu împotriva nedreptăților care ți se întâmplă. Luptă pentru dreptul de a locui în condiții adecvate și de a nu fi exploatat(ă) atât la locul de muncă, cât și de cei care fac ca prețurile locuințelor să devină exorbitante. Solidarizează-te cu toți/toate cei/cele care suferă efectele crizei locuirii. Doar împreună putem transforma orașul. Orașul e al tuturor! E un drept, nu un privilegiu!

Haide luni, 17 decembrie, la clopot pe Eroilor. De la ora 18.00 lansăm nr. 6 al “Cărămida. Ziarul dreptății locative”. Comemorăm evacuarea din 2010. Ne facem auzite mesajele.

Evenimentul este susținut de Căși sociale ACUM!, Ⓐcasă, Asociația Chiriașilor Cluj, Asociația Romilor de pe Coastei, Blocul pentru Locuire, a szem

https://www.facebook.com/events/2286776771591902/

Forumul Bloc: Împreună pentru o locuire justă!, Cluj

 

Program

16-18 noiembrie 2018

Confederația organizațiilor pentru justiție locativă Bloc organizează Forumul „Împreună pentru justiție locativă”, un cadru de dezbatere politică despre diversele aspecte ale crizei locuirii în România de azi.

PROGRAM

VINERI, 16 noiembrie
15:30-19:00 – Tur ghidat organizat de Cărămida, ziarul dreptății locative. Punct de întâlnire: p-ța M. Viteazu, în față la mec.
20:00 – Împreună pentru Justiție Locativă. Masă rotundă la Casa Tranzit.

 

SÂMBĂTĂ, 17 noiembrie / CASA TRANZIT
18:00 – Șantier în lucru pentru profit. Transformare urbană din zona Someșului-Abator – expoziție.https://www.facebook.com/events/740852879606418/
18:00 – Evacuări forțate în România. O încercare de inventariere – prezentarea cercetării BLOC.
19:00 – Triplă lansare: Gazeta de Artă Politică, revista Strada (TM), revista Cărămida (Cluj)
19:45 – No Country for the Poor / proiecție și discuție după film cu activiști din organizația A Város Mindenkié (HU)

DUMINICĂ, 18 noiembrie
11:00-12:30 – Tur ghidat în zona Abator. Punct de întâlnire: p-ța M. Viteazu, în față la mec.

 

Transformations of housing provision in Romania: Organizations of subtle violence

by Ioana Florea and Mihail Dumitriu

originally published in LeftEast

This article is based on empirical data and is a small part of an ongoing research project on housing struggles and transformations in housing policies in Romania. We look at these transformations within the wider historical and economic context, outlining some of the links between privatization and austerity measures, individualization and privatization of housing provision, and the role of NGOs as subtle facilitators of such (often violent) processes.

Waves of housing policy in the context of “transition”

In Romania, as in other ECE countries, “the implementation of housing reform became one of the first acts” of the post-89 governments, with “privatization, deregulation, and cuts in state funding” as its main principles (Stanilov 2007, p. 177). Scholars of post-socialism have shown that these policies were cemented by the influence of international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF overseeing the entire “transition” process (Pichler-Milanovic, 2001, apud Stanilov 2007, p. 176). In 1990, 30% of the housing stock was state owned (Vincze, 2017) – including buildings constructed during socialism (especially blocks of flats) but also buildings nationalized in the 1950s from the richer strata (especially villas, mansions, and small apartment blocks). After 1990, the housing reform followed three main paths:

  1. The rapid and continuous sale of the state owned stock, which today stands at less than two percent of the country’s housing stock.
  2. The deregulation and persisting lack of regulations with regard to urban development, working as a form of support for the private real-estate sector. In the mid 2000s, the retreating state informally shifted the responsibility for drafting urban regulations to the private sector (a process sometimes legitimized as participatory working group practice). This opened new legal doors for private accumulation through dispossession.
  3. Re-privatization through restitutions (to former pre-1950 owners, their heirs, or their legal rights-buyers) of the nationalized housing stock, at first through financial compensation (for inhabited buildings) and in-kind (for unused buildings), and then through in-kind complete restitutions of buildings (despite the fact the state tenants were still living there and no relocation solution was envisaged).

