Czech Republic: The fatal catastrophe of the Předlice ghetto
The Předlice neighborhood in Ústí nad Labem is probably the worst, perhaps even the largest, impoverished ghetto in the Czech Republic. News reports have run recently that the residents of some buildings in the neighborhood will be evicted and will probably be re-housed in residential hotels charging usurious rates. What is happening in Předlice?
Once a picturesque neighborhood of Ústí nad Labem, Předlice was privatized several years ago by dubious entrepreneurs who focus on the trade in poverty. They started actively doing business in Předlice, leasing apartments in the buildings they purchased for very high rents to Romani families. Their other many business activities include the production and sale of drugs, loan-sharking, and pimping.
Why do so many Romani families live in the horrible conditions of the Předlice ghetto, paying extremely high rents to live in moldy apartments? Why don't they leave, when for the same amount of money they could lease a spacious apartment in the center of town instead of a moldy room without heat, running water, or toilet facilities in Předlice? The answer is simple. Almost without exception, Romani families with several children are unable to rent apartments from anyone other than the landlords in Předlice or the usurious residential hotels, and Předlice continues to be considered just a bit better, among the poor in Ústí nad Labem, than the residential hotels. The exorbitant rents are paid by social services and everyone is basically satisfied.
The Předlice system
This system of a large ghetto, separated from the rest of town by the campus of a chemical factory, has suited almost everyone involved for years. Many residents of Ústí were glad Romani people were not living in their neighborhoods but were segregated into the Předlice quarter. The landlords in Předlice were very glad for the transfer of money from the state coffers to them through the housing benefits awarded to their tenants. Nonprofits easily got grants for projects targeting the poor residents of the Czech Republic's worst ghetto. The town leadership did not have to address social housing for several hundred poor families with children, as the Předlice landlords were taking care of it.
The situation in Předlice escalated and the living conditions for its residents deteriorated further and further, month after month, year after year. No one took any interest. Then the "Předlice system" hung itself by its own rope. The never-maintained or repaired buildings are in such a poor state that one of them recently collapsed, burying those inside. The town could no longer "play dead" on the issue, and structural engineers have begun monitoring the buildings there. The engineers are discovering what everyone has long known: In Předlice several dozen buildings are in a critical state and living in them is hazardous to human life.
One of these buildings has been designated for immediate eviction. The residents are to move out within a short time frame, which they are refusing to do as they have nowhere else to go. The town is taking an alibistic stance, saying the landlord should take care of his tenants and arrange substitute accommodations for them. That, of course, is completely unrealistic, and to expect something of the sort is naive. No landlord in the poverty business intends to do any such thing. He will evict them onto the street.
What is at risk?
If the residents of all the buildings in poor technical shape in Předlice are evicted, it will mean several hundred people, primarily many children, will find themselves on the street. The capacity of the usurious residential hotels, of which there are several in town, cannot meet this demand. Those in the poverty business who focus on leasing apartments to the poorest of the poor will exploit the sharp rise in demand for apartments and respond by raising already-exorbitant rents. The whole situation will lead to increasing poverty in the Romani community in Ústí. Many residents of Předlice will turn to their relatives in other parts of town for help, primarily in the neighborhoods of Krásné Březno, Mojžíř and Neštěmice, as well as those living on the outskirts of Předlice. Some families will start living with their relatives, which will worsen everyone's housing conditions and could lead to an increase in tensions in the poor sections of town.
How can we get out of this situation?
This is the moment of no return for the fate of the Předlice neighborhood. The situation that has predominated there in recent years and resulted in the current state of affairs, which is something close to a catastrophe, is no longer sustainable. Something must be done. A new solution must be found.
The residents and tenants of Předlice, the families whom these evictions concern, must first and foremost be involved in seeking solutions. They want to negotiate their futures themselves. On 23 October, a meeting of the so-called "Mayor's Action Group" was held on the fate of the ghetto at the Ústí town hall. The evicted families were greatly interested in participating in the meeting and wanted to be involved in the negotiations so they could express their views of the proposed measures and solutions and submit their own suggestions. Moving into residential hotels is no solution, in their view.
The residents were not permitted to attend the meeting. The outcome of the meeting has not been made public, so the residents of Předlice do not know what was negotiated on their behalf. Can any proposal for addressing the situation in Předlice work when it has not been consulted at all with those for whom it is designed, and when those whom it most concerns had no opportunity to express their view of it?
We cannot assume that the resolution of the situation in Předlice will be either fast or inexpensive. The ghetto has been left to its fate and its residents have been left without help or any interest in them for too long. The impoverished ghetto residents are the main victims of the whole situation, but no one is interested in their opinions. For the time being, it seems they are the ones who will have to pay for this entire scandal.
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