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October 14, 2019
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Czech firm only rents ghetto apartments to Romani tenants

Litvínov, 5.6.2014 19:39, (ROMEA)
The Janov housing estate in Litvínov, where Romani residents have been subjected to harassment and intimidation by the local authority, local media, local police and social workers, property owners and ultra-right political groups for almost a decade. (PHOTO:  Google Maps)
The Janov housing estate in Litvínov, where Romani residents have been subjected to harassment and intimidation by the local authority, local media, local police and social workers, property owners and ultra-right political groups for almost a decade. (PHOTO: Google Maps)

Romani people belong in the ghetto, not among "normal people". According to the testimony of several Romani residents of the Czech town of Litvínov, that seems to be the motto of the private real estate firm CPI BYTY these days. 

The firm owns many apartment buildings all over the Czech Republic, including in the Janov quarter of Litvínov, which has gradually become a ghetto as more and more socially vulnerable people have moved in there. In 2008 the quarter saw the first large anti-Romani crusade in the Czech Republic in which several local people were involved together with neo-Nazis and other extremists. 

The apartment-seekers in Litvínov contacted by news server Romea.cz claim that CPI BYTY will either only rent apartments to Romani tenants that are located at the Janov housing estate, which has been considered a socially excluded locality for some time, or rejects their applications outright. The company does not explain its criteria for deciding to whom it will rent. 

CPI rejects those allegations. Zdeňka Viltová, head of the company's client center, claims her firm approaches all applicants according to the same criteria, which include having a permanent job, no debts, and the ability to afford the rent and other costs related to using a certain apartment. 

"Should an applicant not meet some of these criteria, we either offer to rent to them in the Janov locality or reject their application outright, but that rule applies to all nationalities without exception. The procedure for awarding apartments is an internal matter of our company," she told Romea.cz.

This testimony of the Romani residents of Litvínov, however, as been confirmed by Ondřej Kocur, a field social worker with the Společný život (Common Life) association. "In about mid-2013 our organization's clients began to report they were having a problem leasing from the CPI company in Litvínov - the firm would only offer them apartments in Janov even though they wanted to remain living in town. These were ordinary people who had never had any problems with paying their rent or being neighbors to the other tenants," Kocur told news server Romea.cz.

Romani tenant Tibor Kóša, for example, is now a seriously ill man - he has suffered a heart attack and stroke, continues to have heart problems, suffers from advanced arthritis and other illnesses, and has difficulty walking, for which he uses a cane. His wife Eva has similar health problems - in addition to asthma and heart problems she also lives with diabetes and high cholesterol.

Because of the poor state of their health, the Kóša family asked CPI BYTY to help them exchange their current apartment for another one. They currently live in an apartment building in town on the fourth floor, without an elevator. 

CPI has only offered to lease a property to them in Janov, even though they expressly stated that they do not want to move there. The decision reportedly involved staff of the firm making inconsistent claims to the Romani applicants.

One CPI employee told the family their application had been rejected by a commission in Ústí nad Labem, while another said the commission was in Prague. The firm also rejected the application before the Kóša family even had the opportunity to document their credit rating or provide medical records which would have made it obvious why they were seeking to move into a ground-floor or lower-floor apartment or into a building with an elevator.   

News server Romea.cz has been unable to learn why the family were rejected. "The procedure for awarding apartments is an internal matter of our company," Viltová told Romea.cz.

On its website the firm espouses social responsibility:  "CPI BYTY, thanks to the diversity of its activity, meets the needs of many socially disadvantaged, handicapped or ill persons. The company has long provided both financial and non-financial aid to many nonprofit entities throughout the Czech Republic, targeting its support primarily in the health and social arenas focused on children and their care."

"[CPI] don't investigate anything, not even how you get on with your neighbors, they evaluate tenants only on the basis of skin color," Kóša told news server Romea.cz. Why don't he and his wife want to move to Janov?

"We have always lived among 'white' people. We've been living in Litvínov for 22 years, we're used to it here. We aren't rent defaulters, we have no debt," Eva Kóšová says.  

A "white" neighbor of theirs, who did not want to be identified by name in this article, has confirmed that claim. "We have never had any problems with the Kóšas or with any Romani people in general," she told Romea.cz.

Out of desperation, the Kóša family are now considering installing a chair lift up to the fourth floor in the building where they live. Of course this would not only be an enormous financial burden, but would require construction permits. 

Meanwhile, a relative of the Kóšas who is also Romani but who is light-skinned, speaks Czech without a Romani accent, and does not have a Romani surname had no difficulty getting CPI to lease her an apartment in town. According to another Romani local, CPI has not always behaved this way.  

That man's mother had no problem leasing an apartment from the company in town several years ago. He is of the opinion that this change in the firm's approach could be related to management changes there in 2012.

News server Romea.cz has attempted to find out whether CPI is proceeding according to an agreement with the local government when it comes to fulfilling what seems to be its leasing strategy. We only received evasive responses when we asked this question. 

