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:
- The rapid and continuous sale of the state owned stock, which today stands at less than two percent of the country’s housing stock.
- 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.
- 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).