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Roma housing demolition in Varna, Mladost district, Maksuda Roma neighborhood

August 28
11:51 2015

Maksuda Roma neighborhood is located on the territory of two Varna municipality districts: Mladost and Odesos. According to unofficial data of municipal servants and NGO activists Roma are about 10 000 to 15 000. Over 70% of the local inhabitants who are defined by others as “Roma” or “Gipsy” prefer to self-identify themselves as non Roma and refuse or are inactive in terms of policies and program aimed at Roma integration.

Maksuda is an old Roma neighbourhood existing from the Ottoman Empire. During communism some infrastructure improvements were implemented there: electricity, water, sewage, streets and roads were built. Some families, including Roma, were given plots and built nice modern houses. But in general no comprehensive activities were carried out to legalize the homes of all residents. Over time families grow and in most cases several generations remain to live together in one house, so that most houses are overpopulated.
Attracted by the opportunities of finding a job in Varna, after the fall of communism, many Roma from the country and the surrounding area flocked to the city. Initially they mainly seek accommodation in the Roma neighbourhoods. Because the housing stock is already limited, many began to build homes in the free spaces of these neighbourhoods near the other Roma. The dwellings are built without appropriate plans and permits with various materials but basically it comes mainly to ramshackle buildings. Although these are built in violation of the law, the majority of homes are supplied with electricity and water, have appropriate metering systems for consumed water and electricity, and local authorities register people’s addresses and issue identity documents.

After the flood in June 2014 in Asparuhovo – on the opposite side of the canals connecting Varna Bay and Lake Varna – when 13 people died and tens of houses were carried away by the water, the Local Council constituted a working group to investigate the flood’s causes and elaborate recommendations. One of the findings of this working group was that “in Maksuda there are lots of houses built without permission which are a danger for their inhabitants”1 The report recommends demolition of these houses.

Obviously soon after that, the local administration of Mladost decided to issue such orders for demolition of houses of Roma living in Maksuda neighbourhoods since the mayor of the district reports that the orders for the current demolition were already issued in 2014. He clarifies that 58 / fifty eight / orders were issued in total, out of which 46 were implemented on August 20th 2015.

Furthermore he argues that all concerned people were notified about the decision for demolition already in 2014 but none of them have appealed within the statutory deadline. Majority of Roma people claim that they were not notified properly by the administration about the demolition. Few of them confirm that they indeed received letters but did not pay attention since, as they say, “it was not the first time we receive such papers”. They also claim that the mayor of district Mladost came to them before the elections in 2013 and promised that will not demolish their houses.

From the information provided by the deputy mayor of the district Maldost it became clear that in total 1010, out of which 444 children, were concerned by the demolition orders (520 people, of which 233 are up to 18 years of age have present address registration and 490 people, of which 211 are up to 18 years old, have permanent address registration in the houses ordered to be demolished).2

The municipality also claims that they notified by letter the legal representatives of minors registered at the addresses of the imminent forced demolition of their house and enabled them to accommodate their children up to 18 years in temporary shelters for homeless and needy persons. They also inform that on August 20th 2015, the day of demolition, the team of seven employees of “Mladost” district, together with teams of social workers, psychologists and mediators from Varna Municipality and the “Social Assistance” directorate advised persons left homeless on the possibilities for accommodation in social institutions.

On 21 of August as a result of the demolition of homes in Maksuda 28 children and 20 adults were housed in temporary shelters.

Regarding the accommodation of adults, the mayor of “Mladost” district alleges that no one of the concerned people has submitted a request for enrolment and accommodation in Varna Municipality and “Mladost” district. However, check of the “Municipal regulation on procedures for assessing the housing needs of citizens, accommodation and sale of municipal housing” shows that people who have constructed buildings without permission on the territory of Varna municipality are not allowed applying for accommodation in municipal housing.

The municipal housing is subject to a strong public attention in Varna because of a long-term shortage. According to the municipal administration 2,500 citizens of Varna – disabled people, families with disabled children, families with many children are waiting to be accommodated.

Despite this big number of people in need, in 2014 the municipality failed to gain the public support for a project proposal for construction of social housing under scheme BG161PO001 / 1.2-02 / 2011 “Support for provision of modern social housing for vulnerable, minority and socially disadvantaged groups population and other disadvantaged groups” from the OP Regional Development 2007-2013. The main reason for the foundering of this municipal housing project is the unwillingness of citizens of Varna to see Roma accommodated in the foreseen social housing.

