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Socialise Housing across Europe!

The worsening housing problems in European cities are an important part of the general EU crisis. The EU treaties guarantee the free movement of capital (Art. 26 & 63 TFEU), the free competition of undertakings (Art. 107 TFEU) and the restriction of public budgets (Stability and Growth Pact, European Fiscal Compact).

Without a strong social counterpart, these constitutional principles protect and promote the abuse of property for the construction of globally traded financial assets.

Housing, however, is a basic need for everybody and thus a human right that is protected by international law. As far as the treatment of houses as financial assets threatens its affordability, accessibility, security of tenure, adequacy or habitability, the EU-member states are morally and legally obliged to control and socialise property for the benefits of their people. If the framework of the EU prohibits such social regulating, it becomes an institutional challenge to human rights. We want the opposite. We want the EU to become an internal and external stimulator, promoter and guarantor of the right of every person to have a secure, decent and affordable place to live.

For too long many people in Europe have endured the systematic abuse of land, homes, infrastructures and budgets for the increase of private profits, whilst those engaging in social action to protect the right to housing have found themselves on the defensive. There are hopeful examples, however, of successful emancipatory popular struggles for radical social changes in the housing system. In Berlin, for instance, a popular grassroots initiative is currently initiating a referendum for the expropriation of houses owned by landlords who own more than 3,000 apartments and the socialisation of their properties into democratic public entities. But the struggle cannot be won as long as it remains fragmented and only reduced to local and regional levels.

The housing crisis will never be overcome, unless the following policy changes are made:

  1. The adoption of the international right to housing as a fundamental duty of all EU institutions, member states and business and the concrete implementation of this basic human right in the form of a European housing strategy.
  2. Allowing, guaranteeing and supporting publicly regulated segments of democratic not-for-profit housing for broad strata of the population outside EU competition rules and financial capital flows.
  3. An EU-framework that allows, encourages and supports the strict social regulation of profit-oriented private landlords, market rents, land markets, mortgages, transparency, facility services and the consequences of mortgage default.
  4. Protecting, encouraging and supporting the engagement and organisation of tenants and other inhabitants for their rights and the needed structural changes in housing, land and real estate.

Support the decentralized European Housing Action DayTogether against displacement and #Mietenwahnsinn” on 6 April 2019!

First signatories:

Bond Precaire Woonvormen and Globalinfo (Netherlands), MieterInnenverein Witten (Tenant Union Witten, Germany), Habita! (Lisbon),  Committee for the Abolition of Illegitimate Debt (CADTM, Belgium), Union Antiauctions Initiative and Stop Auctions (Greece), Observatori DESC (Barcelona)

 

#regulateProperty: The Need for Human Rights-driven Real Estate Regulation and Market Alternatives

Since the beginning of the year the “International Working Group for the Promotion of Market Regulation and Market Alternatives at Habitat III” has tried to advocate for an inclusion of socially grounded regulations of markets that stop the speculation and treat housing, land and mortgage as goods for people and not for profit. This article tries to sum up some of the findings of these debates.

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Statement at Habitat III plenary

Statement by MieterInnenverein Witten (Witten Tenants Assoc.) on behalf of the “International Working Group for the Regulation of Real Estate Markets and Market Alternatives” to the Habitat III Plenary 20th Oct. 2016

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German Tenants Union against TTIP

May 31 a huge majority of delegates at the biannual federal assembly („Mietertag“) of the German tenant union “Deutscher Mieterbund” (DMB) voted for two motions expressing a political rejection of the planned free trade agreements TTIP and CETA. The delegates, who represent regional and local associations with a membership basis of 1.27 million households, were especially concerned about possible consequences of the  planned investor protection through state independent arbitral tribunals (“investor-state dispute settlement“) on rental laws.

For the development of an Anti-TTIP front in the housing field this clear standpoint of the big German tenant union is a big success.  Just in April some groups started to raise the international housing questions as part of the TTIP. See the statement here:

TTIP: a threat to social housing, land rights and democratic cities

German: TTIP: eine Bedrohung für soziales Wohnen, Landrechte und demokratische Städte

 

TTIP: a threat to social housing, land rights and democratic cities

                                                        Housing Action Groups in Europe, Friday, 17th April 2015

The undersigning organisations, united in the struggle for the right to housing and to the city, strongly support the protests against the planned free trade agreement TTIP (“Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership” between EU and USA) and the already negotiated CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement). All over Europe protests will take place at 18th April.