To the question of whether CPI acts in concert with the Litvínov town hall or on the basis of an agreement with it, Viltová responded:  "That's confirmed through our collaboration with the town - the municipal police, the social department." News server Romea.cz also sent a question regarding coordination between CPI BYTY and the town to the mayor of Litvínov.    

The response we received came not from him, but from Veronika Knoblochová, head of the municipal department of social affairs and schools, to whom he delegated the question. She said CPI owns apartments all over Litvínov.

"The awarding of apartment units and establishing criteria for their lease is solely the affair of that company. The town of Litvínov influences the awarding of apartment units through the department of social affairs and schools 'only' as part of the Permeable Housing system," she claimed. 

The department head then went on to describe the system of Permeable Housing and its collaboration with CPI. However, the Romani tenants described above were requesting ordinary exchanges or leases that had nothing to do with the Permeable Housing program.

The Kóša family's claims about CPI's procedures have been confirmed by other Romani apartment-seekers. For example, one mother of four who is expecting a fifth child (and who also did not want to be named in this article) is now living in a two-bedroom apartment and wants to move into a bigger one.  

"There are bedbugs here, all of the tenants in the former residential hotel suffered from them," the woman told us. Even though she has no debts and pays her rent on time, a CPI employee initially claimed to her that there is now a new condition on applying for leases - apparently each tenant can only apply once and a second application from the same person cannot be accepted.

At the start of this year the woman applied to exchange her current apartment for a bigger one and CPI offered her housing in Janov even though she does not want to live there. Another CPI staffer then accepted a second application from her to lease a bigger place in town.

That second (supposedly impossible) application was rejected just as the first had been. "The children go to school here, they have friends here, the doctor's office and the local authority are nearby. I have lived here ever since I was born. Why I should have to move to the other end of town I don't know, especially when I meet all the criteria according to CPI's rules. Recently my neighbor got to lease a larger apartment across the street - she is known for disturbing the peace here because she is a notorious alcoholic, but she's 'white'," the woman told news server Romea.cz.

Other Romani residents of Litvínov have similar experiences of CPI's housing policy. "We can ask why these applications to lease an apartment in Litvínov [and not Janov] were not approved. According to the information available on its website, CPI right now has around 70 unoccupied apartments available in town," Ondřej Kocur says.   

"We want to emphasize that it is not possible to tolerate this discriminatory method of awarding apartments, which from our perspective contravenes not just ethics, but the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms," he says. News server Romea.cz presents his statement on the issue in full translation below:

Statement of Ondřej Kocur, field social worker with the Společný život (Common Life) association

In about mid-2013 our clients began to inform our organization that they were having problems being awarded apartments located in the town of Litvínov from the CPI BYTY company. After meeting with the clients, we determined that this company, which leases apartments both in town and at the Janov housing estate, was offering Romani apartment-seekers leases at Janov even when they were seeking apartments in town.    

We subsequently learned from our clients how this entire procedure operates, from applying for a lease to receiving the decision as to whether an applicant has been awarded an apartment in town or not. Our clients all stated that they first had to personally visit a branch of the CPI BYTY company in Litvínov, where almost all of them were served by leasing manager Lenka Zemanová.  

Ms  Zemanová completed a very simple application form together with the applicants and told them it would then be sent to either Prague or Ústí nad Labem for approval. Even though these applicants were ordinary people who have no problems paying their rent or being neighbors to other tenants, Ms Zemanová's responses to their applications were either to reject them or, at the most, to offer them something they were not looking for, namely, leases on apartments only at the Janov housing estate.   

The responses received by these applicants from Ms Zemanová were all but identical, to quote:  "Unfortunately, I must communicate the fact to you that I have received the news that your application has been denied." In some cases this communication was then followed by the news that their application had been approved for a property at Janov! 

We would like to make it clear that our clients had requested apartments only in Litvínov proper!! We would also like to make it clear that the clients were always personally seen by Ms Zemanová, who conditioned the application for an apartment on an in-person visit to the CPI office.

The question must be asked as to what the reason was that these requests to lease an apartment in Litvínov were rejected, especially since according to the information available on the company's website at the time there were around 70 unoccupied apartments available in town. Who decided on the awarding of these apartments, and on the basis of what criteria, given that the company had no other data available about these applicants other than a short application form with just their basic personal information? 

The answer may lie in a particular case that we can document. A young, light-skinned Romani woman whose surname does not sound Romani was immediately given the opportunity to lease an apartment in Litvínov from this company. 

People in the field have also informed us that there is general knowledge among Romani people in both Janov and Litvínov that Romani tenants will not be able to lease an apartment in town from the Litvínov branch of CPI BYTY a.s. Many Romani people, therefore, do not apply for housing in Litvínov because they consider it a lost cause.

We would like to emphasize that it is not possible to tolerate this discriminatory method of awarding apartment leases. From our perspective, this violates not just ethics, but the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms.

František Kostlán, Jitka Votavová, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Tags:  

Housing, Janov, Litvínov, Roma



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