Municipal officials tirelessly explained to the local public that the municipality was not going to build blocks for Roma in the municipality, but was to build social housing according to the Integrated Plan for Urban Regeneration and Development, which will be available for people who meet the set by the municipality criteria and are registered in the waiting list for municipal housing.

However, no meaningful arguments could convince the citizens’ initiative committee, which gathered and sent to the Ministry of regional development 20,000 signatures against the construction of social housing. Consecutively, the Ministry took this as a failure of the municipality to comply with requirement to ensure public support for the project and refused to grant the project3.

Obviously Roma people are not the majority on the waiting list. The mayor of Mladost explains that 750 of the listed people for municipal housing are from Mladost out of which only 60 are Roma. The NGO activists also confirm that few Roma from other Varna neighbourhoods meet the criteria to be registered for municipal housing.

It is obvious also that out of these 58 demolition orders, the municipality will probably issue much more in the future. This presumption is based on the Municipal Integrated Plan for Urban Regeneration and Development 2014-2020, which states that in Maksuda “[T]here are serious problems regarding the enforcement of regulations and the exercise of the right of ownership over a considerable part of the properties in the neighbourhood. There is large-scale illegal construction and huge unregulated dumpsites which seriously impair the quality of the living environment not only in the Roma neighbourhood, but in the whole central part of the town and the water area of Varna Lake. On the other hand, according to the provisions of the adopted General Urban Plan (GUP) of the town of Varna, these areas are envisaged to perform primarily public functions and to be the inbound and outbound site for a duplicate bridge to the amortised Asparuhov Bridge, which will inevitably change the spatial configuration of the properties and their purpose. It is a severe problem with citywide importance and the projections based on the GUP for the future development of this part of the town which provide a sufficient basis for the inclusion of these areas in the zone of public functions. Only thus the necessary opportunities for tackling the major social issues of this part of the urbanized area can be created”4.

In fact, an overall review of the Integrated Plan for Urban Regeneration and Development clearly shows that there was no thorough analysis to establish the real housing needs of the Roma. A review of the entire documentation on the preparation of the Plan makes clear that Roma themselves, who are the most interested party in the case, were really not involved in the public consultations. A quick scan of the Local Development Plan for 2014-2020, which is the main strategic document outlining the overall development of the municipality, finds that then housing needs of Roma and irregular construction on the territories of the quarters where many Roma live, has not been addressed at all.

Only in the ‘Municipal plan for integration of Bulgarian citizens of Roma origin and other Bulgarian citizens in a vulnerable social situation living in similar situation as Roma’ has attempted a more detailed description of the districts with concentration of Roma population. In this plan is stated that “municipality of Varna has established 229 illegal constructions on the territory of the 15th micro district in the area between the streets “Georgi Peyachevich”, “Pod igoto”, “Gramada”, “Svoboda”, “Chereshovo Topche”, “Dr. Ivan Seliminski” and “Gabena mahala” (i.e. the Western fringe of Maksude neighbourhood, LM). Despite the precise determination of the number of illegal dwellings the integration plan is actually lacking more detailed identification of the housing needs of the people. However, due to greater participation of Roma in the elaboration of this plan, there are planned not only measures for the construction of 100 social houses (also planned in the Integrated Plan for Urban Regeneration and Development) but also other measures such as providing municipal land to those Roma who wish to construct their homes themselves. The problem however is that the Plan for integration hasn’t received the support of the Local Council and hasn’t been approved yet.

Then reasonably some questions arise, which all relevant stakeholders should seriously consider:

• Are Varna local authorities going to address along with the problems of the territory the real housing needs of Roma people as well? Addressing the problems of the territory will not necessarily solve the housing problems of Roma. In some cases even the European money that will be attracted for the projects under Integrated Plan for Urban Regeneration and Development can create more damage instead of solving issues faced by Roma since their houses would be demolished without providing people with alternative dignified housing.

• Will Varna Municipality include in the investment program of their Integrated Plan for Urban Regeneration and Development projects, which envisage construction of 250 social housing, after there is great public dissatisfaction in the municipality against the construction of social housing?