Environmental groups, consumer associations, trade unions and other civil society organizations since years have been warning that the free trade regulations discussed as  TTIP will undermine environmental standards for agriculture, health standards for food and labor standards for services. Because TTIP is negotiated in strict secrecy and because of the plan to introduce extra-static arbitral tribunals for investor protection (“investor-state dispute settlement”) many critics fear that the agreement will dispend national sovereignty and democracy. Anti TTIP-campaigners also expect negative consequences for the protection against fracking, for public education, municipal services and for regulation of financial products. We fear that TTIP will also have disastrous consequences on urban development, real estate, housing and land markets.

Because TTIP is discussed behind closed doors we cannot know the details and concrete consequences of TTIP on housing and cities so far. We do not know if these aspects are an issue i the negotiations at all. But we did not notice any signal from the negotiating parties that an exclusion of real estate, public/social housing or a regulation of financial investments will be discussed, and such an exclusion also would be difficult to implement. Thus, we have to fear the worst. TTIP and CETA can have much impact on housing and cities in our countries.

As far as we can figure out from scarce and confusing information TTIP has four targets: (1) reduction of non-tariff trade barriers, (2) protection of transnational investors, (3) harmonization of industrial standards,  (4) introduction of commercial arbitral tribunals. Each of these targets can affect housing, land and cities in various ways.

(1)   The planned reduction of non-tariff trade barriers may disallow existing or demanded national restrictions of transnational capital mobility and transactions, including regulations of trade with houses and land. So far, some countries in Europe still limit the right of foreigners to own (agricultural) land and houses. Others exclude parts of the land and housing from markets, i.e. through systems of social or public housing. Everywhere national property registration regulations could be interpreted as trade barriers. In the TTIP negotiations such market restrictions could be questioned. Consequently, more property could become targets for transnational financial investors. National or European regulations on mortgage systems can be seen as a trade barrier for the financial markets too. Because of stricter regulations mortgaged homeowners in the U.S: could be the first victims. All this can lead to an even faster globalization of housing finance. Besides the transnational concentration of capital the consequence will be an increased risk of new real estate and financial bubbles.

(2)   The discussed protection of transnational investor rights can directly affect national or local policies towards housing stocks, which are owned by financial funds or by joint stock companies with international shareholders and subsidiaries. This sector includes the wide-spread private-public partnerships in social housing and public infrastructure, even joint-ventures which have been pushed by the European Commission, i.e. in Italy. Any limitation of the commercial exploitation of the property – i.e. through improved rights for tenants, new urban planning obligations or taxation of transactions – can be interpreted as a violation of property rights and of investor security.

This is especially true if governments want to introduce new regulations. The introduction of private insolvency regulations or the requisition of empty flats for social housing, which are realistic expectations in possible progressive governments after elections in Spain, could be attacked by funds like Blackstone or Goldman Sachs, which have already invaded the domestic housing and mortgage market. As a consequence even countries which already have private insolvency regulations (many) or allow requisitions (i.e. Italy and France) could be under pressure. Necessary improvements of the security of tenure could be attacked by U.S. shareholders as well. The introduction even of a little stricter rent regulation, as just happened in Germany, could be understood as a threat of the investor security if US or Canadian shareholders in German housig compenies, like Blackrock or Sun Life, think that the fair value of the housing companies is affected.

(3)   The harmonization of industrial standards potentially affects the whole range of consumer rights and may lead to a weakening of standards for construction and building material, for facility services and architects, for financial products and mortgage contracts. Regarding construction products it can become a threat on ecological standards (i.e limitations of tropical woods), health standards (i.e use of unhealthy substances) and social production standards (i.e. working conditions). Because public authorities at the same time will be forced to take the cheapest offer from company, global competition  will push the already existing race to the bottom.

(4)   The planned arbitral tribunals (“investor-state dispute settlement”) will judge violations of the free trade agreements without being bound through national laws, constitutions or international human rights. In many countries they will simply be extra-constitutional. According to the constitution of many European countries, property leads to social obligations. That is not the case in free trade agreements. In this context it is important to note, that already the risk of a high claim for damages by big companies will have strong influence on legislation. (“chilling effect”)  Governments will not dare to improve rent control or limit building permission on a territory if they have to fear a claim of billions of dollars because of the financial losses of investors.

