Czech Television reports hundreds of Romani people to become homeless in the New Year
Hundreds of impoverished people in Brno, the second-largest city in the Czech Republic, may end up homeless after 1 January 2017. The Dolfin Real Estate company is selling as many as eight apartment buildings in the neighborhood around Cejl Street where dozens of mainly Romani families with small children currently live.
The real estate agency has shortened the time of its tenants' rental contracts in those properties, which previously had been concluded for one year, to just three months. According to a report by public broadcaster Czech Television's "168 Hours" program, the tenants are in danger of ending up on the street on 1 January.
"When I went to extend my lease, the apartment administrator stood in the doorway and told me I have to find new housing, that they won't renew our contract. Basically they'll just extend the lease for three months, that's all," Mária Lakatošová, a tenant, told Czech Television.
The residents of Cejl Street have never experienced such a situation. "Previously this would happen one building at a time, just one apartment complex accommodating the clients from our target group would end up like this and then those families either moved in with their own relatives or somewhere else, but this is a big number of families," said Radek Kratochvil, a field social worker with the DROM center, which has long worked in the area.
"We originally knew of two buildings where the tenants were supposed to leave by about the end of the year. Ultimately, though, this is turning out to involve around 120 apartment units, so approximately 120 families, which is 500 people, more or less, and roughly one-third of them are children," Kratochvil said.
What does the city say?
City hall does not have the capacity now to solve such an extensive problem. "At this moment the financing is actually relatively limited," David Oplatek (Green Party), the Brno city councilor for health, national minorities and social affairs, told Czech Television.
There is a danger, therefore, of social collapse, because the city does not have the number of apartment units available in its ownership to accommodate dozens of large families with children. According to Brno city councilor Martin Freund (Žít Brno), the city is doing its best to communicate with representatives of the real estate office, but for the time being has gotten nowhere: "We attempted e-mail correspondence, establishing contact, facilitating meetings with the City of Brno and a dialog. Unfortunately, Dolfin rejected that."
Vlastimil Plášek, the current owner of Dolfin, disagrees with that allegation - while he refused to be interviewed on camera by Czech Television, he did send his answers to their questions by e-mail. When asked why he was refusing to negotiate with the City of Brno, he answered that he had never been contacted by the city.
Romani people have no chance on the private real estate market in the Czech Republic
"In this locality, in the properties Dolfin owns, an absolute majority of tenants are members of the Romani minority, and unfortunately, when those people are evicted, their chance of finding housing on the private accommodation market in this society is practically zero," Freund told Czech Television. Lakatošová confirmed his statement: "If I speak Czech normally on the phone, they don't recognize I'm Romani, but when I go to view a property, they see I'm of Romani origin, so then I have no chance of success at all."
People who introduce themselves with surnames like Dirda, Horváth or Lakatoš have no chance of accessing privately-owned rental housing, according to another Czech Television interviewee: "The apartment unit is immediately said to be occupied - now we've even learned that basically in Romani families they appreciate it when a child is born with lighter skin because they assume the child will have an easier life." The soon-to-be-evicted residents are said to be coming to terms with the situation and beginning to pack for their move, however unwillingly, as one tenant told Czech Television: "What am I supposed to do? I don't know where to go. In the worst-case scenario I will move into a residential hotel, but I'll go crazy living in such a place."
Dolfin Real Estate plans to focus on other investments as well. The Czech daily Mf DNES reports that a company owned by a holding group in the Netherlands is now buying the firm and the actual owners of that company cannot be identified.
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