The restitution law (10/2001) – although appearing to have only localized effects – has been actually very destructive, producing waves of evictions, gentrification, rent increases, transformations in the function of buildings ( from housing into profit making functions).This law was backed by the dominant anti-communist discourse which claims that the socialist regime wronged the interwar landlords when it nationalized their properties, and that these landlords and their heirs are rightfully entitled to these properties regardless of what may happen to the tenants of the state who currently inhabit them. Such tenants of the state who are affected by evictions from restituted buildings very often belong to vulnerable social groups. These evictions get almost no media attention and the evictees get almost no support from authorities and public opinion, because the right to property prevails over tenants’ rights, and because people belonging to vulnerable social groups are subjected to social stigma (invisibilized and marginalized).

In addition, for more than a decade, most of the national housing programs work to benefit the emerging/aspiring middle classes. Since 2009, “The First Home” (Prima casa) mortgage program and Bauspar program have been developed by the state in partnership with ERSTE financial group and Raiffeisen Bank, backed with about 4.5 billion euro in public funds. ANL (Agentia Nationala pentru Locuinte, The National Housing Agency) receives funds from the Ministry of Development – more than 1 billion euro since 2007 – to build flats, which are then sold to young families who can afford private mortgages. Another program supporting homeowners for the thermo-rehabilitation of blocks of flats has consumed billions of Euros (funds from the local and national authorities, plus EU funds) since 2009. In comparison, since 2007, less than 200 million euro were allocated for all kinds of social housing in total.

a satellite image of Bucharest in 2001
Bucharest Sprawl in 2017

During the “transition”, the amounts spent on public housing declined, while overall housing construction rose. In 2015, 20% of Romania’s population was affected by severe housing deprivation. In urban areas, in 2014, there were over 67.000 applications for around 28.000 remaining, but already inhabited, social housing units. Moreover, following the liberalization of   utility prices and their alignment with Western Europe since 1996, in response to the increasing cost of living, informal forms of housing amplified as ways of resistance and survival. It is estimated that almost half a million persons live without documents in informal types of housing.

Looking at housing provision within wider economic processes, we can say that since 1990, the IMF, World Bank and EU-imposed privatization policies have also meant a constant drop in wages and a constant attack on labour rights. These culminated in 2011 with changes in the Labour Code and Social Dialogue Code in the aftermath of the crisis, with severe impact on workers’ lives and housing options. Since then, unionizing has become almost impossible, 44% of employees earn below the minimum wage, 25.4% of the population has fallen below the poverty line, over 40% of the population is at risk of poverty, and 42.6% of those employed spend more than 40% of their income on housing costs (2014-2016 data according to Eurostat).

After 2009, austerity measures brought cuts in most social benefits, legitimized by a rising discourse simultaneously for the “efficiency of the state” and against the poor. At the same time, most of the post-89 governments implemented tax-cuts for large companies, with recent tax-cuts for real-estate-developers enacted since 2017, and most of the post-89 governments deregulated the banking sector, paving the way for expensive and risky loans, which led to increased household debt. All these processes are part of Romania’s integration into the highly financialized global economy. The transformation of housing from public provision into private real-estate investment is a key aspect in these structural processes.

 

The role of NGOs in the context of “transition”

In Romania, one of the first laws passed by the first “transition” government was the Law on political parties and NGOs – rushed on the 31st of December 1989. Several authors have mentioned the role of NGOs, as ideological and economic actors, in smoothing such processes of global market integration and transition.

“The rise of advocacy groups and NGOs has, like rights discourses more generally, accompanied the neo-liberal turn and increased spectacularly since 1980 or so. The NGOs have in many instances stepped into the vacuum in social provision left by the withdrawal of the state from such activities. This amounts to a process of privatization by NGO. In some instances this seems to have helped accelerate further state withdrawal from social provision. NGOs thereby function as ‘trojan horses for global neoliberalism’” (Wallace, 2003).

David Harvey (2006), drawing from the work of Tina Wallace and David Chandler, has strongly criticized the role of NGOs in legitimizing and fabricating consent for the withdrawal of the state from social provision, for accumulation through dispossession, and for military humanitarianism. Adam Fagan (2005) discusses the impositions, limitations, hierarchies and ideologies that come with Western aid towards CEE. Cornel Ban (2014) also criticizes the self-assumed democratic role of the NGOs, as a form of technocratic de-politicization. He also illustrates the transformation of the early NGOs of the 90s into economic think-tanks advancing neoliberal ideas and policies, with massive financial support from the World Bank and IMF. Reading these authors, we want to highlight that NGOs work at the intersection of global, national and local levels: they might offer important local aid to their (selected) beneficiaries while, at the same time, they often engage in subordinate relations to Western donors and, as experts and mediators, also engage in power relations with national and local authorities.

