Sewer lines go unfixed for years, Czech vice-mayor blames Romani tenants
Yesterday representatives of the Building Works Authority inspected the state of the buildings in the ghetto on Přednádraží street in Ostrava-Přívoz. Last Friday they had instructed tenants to vacate the properties, but approximately 140 people still remain there, many of them children. The authorities say those staying must realize they are responsible for their own safety. Jana Pondělíčková, spokesperson for the Municipal Department of Moravská Ostrava and Přívoz, said today that Monday's inspection confirmed the buildings still have many defects.
The problems authorities noted include missing electrical wiring or door and window lintels, damp walls, mold, leaking roofs, and damaged gas, water and interior sewer lines. "The order to vacate remains in effect," Pondělíčková said. The apartments have been without running water for a week; people get their water from an imported water tank. News server Romea.cz has been informed that the sewer lines have been damaged for several years and are the main reason the buildings are in such a devastated state, but no one is taking responsibility for them.
Officials say the people who remain in the buildings are doing so at their own risk and that the landlord is responsible for them as well. Entrepreneur Oldřich Roztočil, who owns the Domy Přednádraží company, is the landlord.
"We are aware that if the owner of the buildings doesn't meet his obligations and secure them against entry, the Building Works Authority can instruct us, the municipal department, to take action at our own expense, i.e., at the taxpayers' expense, with which we fundamentally disagree," the department Vice-Mayor Dalibor Mouka said today. He went on to openly blame the current state of the buildings on their occupants.
Mouka also claims the situation on Přednádraží street was calm until journalists and human rights activist Kumar Vishwanathan, who works with Romani people, came there and radicalized it. Neither Vishwanathan, who heads the Life Together (Vzájemné soužití) association, nor Roztočil agree with Mouka's scandalous statement. "The municipal councilor doesn't know what he's talking about. His officials asked our association last November to help in Přednádraží street with the hepatitis vaccinations, because there was the risk of an outbreak due to the broken municipal sewer lines. If the Vice-Mayor would get out of his warm chair and visit Přednádraží street, he would know that," news server iDNES.cz quotes Vishwanathan as saying.
Roztočil believes there is an ulterior motive for the municipality's statement. "They intentionally never mention the fact that the municipal sewer lines have not been functioning for a long time. They don't want to fix them, so they are blaming the property owner. I'm not going to fix the roofs when the cellars are full of sewage. Last week I filed charges with the police to evict the people whose leases have expired and have no claim on the apartments. Am I supposed to fight with the Romani tenants so they will leave? No one wants to have anything to do with Přednádraží street and everyone is just blaming me," an angry Roztočil told news server iDNES.cz.
In addition to the 10 buildings owned by Domy Přednádraží, there was another building in the area that belonged to the municipal department which the authorities demolished long ago because repairing it would not have been cost-effective. The tenants were moved into other apartments. "The private owner of these buildings, unlike the municipality, has taken no action and has let the buildings deteriorate to the point that they are now dangerous to health and life," Mouka insists.
News server Romea has spoken with a member of the civil society section of the Czech Government Inter-ministerial Commission for Romani Community Affairs, Lydia Poláčková, who was nominated to the Commission from the Moravian-Silesian Region and lives and works in Ostrava. She confirmed the news: "Yes, today staffers with the Building Works Authority inspected each building. Different information is going around, some people claim they recommended demolishing building no. 17 immediately, while others say they did not. According to the information I have received, the authorities should issue their definitive opinion on Wednesday. I am out in the field or otherwise in contact with the people who are remaining there, not just as a member of the Commission, but also on behalf of the Counseling Center for Citizenship, Civil and Human Rights (Poradna pro občanství, občanská a lidská práva). We are doing our best to provide psychological support to the residents there, trying to calm any panic or stress and to provide urgent assistance, just like everyone else involved." Poláčková also said enormous thanks are due to Mr Dušan Červeňák of Moravská Ostrava and Přívoz, the social worker who spent all of last week finding substitute accommodation for the residents who did move out.
"We can't influence the decision of the Building Works Authority, but we are doing our best to at least monitor the situation and make sure people's rights are not violated. The fact that some people want to remain in this locality, especially long-term residents who are financially solvent, cannot be overlooked. Some people, however, are concerned over what might happen next and have decided to move out. Those who have been properly paying rent here are complaining that they don't want to be tarred with the same brush as those who are in debt," Poláčková told news server Romea.
Residents of the buildings repaired some of the flaws in the buildings pointed out by the authorities over the weekend. They are doing their best to convince the authorities to change their decision. "I do not believe the authorities will change their decision. I believe they are going to insist that their evaluation is accurate. However, we have decided to fight on, come what may. We will probably all go move into the town hall if they evict us, we have no other choice," said resident Iveta Horvátová, who is a member of the new self-administration the ghetto residents have created.
"We have honestly paid our rent here, but now we are supposed to move into a residential hotel, into one room that is four meters square. The rent there is terribly high, it's calculated per person, so we would pay four times more than we do here. Why doesn't the town offer better accommodation to the people who are solvent and have paid their rent?" another resident asked news server Romea.cz.
"I have a 25-liter canister and a stockpot, we put the water for bathing and cooking in those. I keep water in the bathtub for cleaning, laundry, and washing our hands. Unfortunately that's how it is, but we can manage," said Horvátová, who is caring for a three-year-old grandson in addition to her own children. A total of 10 people live in her two-room apartment.
Horvátová does not consider her housing unsafe. "Do you think I would live here if something were endangering my children? Definitely not. The ceiling is not caving in here, no plaster is falling on our heads in my apartment, the children haven't broken their legs somehow. I really believe this housing is not a threat to our lives," Horvátová said.
Roztočil said yesterday the building inspectors told him his appeal would be delivered to the authorities today, but he doubts it will be of much avail. "There's not much to appeal against. They have described what is wrong with the buildings, but the only thing they have called on me to do is to prevent people from entering them. They haven't made a list of measures instructing me to repair the gutters, the roofs, etc.," the entrepreneur said.
Only two families living on Přednádraží street have indefinite leases. All the other tenants' leases have expired. Roztočil said that if the authorities would make an exception and permit the people to remain in the buildings, he would give them new leases. He said he could imagine leasing the apartments to the tenants with the very best payment records. "Given what they are doing at this moment, I would certainly give them another chance, I would conclude leases with them and extend them," the entrepreneur said.
Michal Bayer, spokesperson for the Ostrava Town Hall, said yesterday that Amnesty International had contacted the mayor for information on how the situation on Přednádraží street will be resolved. "The letter came [yesterday] afternoon, the mayor hasn't read it yet," Bayer said.
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