We don’t know, if any exclusion of housing and real estate from TTIP will be discussed in the secret negotiations. However, it is hardly possible to reduce TTIP on specific branches or investor seats and exclude such central sectors as real estate and its finance, if free trade with services and material is the aim. If there is a free trade with agricultural or extraction products construction material cannot be excluded from that free trade. In all branches companies can have transnational shareholders, specific subsidiaries or financial investors in funds and bonds, who can claim to be affected by any national regulation. Transnational investors also can easily change the composition of their trust and holdings if that is necessary to avoid taxes or regulations on specific branches. I.e. a private equity firm, so far indirectly invested into agricultural land, renewable energy, cinemas and housing could easily construct a multinational company which combines the energy, land and property business and therefor claims transatlantic investors’ interests in all these branches. Banks simply can use existing subsidiaries or set up special vehicles in Europe or the U.S. to attack national regulations at the arbitral tribunals. Even smaller landlords or other investors could build joint ventures in the U.S. or Europe in order to be able to claim transatlantic investor rights. For sure, national lobbies of the real estate sector will think about such solutions if that gives them power in national disputes on housing policies.

This all will have deep effects on local urban development and master planning. A transatlantic firm which has bought land in an development area could claim a violation of investment security if the city council later decides to reduce the commercial building density, increase the  portion of social housing construction or green spaces, or stop the  project. This will give much more power to private developers in the master planning of large urban development projects like water fronts, factory outlet centers, or urban cleansing of traditional neighborhoods.

Local democracy will be lost. This is even true for local housing policies and public building. Local plebiscites for alternative urban plans or better social housing, as currently on the way in Berlin, could be confronted with the option that transatlantic commercial courts will stop the implementation. Municipal building standards – like the obligation to use environment friendly products or to pay minimum wages to foreign construction workers – would be under pressure as well.

Finally, TTIP and CETA will heavily influence policies at the European Union level. In the construction, facility and financial industries many consumer and product standards could be under pressure if they do not harmonize with those in the U.S. Demands for stricter regulations of hedge and private equity funds, of stricter taxation on cross-border transactions, for binding housing rights standards and for social  housing obligations would have to face another strong challenge. Then the attacks of the European Commission against public/social housing in many countries had only been a foreplay of what can happen with TTIP. The handing over of Europe to the global financial markets would be completed.

Thus, as organizations of local tenants and inhabitants we have to fear that the planned agreements will cause another heavy push towards privatisations and investor-control in our cities and villages. TTIP can trigger another tsunami of dispossession of people from their land, housing, social infrastructure and democratic territorial management, in Europe, Northern America and beyond. Instead of learning the lessons from the 2007/08 crashes and it’s aftermaths it will continue the globally destructive path of neo-liberalisation, which gets backed by so many governments and agencies, including – in the field of housing and cities – the preparation of the UN-conference Habitat III.

We must stop them.

We need strong alliances between European and North American social movements, including organizations of inhabitants and tenants, demanding governments not to approve the TTIP.

No TTIP! 

signatories 
AK Kritische Geographie Frankfurt a.M. (critical geography group), Germany
Bond Precaire Woonvormen, The Netherlands
Bündnis Zwangsräumung Verhindern (Alliance Stop Evictions) Berlin, Germany
CANTIERE/ Comitato Abitanti San Siro, Milano, Italy
Droit au Logement  (Right to Housing) and No Vox, Paris, France
Eisbrecher Wuppertal (Right to the city group), Germany
Encounter Athens, Athens, Greece
Habita – Associação pelo Direito à Habitação e À Cidade, Lisbon, Portugal
Housing Action Now, Dublin
International Alliance of Inhabitants
London Group of participants in European Housing Rights
MieterInnenverein Witten u. Umg. e.V. (Tenants Association) and Habitat Netz e.V., Witten, Germany
Mieterforum Ruhr (Ruhr Tenants Forum)
Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (PAH), Spain
Solidarity for All, Athens, Greece
Tribunal des Evictions (Genève)
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NO to Forced Evictions! Solidarity with the Resistance Camp of Vulturilor str, Bucharest

Friends from the “Common Front of Housing Rights” in Bucharest, Romania, sent this call for urgent action.

NO to Housing Injustice! NO to Forced Evictions! NO to Racism and Police Brutality!

tabara 2

View from a part of the camp . Banner reads: “The street is not a Home!”