Looking at the changes in housing policies outlined above, we can see how, legitimized by the “transition” and the “crisis”, reformed public organizations transpose responsibility for housing provision from the state, to individuals. In this frame, many local authorities claim their own incapacity to deal with the impoverished population, and invest the NGOs with this responsibility. Moreover, NGOs are constantly promoted in World Bank reports and policy recommendations as “strategic partners” in national housing policies. We briefly present some of the NGOs active in the housing field in Romania, and the mechanisms of subtle violence that they operate with (and within). Our examples will show how the discourses of NGOs can blur the idea of housing as public provision, and frame it as an individual opportunity/incapacity, and how the actions of NGOs can legitimate the retreat of the state from housing provision, limiting even further the access to housing, and facilitating the uneven accumulation of resources.

 

Organizations of subtle violence

In the Romanian context, the oldest NGOs in the housing field are those which, since the early 1990s, offer direct social assistance to persons living in precarious housing conditions. They offer one or more direct assistance services such as basic goods, basic medical care, assistance with formal paperwork, educational, therapeutic or community activities, or some forms of temporary shelter. We can observe that the work of such NGOs is marked by contradictions. They are organized as charities, around humanitarian ideas, but they are also organized around ideas of personal responsibility which actually block solidarity – both for the “beneficiaries” (for example, taking personal responsibility to “lift themselves” from their precarious situations) and the NGO workers/ volunteers (taking up roles as “problem solvers” in the field of housing). Several direct assistance NGOs and night shelters around the country are run by churches which, at the same time, are important real-estate developers involved in evictions and gentrification. Other housing NGOs depend on corporate sponsors which are involved in real-estate development or urban regeneration projects which produce displacement (see for example the corporate sponsors of SamuSocial, one of the main NGOs offering direct assistance for unhoused adults).

An illustrative example is Habitat for Humanity, a large global NGO working in Romania and in other 70 countries. It builds and repairs houses for the impoverished, mostly in rural and small localities, using corporate donations and volunteer labour. Corporate volunteers are involved through corporate social responsibility (CSR) or team building programs and offered meaningful construction (and “savior”/ heroic) work compensating for the loss of meaning in their daily jobs. Impoverished households selected as beneficiaries are conditioned by micro-credit and/or many hours of free labour. But not many households can actually afford these conditions, and thus not many are selected for this – private and quite limited – NGO housing program.

Other NGOs practice a technical approach and a specialized understanding of housing. They are mostly connected to the eco-technical and urban development branches of architecture.

Eco-technical NGOs usually draft solutions on existing plots (site-specific) for passive, off grid houses, with individual or social functions. They usually don’t have a social approach and thus create a discursive rupture between people and houses, with emphasis on the latter and on the eco-architectural significance of the built environment. NGOs focused on urban development usually analyze and project the city in the neoliberal paradigms of sustainable development, private sector investments and public sector deregulation – also a way of legitimizing their own existence. They work in real-estate as mediators between the private sector and public authorities, claiming the role of the neutral actor. Often they proclaim the state as an incapable, overweight, and corrupt apparatus which is to be reduced and replaced with the means of and by the private initiative. Thus they justify a model of commodified living, and sustain the neoliberal ideology.

In addition, there are NGOs with cultural and educational approaches to housing, most of which use narratives on housing histories, architecture, aesthetics that overlap with complex political discourses that legitimize violent housing exclusions for certain social groups.

Most cultural NGOs in the field of housing (such as ProDoMo, Arcen, or Save Bucharest) are part of the heritage protection movement and draw on the myths of pre-socialist history. Being particularly sensitive to aesthetic issues, they aim to “save” historical buildings and ensembles, mostly interwar and pre-war buildings, and historical places and squares.

During the 1950s and 1960s, new state policies placed many working class people (in need of housing) in nationalized houses which had been built in pre-war periods and confiscated by the state in the early 1950s from the upper classes. Nowadays, the pauperized working class living in historical buildings is pointed at for supposedly being unable to sustain, recognize and enjoy the cultural values that their homes have. In brief, such NGOs and their networks advance a “savior” practice that focuses on buildings before people, constantly emphasizing the importance of preserving the buildings. They draw attention to the lack of means of the current inhabitants and thus on their incapacity to take “good care” of the buildings – in this way, they actively contribute to legitimizing evictions.

