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August 15, 2018
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Residential hotels closing in Czech city, Romani tenants have yet to find substitute accommodation

1.6.2018 19:22
The Krásné Březno residential hotel (2012). (PHOTO:  Konexe civic association)
The Krásné Březno residential hotel (2012). (PHOTO: Konexe civic association)

The inhabitants of two residential hotels in the Czech city of Ústí nad Labem that will close at the end of June still do not know where they will be moving. During their housing search they are encountering the need to pay deposits they cannot afford, as well as discrimination from landlords.

There are roughly 230 people living in the two facilities, one in the city center and one in the Střekov neighborhood, at least 80 of whom are children. Most of them are Romani.

The Střekov Municipal Department wants to buy out the residential hotel on its territory, according to local mayor Eva Outlá (PRO!Ústí), who informed the Czech News Agency (ČTK) and Czech Radio of her plans. The tenants of both facilities allegedly learned last week from media reports that their current landlord will be closing up shop.

The tenants have been doing their best to find alternative housing ever since. "I'm trying and so far I have found nothing. Everywhere I call they want high deposits, where am I to get the money?" ČTK. quoted Dana Giňová as saying, a tenant of the residential hotel in Střekov who is also the sole caretaker for her four grandsons. 

For a one-room apartment she is currently paying CZK 10 300 [EUR 400] per month, and has about CZK 9 000 [EUR 350 a month left over to cover all her other expenses. "I will keep trying. My grandsons were living in a children's home, I fought for two years to get them back, and now I might lose custody of them again? I will do my best to find something as soon as possible," Giňová said.

The grandmother adds that her fellow tenants are also encountering discrimination. "First they tell you the apartment is available, but when they find out we are Romani they won't rent it to us," another woman in the same facility told the media.

Tomáš Toman is living at that same residential hotel with his partner and three children. They pay CZK 11 000 [EUR 430] per month for their apartment, and CZK 8 000 [EUR 310] of it comes from state benefits.

For the time being Toman is looking for other housing in vain, mainly because of the requirement to pay a deposit. "The social welfare office told us they would give us papers and we would get money for a deposit, so we'll see," he said.

Toman alleges that he also has a problem finding a job. Social workers from both municipal departments say that they have already mapped the situation at both facilities.

At the residential hotel in Střekov, according to the local mayor, there are about 130 people now. All but 20 of them are permanent residents of the city.

The municipal department says it is unable to offer them housing because it does not own any apartment units. "We are intensively addressing how to find accommodation for an individual who is deprived of legal capacity, and I have to say it is also a big problem to find housing for that person," the local mayor said, adding that 10 senior citizens who live by themselves are also among the residential hotel tenants.

City welcomes closure of residential hotels

About 100 people are living in the other residential hotel on Klíšská Street. According to the vice-mayor of the centrally-located municipal department, Karel Karika (PRO!Ústí), 77 of those tenants have permanent residency in Ústí nad Labem.

"Our social workers have monitored the situation and will be available to advise people. We will do our best to facilitate accommodations for senior citizens and single mothers," Karika said.

According to Radka Kunešová from the Ústí nad Labem branch of the People in Need organization, however, in the current situation social counseling will not solve the problem. "It can happen that despite all the efforts of everybody involved in the current situation, these people will fail to find themselves alternative accommodation. We, unfortunately, do not know the city's strategy for what will happen with these people. At this moment it seems people are attempting to apply for a exceptional immediate aid benefit ... It will be complicated and we will all, naturally, continue to aid them with finding accommodation, to follow the situation, to negotiate with the authorities so these benefits will be awarded," she said.

Kunešová perceives the closure of the residential hotels as a positive move. "Their state of repair has long been criticized, for example, because of the catastrophic hygienic conditions that predominate there. Another aspect is that we all learned about this, unfortunately, with just one month's advance notice. We are working in Ústí nad Labem for many years and our experience clearly tells us that it will be very complicated for that volume of people here to find alternative accommodation during that amount of time," she said.

Both municipal departments are also calling for both residential hotels to be bought out. The owner of the buildings is the CPI company, which is leasing them to a local businesswoman.

"I have official information that CPI will offer the building for sale and that the price is CZK 5 million [EUR 194 000]. We will ask City Hall to release financing to buy the building," local mayor Outlá said.

According to Outlá, the residential hotel considered problematic could be used to house senior citizens. "Because the population is aging there are many senior citizens here who today cannot afford to pay a market rent and it would be possible to build small apartment units for them there," the mayor said.

Meeting will be held on Monday

The Konexe organization sees the situation as serious. "We have been using the community work and empowerment methods in the residential hotels intensively since Friday, 25 May. During that time, several meetings of tenants were held at both residential hotels, during which the people facing eviction have formulated their demands. These families are actually facing the pressure of a horrible situation. On the regular housing market they have almost no chance of finding apartments, there is an atmosphere of depression and hopelessness dominating the facilities. That is being passed on to the children there," the organization said in its statement about the situation, in which it recalled that a similar scenario transpired during the eviction of a residential hotel in the municipal department of Krásné Březno at the close of 2012 and start of 2013.

"We fear the repetition of that scenario, in which the city established a working group comprised of bureaucrats and nonprofits loyal to the city which, without the participation of the people about whom they were meeting, designed a 'solution' and then exerted extreme pressure on the Romani tenants to accept it. The customary practice was to threaten to take their children into institutional care if the parents did not obey. Then there was a big conflict between Ústí nad Labem City Hall and 'its' nonprofits on the one hand, and the impoverished families plus the activists who supported them and our organization on the other hand, " the Konexe statement describes the previous tactics undertaken locally.

Konexe says a meeting between bureaucrats and certain nonprofits is scheduled for Monday, 4 June at 13:00. "We believe it is unacceptable in principle and unethical to discuss the evictees without their participation. Nothing good can come from such behavior if the people who are being discussed are unable to make their own proposals for solutions or to express their opinions of the measures and suggestions on the table," the Konexe organization says.

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