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Despite COVID-19 state of emergency, landlord summarily evicts five Romani families in Czech town

6.12.2020 11:12
The prefabricated apartment buildings on Kovářská Street in Varnsdorf, Czech Republic. (2020) (PHOTO:  ROMEA TV)
The prefabricated apartment buildings on Kovářská Street in Varnsdorf, Czech Republic. (2020) (PHOTO: ROMEA TV)

Five Romani families living on Kovářská Street in the Czech town of Varnsdorf have recently been evicted. The town hall is attempting to provide aid to four of the families by offering them temporary accommodation in the TGM residential hotel, which it owns and manages, a facility considered the worst in the country. 

The fifth family, whose members work for the town's groundskeeping services, have been promised the opportunity to rent a different apartment, according to information communicated to news server Romea.cz. Mayor Roland Solloch also confirmed that to the news server on 30 November.

"Negotiations have taken place with one family for whom we want to find appropriate housing. I know that the other families are living somewhere privately, there have not been any negotiations with any of them," the mayor told news server Romea.cz, adding that four families do not fulfill the criteria for renting municipally-owned apartments designated either for homeless individuals or single-parent families.

"People wait as long as two years for [municipally-owned] housing here. Currently we don't have apartment units in which to accommodate them," the mayor said, explaining that most of the Romani families are not legally entitled to public housing because they were previously residing in units rented from a private firm.

"This affair is primarily not for the town to address, we didn't evict anybody. I have no leverage over the owners of apartment units, I can't tell them not to evict people. In any event, the town does run the TGM residential hotel, which can provide short-term accommodation to these families," the mayor told news server Romea.cz by telephone. 

Ms Helena Stankovičová, one of the residents recently evicted from the housing estate at issue in Varnsdorf, said she did not like hearing that information. "Last week there were negotiations with the town, and a social worker also paid us a visit, but the outcome is that the town has offered us accommodation at the TGM residential hotel," she said, adding that the families about whom the town has been holding these meetings are not rent defaulters.   

The mayor has also confirmed that fact. The rental contracts with the occupants of all units in the two prefabricated buildings on the housing estate at issue automatically expire on the 30th of each month and can then be renewed - which is why no eviction notice period was mentioned in the official notice that the leases have been terminated. 

Lukáš Rak, CEO of the Butterfly Factory s.r.o. company, which according to the cadastral office owns many of the units in the Kovářská Street locality, told Czech Radio the eviction is required because the building is going to be extensively reconstructed. "My brother ultimately found me housing, without him, I would have nowhere to go. I live with my granddaughter, I am her foster caregiver," Ms Stankovičová said, adding that she would be moving to the town of Krásná Lípa in a few days.   

Several other evicted tenants do not have that kind of luck. Some of them are living with relatives or in residential hotels.

Ms Hučková, a former resident on Kovářská Street, also accomodated three of the families for some time in her single-family home. One of the evictees looking for housing these days, Ms. Vendula, works as a crime prevention assistant and it is highly likely she will move into one of the town's residential hotels.    

"I can't change jobs during this pandemic and I can't move to another town if my job is here," she said, adding that she hopes she will manage to find appropriate housing. The situation in Varnsdorf is also being followed by Michal Miko, director of the RomanoNet organization.

"Roughly 800 people were living on Kovářská Street several years ago, most of them socially vulnerable. Entrepreneurs had accommodated them there after buying the apartment buildings years ago from the town, and they made quite a lot of money out of renting those units," Miko, who is communicating with representatives of the town and nonprofit organizations, told Romea.cz. 

"I'm glad at least one of the five families was offered a helping hand by the town, but on the other hand, it is not normal for building owners to evict people when a state of emergency has been declared and when what we experienced in March applies now," Miko said. Activist Miroslav Brož is also following the situation and is in close contact with the families who have been evicted.  

"We call those buildings the blue one and the red one. The owner disconnected the electricity in the blue one some time ago, so people were suffering from cold there. The heat is still on in the red one," Brož revealed, adding that a previous phase of evictions happened in the summer, when the owner broke the leases of anybody who owed money.  

The people not evicted during the summer were those who were fully paid up. Despite that, they have had to leave now too.

"We've known these families since 2011, when the Šluknov foothills area became infamous for the ongoing anti-Romani demonstrations. The occupants of the TGM residential hotel, one of the worst in the country, had to cope on a weekly basis with aggressive raids by people throwing rocks through their windows and shouting different Nazi slogans," Brož recalls, adding that the situation calmed down for the families when, two years ago, the entrepreneurs Němec and Pražák appeared on the scene and began leasing housing for high rents to anyone and everyone.   

Romani tenants in the Hotel Sport and TGM residential hotels then moved to Kovářská Street. Soon afterward, the town declared Kovářská Street a zone where new residents would not qualify for state housing benefits, and the then-owners began getting rid of most of their units.  

Several dozen units were bought from the previous owners by the town of Varnsdorf itself, which has a concrete plan for the street. Currently the town owns more than 40 units of the approximately 200 there. 

Varnsdorf is the biggest town in the Šluknov foothills and has been acquiring apartment units from private entrepreneurs. Most are studio apartments, but several are two or three-room units. 

Rena Horvátová, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Tags:  

Housing, Socially excluded localities, Varnsdorf, Vystěhování



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