Moreover, working at the intersection of the global, national and local levels, some NGOs have become key-actors in facilitating public-private events and partnerships, leading to new processes of accumulation by dispossession. In 2017, Habitat for Humanity Romania, together with several corporations producing construction materials, and a bank from the global ERSTE group, organized a housing forum called “Romania, closer to home. Initiatives and policies for everyone to have accessible and energy efficient houses”. Held at one of the most expensive hotels in Bucharest, the event was meant to create a common ground between government, NGOs and business interests. Among the participants were officials (state secretaries, government advisers), private sector representatives (business groups presidents, bank representatives) and independent sector representatives (NGOs, independent and affiliated researchers), all discussing profitable ways to develop affordable and energy efficient houses.

Three main ideas generated consensus at this meeting: that social housing should be aimed only towards the poorest; that accessible housing should be made available for those with low income; that the state would never be able to solve the social housing issue and, thus, needs private interventions. These ideas were emphasized repeatedly, imposing a clear separation/fragmentation of the impoverished working class into two categories: those confronted with extreme poverty, and the around 3 million people who are too poor to access the current mortgage market, but not poor enough to qualify for social benefits. The latter group was targeted for “accessible housing” public-private partnerships and policies. Private companies would build for them, the banks would create “tailored” micro-credits, the NGOs would mediate, and the state would build the legal framework and direct financial support towards the private partners. The fact that, in this process, the risks are transferred to the households and huge public funds are transferred to the private sector was easily left out.

A similar facilitation-event took place in March 2018 in Bucharest. Titled “SOS Informal Housing in Romania”, the event was organized by a coalition of NGOs and hosted by the Bucharest Municipality Cultural Center. Representatives of several local authorities from Bucharest and around the country were present. Among invited speakers were representatives of global electricity and gas corporations, as well as from one global financial institution. Dwellers without housing documents and community facilitators were brought to the same speakers’ table, staging consent. The main message from the organizers was the necessity to start acting together with other interested corporations and local authorities, in order to formalize informal housing – thus ensuring new utility contracts and new signups for micro-credit to pay for the costs of formalization. It was explained that the EU requires, and partly sponsors, such endeavours.

The risk of even further displacement in informal settlements, brought through household debt and high utility costs, was obscured. The huge profits extracted by banks, construction and utility companies from the wide pool of low income groups were dressed up in corporate social responsibility programs. Thus, the violence of dispossession, the potential for corporate profit, and the complicity of local (and EU) authorities with global capital were blurred by NGO technical talk and expertise.

Concluding remarks: bringing the Right to Housing into focus

It is important to say that – beyond these alliances of subtle violence – there are community organizations, grassroots groups and alliances that oppose and challenge these dispossessive mechanisms in the housing field.

Housing justice and anti-racism protest in Cluj, 2018

The Roma emancipatory networks (including several NGOs with juridical expertise) were among the first to struggle for housing rights. There are grassroots community organizations that later acquired NGO status such as LaBomba, which has been organizing protest events in Bucharest since 2006. For such organizations, in the post 1989 context, NGO status was needed in order to be able to formally register funds, to be able to file formal complaints and event authorizations, to be able to enter institutional spaces of decision making, and just to be heard as a legitimate actor. Moreover, the anti-capitalist “Housing BLOC” was organized in 2017 as a national action network, including NGOs together with grassroots radical groups. The contentions of these smaller and hybrid actors puts pressure on the larger NGOs to clarify their positions, and to acknowledge the symbolic violence they are involved in. Thus, in this hybrid space, we observe the existence of emancipatory possibilities, beyond violence legitimized by “transition” and austerity.

To sum up, we would say that, on one hand, many NGO discourses blur the idea of housing as public provision, and frame it as an individual opportunity versus incapacity. Blurring dispossession, and also blurring social rights, is – we argue – a form of operating discursive violence. On the other hand, many NGO programs showcase that forms of housing protection can be achieved through private initiatives, and that the “deserving poor” are not left behind. These programs/actions (and their media representations) legitimate the further retreat of the state from housing provision, and the further involvement of private companies. These NGO programs further limit the access to housing to their selected (“deserving”) beneficiaries, and facilitate the redistribution of resources towards their own activities and staff, towards public-private partnerships and (through certain mechanisms such as micro-credits, utility costs and unpaid labour) from their beneficiaries towards private capital.

