Article written by Charlotte Cremers covering some of the work underpinning the Antipode Scholar-Activist award recently given to Dr Michele Lancione and his colleagues. Originally published 06.09.2018 by Social Science Research via Medium
Bucharest — Romania: “Mister Mayor, do you have some spare minutes? We are from Vulturilor, the people evicted and living on the streets. We are currently living with our children in shacks, on the sidewalk”.
Nicoleta, mother of two little boys, lives in a homeless shelter away from her husband after the mass eviction in 2015 where over 100 poor Roma and Romanians were evicted from their legally rented houses and apartments in Bucharest — Romania’s capital city.
After the fall of the communist regime in 1989 the housing market privatised and people like Nicoleta ended up on the streets not being able to afford to rent privately.
“During the communist regime, the people that could afford to move out of the city centre and move to new-builds on the outside of the city would do so. The city centre’s old and increasingly decrepit houses became home to the poor” Dr Michele Lancione, Senior Research Fellow of the Urban Institute at the University of Sheffield explains.
The introduction of the ‘restitution law’ in 2001 — which allows the return of formerly nationalised buildings to pre-Communist owners — has forced many poor Romanians and Roma’s out of their legally state rented house.
“This law says that anybody who can demonstrate to have owned a house before 1950 is now legally entitled to get their property back. Where in most countries the previous owner would be financially compensated, Romania’s implementation of this law requires the actual building to be restituted. This has led to mass evictions and homelessness as the people legally renting those properties are at the mercy of the private landlord who have no legal obligations toward them. It has disproportionately affecting poor Roma families” says Michele.
The Roma’s long history of poverty and racialised oppression has embedded deep economic and social insecurity. In turn this has severely weakened their ability to effectively organise and protest their circumstances. As a result, resistance to these evictions is few and far between.
“Unique about Nicoleta and her community is that after the eviction they formed a resistance camp on the pavement in the Vulturilor Street, in front of the very houses they were forced to leave. The camp was supported by a cohort of local housing activists, which I joined. I learned from and I was inspired by their actions and the community resistance” says Michele.
The community lived on the pavement in self-build shacks organising rallies and raising awareness for their situation. This resulted in the longest direct-action protest for the right to housing in the history of contemporary Romania.
After having shown the documentary A Inceput Ploaia — “It started Raining” — about the Roma’s struggle on the streets — to various communities around Europe, Michele and a number of Romanian housing activists found there is a need to inspire communities to band together and to get clearer guidance on how to form an effective resistance group.
“This is when we, the Common Front for the Right of Housing (FCDL), a grassroots activists initiative of people whose basic right of housing is in danger to be broken or has already been broken, decided to apply for the Antipode Foundation’s ‘Scholar-Activist Project Awards ’. The Award aims to support collaborations between academics, non-academics and activists that will enable radical analyses of geographical issues in order to develop a new and better society.
“We are very pleased to have been given this prestigious award. We will use it to publish a book containing Nicoleta’s diary of resistance, to inspire resistance and organisation in Roma communities facing forced evictions in Eastern Europe. The book will be published in both Romanian and English, and a website will contain additional materials to understand the ‘restitution’ process and its consequences” says Michele.
Despite being regularly employed, Nicoleta and many other people in similar economic conditions cannot afford to rent privately. Although they are entitled to social housing according to current Romanian law, social housing has been completely dismissed in the country. This is why evicted poor have no other place to go but the homeless shelter, where they are put down on a daily basis.
“The fact that Nicoleta and many others still have not been rehoused shows the importance of continuing with our work of raising awareness and supporting Roma’s and other marginalised groups in Eastern Europe and beyond in their fight for their right to housing.” — Dr Michele Lancione.