Over 100 people living in a yard of houses on 50 Vulturilor Street, Bucharest, Romania, were forcefully evicted on Monday, September 15. The community has decided from the outset to protest and reclaim their rights. This fundamental right has been gravely violated when local police brutalized several members of the community on the 15th and the 16th of September.

Among those targeted were children, elderly persons and persons with disabilities. The evicted have currently no genuine alternatives for relocation. They consider the treatment of officials a blunt breakage of their rights and a racist act given that most of the evictees identify as Roma. So far 50 Romanian organizations joined the solidarity network progressively built with the evicted community on Vulturilor Street, either by asking local authorities to find immediately an adequate housing solution or by helping the people resist and organize in the street. The community is determined to keep protesting until their demands are met and the housing issue becomes a priority for the state and local authorities!

The Vulturilor Resistance Camp is not an exceptional case, as thousands have been evicted in similar conditions in the last 10 years. This protest, however, carries the important message of NO MORE!

People of various social, cultural and economical backgrounds are coming together in support of the camp for what might become a social movement for housing rights! Already, other groups of evictees in other parts of the city have showed concrete solidarity by coming to the camp and enabling resources for the resistance.

We call for support and solidarity from all over the world! If you think housing rights are not to be messed with, we ask you to join as well, expressing your solidarity!

HOW?

  1. Share the story within your activist network!
  2. Make a photo or video with a banner showing support for the Vulturilor Resistance Camp!
  3. Protest in front of your local Romanian Embassy! Say no to social and housinginjustice enforced by racism, criminalization of the precarious and the sacredhood ofproperty!
  4. Contribute with resources, financial or otherwise! Contact the Common Front for Housing Rights at fcdloc <at> gmail.com.

protest la evacuare

Community members protesting in the day of the eviction. “Thousands of empty houses, Thousands of
people in the street, Where is the Justice?”

Detailed account of the case

The land corresponding to Vulturilor 50, with an approximate surface of 2300 square meters, was returned in July 2002 to former (before socialist nationalisation in 50’s) owners, on the basis of restitution law 10/2001. In 2002, the owners concluded lease contracts with all former state tenants living in the houses, in accordance with the provisions of Government Emergency Decision 40/1999 concerning the protection of tenants. The new lease contracts were concluded for a period of 5 years. In 2007, the owners sold the land and the litigation rights to the consultancy firm SC New Bridge Partners SRL, managed by a Norwegian citizen. In 2008, the firm brought eviction suits against the tenants. It won in 2009 with the court ordering the eviction of the tenants. The decision was not contested by the latter owing to their lack of any kind of legal expertise and the insufficient funds for hiring a lawyer.

Most of the tenants have been living in the Vulturilor yard for 20 years, having been assigned there in the beginning of the 1990s by the state companies for which they worked. Since the 2009 expiry of the new contracts concluded with the owners and up to now, the tenants have been living in those homes without legal documents. Not having the possibility of renting or buying apartments on the market, the majority continued to live in the houses from which they had been told they were going to be evicted.

The requests for social housing, submitted to the district city hall and renewed throughout the 12 years since the restitution of the land, were left unsolved. The requests submitted to the capital (central) city hall were redirected to the city hall of District 3. The tenants began receiving walking summons in 2011. They continued to live in the houses in the absence of an alternative for living spaces and abandoned by local authorities. The new owners limited their proceedings to those summons and did not approach them formally for several years.

The FCDL (Common Front for Rights to Housing) contacted the people living in the yard in July 2014: „We are waiting in fear that they will come one day and kick us out. For two years we’ve been packing things in the house, around Easter, that’s when the rumor always came, that they are coming to chuck us out. And for us there was no Easter! I would complain to the girls at work about where was I going to get bags to collect our things because they were throwing us out. Where should we go? We are not going in the street. Because I’ve got nowhere to go. Who is going to take me, with 7 children and 2 nephews? Where am I to go? My daughter works there with me, she’s on maternity leave, the son works occasionally, sometimes he has work, sometimes there isn’t any.”

On the morning of September 2nd 2014, all the families received, besides the summons to leave the houses no later than 8 days, a notification about the forceful eviction in case of noncompliance, scheduled for September 15, 9:00 am.