We think that these NGO-facilitated mechanisms are similar to what researcher Nicholas De Genova (2013) termed “the scene of exclusion, the obscene of inclusion” in the process of accumulating profits through the social construction and showcased solving of illegality (in his case migrant informality, in our case evictions, houselessness and informal dwelling).

This article is written as part of the “Housing BLOC”, action network supported by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, and as part of the “Housing, social mobilisations and urban governance in CEE” ongoing research project funded by The Swedish Research Council FORMAS (Grant No. 2016-00258).

Mihail Dumitriu and Ioana Florea are involved in the Common Front for Housing Rights (FCDL), a platform for housing activism created in Bucharest by a group of evicted persons, persons living under the constant threat of forced eviction, together with relatives, friends, activists and artists. FCDL is part of the Housing BLOC, a national action network bringing together militant groups for the right to housing, housing justice and the right to the city. Mihail and Ioana are also involved in the editorial team of the Political Art Gazette (GAP), a critical online and printed journal that discusses, analyzes and promotes the social and political dimension of the most diverse forms of cultural and artistic projects. Ioana is a post-doc at the University of Gothenburg. Mihail is active in the Political Theatre Platform in Bucharest.

References

Ban, Cornel, 2014, Dependency and Development, Tact.

Chandler, David, 2002, From Kosovo to Kabul: Human Rights and International Intervention, Pluto Press.

De Genova, Nicholas, 2013, Spectacles of migrant ‘illegality’: the scene of exclusion, the obscene of inclusion, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 36:7, 1180-1198.

Fagan, Adam, 2005, Taking Stock of Civil-Society Development in Post-communist Europe: Evidence from the Czech Republic, Democratization, Vol.12, No.4, pp.528–547.

Harvey, David, 2006, Spaces of Global Capitalism, Verso.

Stan, Lavinia, 2013, Civil Society and Post-communist Transitional Justice in Romania, in O. Simić and Z. Volčič (eds.), Transitional Justice and Civil Society in the Balkans, p.17-31.

Stanilov, Kiril (ed.), 2007, The Post-socialist City, Springer.

Vincze, Enikő, 2017, The Ideology Of Economic Liberalism And The Politics Of Housing In Romania, Studia Ubb. Europaea, LXII, 3, pp. 29-54.

Wallace, Tina, 2003, NGO Dilemmas: Trojan Horses for Global Neoliberalism? Socialist Register, pp. 202-219.

 

 

 

Transformations of housing provision in Romania: Organizations of subtle violence

by Ioana Florea and Mihail Dumitriu

This article is based on empirical data and is a small part of an ongoing research project on housing struggles and transformations in housing policies in Romania. We look at these transformations within the wider historical and economic context, outlining some of the links between privatization and austerity measures, individualization and privatization of housing provision, and the role of NGOs as subtle facilitators of such (often violent) processes.
This article is written as part of the “Housing BLOC”, action network supported by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, and as part of the “Housing, social mobilisations and urban governance in CEE” ongoing research project funded by The Swedish Research Council FORMAS (Grant No. 2016-00258).

De ce nu mai pot locui în acest beci?

Azi ne solidarizăm cu familia evacuată de pe str. Anton Pann nr. 22 din orașul Cluj, din proximitatea Pieței Abator și Parcului Feroviarilor.

O zonă aflată într-o agresivă “regenerare urbană” ce produce profit enorm pentru dezvoltatorii imobiliari și alungă din această vecinătate oamenii cu venituri modeste. Transformăm împreună drama personală a dislocării din locuință într-o problemă politică, pe care o punem pe masa guvernanților locali, dar nu numai.

Atragem atenția lor asupra efectelor tragice ale viziunii susținute de ei cu privire la dezvoltarea orașului și transformarea acestuia într-o localitate cu prețurile cele mai mari pe apartamente din România, sau într-un centru urban în care oamenii cu venituri ce nu le permit achiziționarea de locuință de pe piață, nu mai au loc nici în beciuri. Revendicăm dreptul la locuință, dreptul la oraș și interzicerea evacuărilor. Nicio evacuare fără relocare în locuință adecvată!