• Will the MA of the OP “Region in growth” approve investment program of a municipality which does not approve any project for the construction of social housing after it has planned social housing in the Integrated Plan for Urban Regeneration and Development? It is known that the municipalities themselves will approve the projects under the investment program of their Integrated Plan for Urban Regeneration and Development because this programming period they will have role of intermediate units of Axis 1 of the OP “Regions in growth” under which the Integrated Plans for Urban Regeneration and Development will be funded.

• How do the state authorities, which by decision of the National Assembly approved the National Strategy for Roma Integration, intend to fulfill the objectives under priority Housing after so far they haven’t taken any substantive actions in this regard except the large-scale demolitions of Roma houses without providing adequate alternative accommodation for the families? The demolition campaign goes on: since last year thousands of Roma have lost their roof not only in Varna5 but also in Stara Zagora6, Garmen7, Burgas, Orlandovtsi and other cities. Although the housing issue of Roma is pressing across the country, the Operational Programs (OPs) haven’t planned adequate measures to address this issue. For instance, the OP “Region in growth” provides funding only for social housing through the Integrated Plans for Urban Regeneration and Development, while the Rural Development Program doesn’t plan any housing measures to be funded. The inevitable impression remains that the state actually is rather ready to accept the challenge of being condemned by the International Court of Human Rights and all international institutions than really commit to the implementation of the housing targets planned in the NRIS 2012-2020.

• Will the EC consider fulfilled the thematic ex-ante conditionality for EU Structural and Investment Funds 2014-2020 that a national Roma inclusion strategic policy framework is in place, when the existence of such strategic policy framework by itself does not imply it will be implemented in a way to really addresses the issues faced by Roma?

• Does the EC really believe that the ongoing demolitions are merely the result of local legal disputes in which it has no competence to intervene, when, in fact, it is about the selective application of the law on spatial planning to a large number of Roma in the presence of large-scale violation of the same law by other Bulgarian citizens? Known fact is that hundreds of thousands of other citizens have constructed without permits balconies, ancillary buildings and other structures but no demolition of these has been discussed ever. In fact, the selective application of a law to certain groups of people by a member state puts these people in a disadvantaged position comparing to the majority of the citizens and this essentially should be grounds for initiating an infringement procedure by the Commission for violation of the Equality Directive of the Union.

 

Liliya Makaveeva
Director of Integro Association
Bulgaria 25 August 2015

 

1 – The Bulgarian version of the Report of the working group can be found on the website of Varna Municipality:
2 – The information can be found on the website of Varna Municipality: http://tinyurl.com/ndo9gl7
3 – After the flood in Varna’s district Asparuhovo in June 2014, when 13 people died and tens of houses were carried away from the water, the MA of the OPRD gave opportunity to Varna again to apply with a project under the pilot housing scheme BG161PO001 / 1.2-02 / 2011 “Support for provision of modern social housing for vulnerable, minority and socially disadvantaged groups population and other disadvantaged groups”. This time the community action group established within ROMED-ROMACT program mobilized local Roma from Asparuhovo to participate in the public consultation meeting and thus municipality managed to prove public support for the project. Soon after approval of the project by the MA of the OPRD, Varna citizens started protesting again claiming different reasons for not supporting the project. Currently, this project has not been started yet since an appeal against the decision of the MA of OPRD by another municipality.
4 – IPURD 2014-­‐2020 of the town of Varna, „Potential zones of impact”, p. 30
5 – In 2014 Varna’s district mayor Hristo Hristov reported for the local press that about 400 are the illegal buildings in Maksuda neighborhood to be demolished. In 2013 55 Roma families received orders for evictions and after they refused to do so voluntarily, in 2014 the municipality undertook a forced demolition of their homes. According to the chief architect of Varna Municipality Victor Buzev, demolition of all illegal buildings in the Roma neighborhoods “Maksuda” will cost about 5 million BGN.”If we talk about Gypsy buildings, between 12 and 13 000 leva will costs demolition of one such a shack,” said the chief architect for the electronic site VarnaUtre (http://www.varna.utre.bg/2014/07/15/2434145_mln_leva_shte_struva_razchistvaneto_na_maksuda). According to him, the municipal budget can afford such a spending, which will even meet the support of the local public.
6 – In 2014 in Stara Zagora about 300 houses in total were expected to be destroyed by the end of the year; In July last year 55 of the homes were demolished and hundreds of people became homeless.
7 – In 2015 in Garmen 124 houses in total were listed to be demolished out of which 8 were destroyed in May – June and others were stopped by the ECHR

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