On Monday, Sept 15 the community on Vulturilor street has been evicted against their will by court officers assisted by riot police. Forcing their way in the courtyard and hitting several protesters, the riot police flooded the homes and continued to insult ant intimidate the people into leaving. By way of threatenings, the people at Vulturilor 50 were forced to sign the eviction papers. The local authorities, present through one employee communicated that the evicted were expected to relocate, separately, to men’s and mother and children night shelters, a provisional solution which they refused.

Starting with 2 pm, people at Vulturilor were gradually emptiing their former homes. This process was not finished when the security firm employed to guard over the property showed up. They threatened to attack the people if they would not comply with leaving the premises. Next, the guards sealed the gate and started destroying the improvements made by the former residents. A lot of the belongings remained in the houses, only to be destroyed and confiscated by the security firm.

On Sept 16, at 9:00 o’clock, after a first night spent in the street in front of their former homes, part of the community on Vulturilor 50 set out to protest in front Bucharest’s City Hall. Equipped with signs, banners, and megaphones, people demanded their rights: homes for everyone. For several hours, people demanded that the mayor or other relevant authorities show up, but their demands have been completely ignored.

Around 12 o’clock, while part of the evicted community was protesting in front the City Hall, the Local Police showed up on Vulturilor with 7 vehicles, 2 vans belonging to the military police(Gendarmerie), and 5 trucks from Rosal (garbage collecting company), to collect the possessions people were storing on the street, under the claim that they obstruct public space. People opposed this action, saying that that was their camp, set up for shelter and protest. Still, people’s furniture and other belongings were taken by force and moved to Rosal’s warehouses, against their owners’ wish. They will be kept there for 15 days, then they will be thrown away unless the owners reclaim them. But where are people going to take them?

While opposing eviction and, later, confiscation, several people were pushed and hit by employees of the Local Police. The victims included children and teenagers. One of the children was also insulted by a member of the Local Police.

Under threats of beatings and more confiscations, the street was eventually mostly cleared. But the community stayed, people being determined to maintain the camp, despite cold weather and lack of supplies. Children, young people, and ill people spent their night on chairs, blankets, mattresses, and sleeping bags, in the wind. More than half of the community spends both nights and days in the street, with no possibility for shelter. On the following days, people are completing and updating their files for social housing. The authorities keep refusing to engage with the people hoping that they will become divided and eventually abandon the protest and their demands. But all the intimidation attempts by the police, since the eviction day and up to today, were unsuccessful. The community on Vulturilor is not giving up and is resolute to continue resisting until its demands are met. It is appealing to the solidarity of anyone who sees housing rights as fundamental !

On Friday, 19.09, the community protested in front of the City Hall again. Once more, their demands were ignored. The protesters were eventually dispersed by the police. Later that day, the police showed up at the camp, telling people that the remaining of their belongings (mostly mattresses & chairs) will be confiscated again, unless they agree to store it “out of sight” during the day and only take it out at night. As the police came together with a Rosal truck, this was not so much a negotiation as it was an ultimatum.

Each time the evicted protested in front of the city hall, the local police force showed up intimidating the community on Vulturilor. People are getting punished for resisting their exclusion, the social cleansing and the racist policies. We’re calling activists and social movements worldwide to show solidarity for housing rights of the people on Vulturilor street in Bucharest, against the police brutality and intimidation inflicted upon this community.

Since the 20th, the Vulturilor community has raised a protest camp to resist hard weather conditions, determined not to abandon the struggle. Seeking justice for their loss, the community demands housing justice having in mind the amplitude of the phenomenon in the Romanian context. The authorities cannot keep ignoring thousands of evictees and people with housing issues.

This account is only one example of many, considering that Romanian local authorities have no concern or respect for housing rights. As a matter of fact, the Third District City Hall allocated in the last 9 years only 33 social houses, while currently they have 3150 such requests registered.

The community is determined to keep protesting until their demands are met and the housing issue becomes a priority for the state and local authorities!

So far 50 Romanian organizations joined the solidarity network progressively built with the evicted community on Vulturilor Street, either by asking local authorities to find immediately an adequate housing solution or by helping the people resist and organize in the street.

Both the Vulturilor community and the solidarity coalition call for immediate support!

Report compiled by the Common Front for Housing Rights (Frontul Comun pentru Dreptul la Locuire), fcdl.ro. and the community of Vulturilor 50.

Get back to us at fcdloc <at> gmail.com.

25.09.2014