Apartamentul din care familia este evacuată, este defapt o fostă magazie, un beci transformat de familie acum 22 de ani, prin eforturi proprii, într-un spațiu cât-de-cât adecvat locuirii. Administrația publică locală azi deposedează familia de anii, grija, atenția, banii investiți în acest spațiu. Scoate în stradă doi părinți, doi copii, dintre care unul cu dizabilități, și doi nepoți ai lor. Promisiunea este că mobila li se va depozita contra cost, undeva într-o magazie a RADP. Executorul le impune costul muncii sale, estimând valoarea acesteia la circa 5500 lei. Deja li s-a și poprit prima rată din salar. Promisiunea este că s-ar putea să primească loc în centrele de urgență ale orașului, cu condiția ca familia să accepte despărțirea membrilor. Promisiunea mai îndepărtată este că pot să aplice pentru subvenționarea unei chirii. Dar pentru asta trebuie să găsească un proprietar care să vrea să dea în chirie apartamentul său unei familii de romi cu copii mici pentru un an. Nicio șansă să primească locuință socială.

Pentru că au “ocupat abuziv”, acum 22 de ani, acel beci gol, și pentru că de atunci administrația locală le-a refuzat sistematic demersurile de a intra în legalitate. Nici copiii lor nu pot primi locuință socială. Pentru că, conform hotărârii administrației publice locale, și ei sunt ocupanți abuzivi în virtutea faptului că s-au născut în acel spațiu. În fapt, li s-a pus această interdicție, pentru că, precum reflectă o recentă hotărâre judecătorească în acest sens, Consiliul Local și Primăria Municipiului Cluj-Napoca au încălcat prevederile legii locuinței și au inclus printre criteriile de neeligibilitate la locuință socială “ocuparea abuzivă” a unui spațiu din proprietatea publică. Ceea ce s-a întâmplat în fapt, este că familia locuia în imobil în baza tacitei relocațiuni.

Conform legislației internaționale, evacuarea realizată împotriva voinței ocupanților, cu sau fără utilizarea forței, și se face fără furnizarea unei alternative de locuire și relocare adecvate, este evacuare forțată indiferent de drepturile de proprietate asupra locuinței. Astfel, definiția se aplică și în cazul locuințelor informale sau spațiilor locative unde se trăiește fără acte legale. Sau, de exemplu, în cazul a ceea ce la noi se cheamă ocuparea abuzivă a unui teren sau a unei clădiri vacante. Familia evacuată azi, nu a ocupat spațiul în care a locuit timp de 22 de ani pentru a deveni un actor al vreunei mișcări pentru dreptul la locuire.

Ea a ocupat un beci, un spațiu cu destinația de magazie, aflat în proprietatea publică, pentru că nu a avut altă locuință. Nu a avut și nu a vândut niciodată o locuință. Pur și simplu nu a avut resurse să dobândească altceva ca locuință, decât acest beci, și nu a primit niciodată locuință de la stat. Evacuarea lor forțată de azi îi transformă acum în oameni fără adăpost, în sensul cel mai strict al cuvântului, adică fără acoperiș deasupra capului. Nicio evacuare fără relocare în locuință adecvată!

https://www.facebook.com/CasiSocialeACUM/videos/623829617981699/

 

Viitorul Locuirii în Era Evacuărilor

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Blocul pentru Locuire (Frontul Comun pentru Dreptul la Locuire, E-Romnja, Căși Sociale Acum, Gazeta de Artă Politică și Dreptul la Oraș-Timișoara) vă invită joi 15 martie la o dezbatere și prezentare în care explorăm scenarii de viitor cu privire la locuire în orașele noastre.
În contextul actual, în plină financializare a locuirii, gentrificare a orașelor și segregare acută, viitorul spațiilor urbane este previzibil: evacuări, credite și mai multe cu datorii și mai mari, deposedări și ocuparea spațiilor publice de către interesele elitelor financiare.
Pornind de la observațiile și experiența organizațiilor implicate, vom încerca împreună să schițăm viitorurile posibile ale orașelor noastre și cum să intervenim asupra lor..

Căși sociale ACUM / Social housing NOW din Cluj lansează în premieră la acest eveniment numărul 3 al “Cărămida. Ziarul Dreptății Locative”. Tematica acestui număr este: “Rasismul la noi acasă.”

Evenimentul este organizat ]n cadrul programului Fundației Desire din Cluj “BLOCUL PENTRU LOCUIRE (Block for Housing) – action platform for housing justice in Romania” sprijinit de Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung.