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Czech municipality closing residential hotels, hundreds face homelessness

Ostrava, 6.5.2013 19:32, (ROMEA)
One of the residential hotels in Ostrava on Cihelná street (2013). (Photo:  František Kostlán)
One of the residential hotels in Ostrava on Cihelná street (2013). (Photo: František Kostlán)

News server iDNES.cz reports that the Ostrava-Jih municipality has joined Moravská Ostrava a Přívoz in its plans to close its residential hotels even though their residents have nowhere to go. Moravská Ostrava a Přívoz is the municipal department in Ostrava with the highest number of residential hotels. As news server Romea.cz previously reported, the quarter has been doing its best for some time to systematically push impoverished people, Romani and “whites”, out of its territory.

How many residential hotels are there?

No one knows where the hundreds of people who will have to leave the residential hotels will go, just as no one knows how many people even live in them. "There are no official statistics for the town as a whole,” admits Ostrava Vice-Mayor Martin Štěpánek, who is in charge of social issues.

Patrik Banga, a reporter for iDnes.cz who has long focused on Romani issues, has tried to map the situation in Ostrava. "According to the available data, there are 37 official residential hotels on the town’s territory, in which, according to the operators, about 6 000 people live. Social workers, however, give estimates of almost double that, speaking of 10 000 people at least,” Banga said.

Banga found the most residential hotels in Moravská Ostrava a Přívoz: "There are 23 total there, six of them on Cihelní Street alone. Some were established very recently."

How many people are living in residential hotels?

Banga has learned from Romani people living in Ostrava and from field social workers that there are many residential hotels operating in the town that are not captured by official data. Property owners are now renting not whole apartments, but each room in an apartment to a separate tenant.

The landlords are getting around the existing laws by leasing the separate rooms of an apartment to several families simultaneously. “In some places they are even housing tenants in basements. There is absolutely no overview of how many 'residential hotels' of this type there now are,” Banga said.

A municipal councilor has confirmed Banga’s assertions. “We only know the capacity of the residential hotels registered as such, but we suspect that 30 to 40 % more people are living in some places than should be,” said Karel Sibinský, mayor of Ostrava-Jih. For that reason, inspections will soon begin in this most populous of Ostrava’s municipal departments.

"We will discuss how to proceed with the Building Works Authority Police, fire inspectors, public health officials and social workers," confirmed Ostrava-Jih Vice-Mayor Radim Miklas. He estimates there are six large residential hotels on the territory of the municipal department housing about 2 000 people.

"We want to inspect all of them thoroughly from the standpoint of the building code, fire safety, and public health regulations. If everything is not in order, the owners will have to either repair them or close them,” said Miklas, who makes no secret of the fact that the municipality would prefer to get rid of the residential hotels. "While their owners are making significant sums of money, this type of business just brings problems with increased crime to the municipality.”

Losing the roof over your head and your welfare

Similar inspections are already underway in Moravská Ostrava a Přívoz and three residential hotels there are at risk of closure. The situation seems to be deteriorating rapidly. While the Building Works Authority has so far only decided to close some of the first residential hotels inspected, another five face the same risk, including facilities where the municipality recently housed socially vulnerable evictees from the Přednádraží ghetto. The first residential hotel scheduled to close is the one at Cihelní Street 67.

The Labor Office also recently announced that it will stop paying housing benefits to those evicted from that property within three months at the latest. Why? According to the head of the Building Works Authority for Moravská Ostrava a Přívoz, Jiří Kozelský, the building has been zoned as office space for the last 10 years. Vladimír Leško, the Romani operator of the facility, which houses mostly Romani people, does not want to close it and has decided to defend himself against the Building Works Authority’s decision by taking legal action.

Kozelský said it would next be the turn of five other residential hotels not being used for the purposes for which they were originally permitted. Paradoxically, the owner of one such property drew attention to this fact on his own when he formally requested a new use permit. “Two of those five residential hotels are run by Leško," said Banga, adding that about 400 people live in three of the facilities at issue.

Where will they go?

No one has resolved where these people will go if the authorities close all six residential hotels simultaneously. The other residential hotels in town are either full or have only a few vacancies. “This place is on the verge of a small social catastrophe,” Banga warns.

The Ostrava town hall evidently has no plan to resolve the situation. "The housing issue is entrusted to the municipal departments by municipal statute,” explained Ostrava Vice-Mayor Martin Štěpánek.

Municipal department councilors believe the residential hotel occupants should be taken care of by the owners of the facilities. Mayor Sibinský believes most of them will find their own housing or will temporarily turn to their friends and relatives for help.

"If a crisis situation arises, we are able to resolve it for the short term by re-opening the residential hotel on Božkova Street that was just closed. However, it is time for the town to say what it will do with inadaptable people. We don’t want to concentrate them in Přívoz, but it’s also not worth it for the municipal departments to send them back and forth,” said Moravská Ostrava councilor Lukáš Semerák (Ostravak movement).

Semerák’s garbage can

Moravská Ostrava a Přívoz is governed by the Czech Social Democrats together with the Ostravak movement and has been gradually “purging” this central part of Ostrava of its “Romani garbage”. At least, that is how Semerák, who is a developer, put it last year when asked why he wanted to buy buildings in the Přednádraží ghetto and a nearby apartment building on Palackého Street.

“My only intention is for this whole locality to be raised up and for adaptable citizens to return here. Přívoz is one of the oldest parts of Ostrava and has a long history. Unfortunately, after the great floods of 1997, when the Hrušov quarter was affected, Romani residents from there ended up on Přednádraží Street. I regret that this neighborhood of Ostrava has become a garbage can,” Semerák told news server Novinky.cz last August.

Semerák has personally already succeeded in evicting the most impoverished people from two buildings on Palackého Street, from the residential hotel on Božkova Street, and most of the people from Přednádraží Street. Now, under the pretext of combating the overpriced residential hotels, he also wants to evict tenants from the rest of those facilities. For more details, see http://www.romea.cz/en/news/czech/analysis-czech-political-parties-cleanse-municipal-district-of-romani-garbage

František Kostlán, iDNES.cz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Anticiganismus, Diskriminace, Sociální vyloučení, ubytovny, Czech republic, Housing, news, Roma



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