Manifesto for Housing Justice: Against the Pandemic of Capitalism and Racism

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Note from LeftEast editors: we reprint the call for housing justice, first published by the Romanian group BLOCUL pentru LOCUIRE on their website.

The time has come for this political agenda to change radically: housing politics must satisfy the needs of the people and respect the right to housing as a universal right!

The time has come for the rich to pay for everything that they stole through workforce exploitation, real estate speculation, and the theft of the government’s resources to the disfavour of the many.

This is our manifesto:

I. The Housing Problems of the People Most Affected by the Epidemiological and Economic Crises

Since the first signals of the pandemic, we, the activists fighting for housing rights, have been witnessing the great challenges lived and told to us by the persons who

  • are living in marginalized areas and/or overcrowded living spaces, some without utilities or even in polluted territories;
  • were living insecurely and/or were at risk of being evacuated since before the pandemic;
  • are housed in overcrowded shelters, many of them being the victims of forced evictions in the recent past;
  • have lost their jobs and require social assistance benefits;
  • cannot continue to subsist in the informal economy because they are no longer allowed to circulate on the streets, being thus deprived of their only source of income;
  • are forced to continue working while their employers do not offer protection and their homes are not equipped for following strict rules of hygiene;
  • they have automatic deductions from their minimum salaries due to outstanding debt to the government or to the banks, which, during the current conditions, aggravates their already-precarious situation;
  • have lost their jobs, and their severance pay for technical unemployment is not enough to cover rent and utilities, the prices for which have soared over the last period;
  • have come back from abroad and, being young, have never had their own house in Romania;
  • have come to work in Romania through the immigration system facilitated by the authorities in the context of the workforce crisis in the country.

Among these categories, there are groups that find themselves at the intersection of several conditions of precarity, violence, and marginality.

The Roma communities are a group that constantly feels the effects of the housing crisis. As the BLOC for HOUSING has shown in previous cases, housing injustice works according to a racist logic, revealing itself through an acute and consistent dispossession and dislocation of the Roma persons and communities. In the context of this crisis, the Roma communities and persons feel more intensely the weight of the consequences as well as the lack of universal access to utilities and the lack of communication from authorities.

Likewise, the weight of the housing crisis falls disproportionately on women. They are the ones who most often maintain the cohesion, health, and well-being of the family and of the communities living in precarious housing situations or at risk of eviction. Within the context of the current epidemiological and economic crisis, women are confronted with increased domestic violence, the pressure of medical care (women represent the majority of the medical staff), of constant care for children (due to the closure of schools and kindergartens), and the precarity caused by the economic crisis.

For these reasons, our demands are formulated in an antiracist and feminist vein, which is critical of capitalism. We consider that any step that the authorities take in the direction outlined bellow should prioritize the needs and the concrete situation of all the groups treated unjustly and neglected by the government’s politics over the last three decades—groups exploited and impoverished by the capitalist system that the same government’s politics has endorsed.

All the problems mentioned above—their number, unfortunately, will continue to grow during the weeks and months to come—require several sets of immediate measures. The emergency decrees have included some of them, but, unfortunately, most of them have not been implemented locally.

There is a need for more and stricter interventions for the benefit of the most vulnerable people. Not implementing the social measures consistently and adequately represents a death sentence for the people who do not have a place to live or who are living in inadequate conditions that put their lives in danger!

II. Demands with Immediate and Long-Term Effects

  1. STOP THE EVICTIONS FROM LIVING SPACES!

The permanent prohibition of evictions from public and private housing carried out without relocation to adequate houses.

  1. ELIMINATING THE RENT PAID TO THE GOVERNMENT!

The elimination of all government rent for the households earning less than minimum income, until the end of the year. The annulment of debt and penalties accumulated for not paying rent when the tenants are earning minimum salary or less.

  1. CONTROL OF PRIVATE RENTS!

Besides freezing rent prices, it is necessary to eliminate rent payments for the following six months for the benefit of those who are earning less than the average income. Regarding those who are earning above the average income, rent payment should be calculated progressively according to the sum that is above this income threshold.

  1. ACCESS TO UTILITIES FOR EVERYONE!

Universal access without restrictions for everyone to water, gas, electricity, and internet, regardless of their contract situation or debt! Moreover, we ask for the elimination of all penalties for not paying utilities in the case of people earning less than the average income. Such access could be granted only by municipalizing the utilities’ providers! Until all households are provided with all the utilities, portable hygiene stations have to be set up in the areas where people do not have access to water in their houses!

  1. LIVING SPACES AND SOCIO-MEDICAL SERVICES FOR PEOPLE WITHOUT SHELTER!

Relocating people without shelter, those who live in polluted areas, and those who have filed applications for social housing to locations that have adequate living conditions! This intervention should be put into practice by applying the principle of housing first, as well as by guaranteeing unconditional access to social protection and medical services.

  1. THE PROTECTION OF ALL PERSONS LIVING IN CROWDED SPACES!

The relocation to living spaces with adequate conditions, for the whole period of the quarantine, of the persons who are living in student residences, placement centres, protected living spaces, old people’s residences, prisons, shelters for people without shelter, detention centres for migrants, and refugee centres, as well as for migrant workers housed in improper shelters or living spaces. Moreover, we ask that, in the future, a set of adequate standards for living in all these collective spaces be respected!

  1. THE DECRIMINALIZATION OF OCCUPYING EMPTY HOUSES!

Eliminating all criminal liability for housing property infringements carried out by persons without access to adequate living conditions. Eliminating also all restrictions imposed upon those accessing social housing.

  1. THE CANCELLATION OF FINES OWED TO THE LOCAL BUDGET FOR ALL PERSONS WITH A MINIMUM INCOME!

The accumulation of fines limits the access of the most precarious persons to social benefits, that are often conditioned by the lack of debts to the local budget. Moreover, for the persons who cannot afford to pay their fines, the garnishments imposed for the recovery of the debts limit their access to formal work because their income earned through formal work is automatically seized. Therefore, reducing the minimum income through garnishments leads to a dramatic decrease in the quality of living conditions.

  1. EXPROPRIATION FOR CREATING PUBLIC HOUSING!

The acquisition of houses for urgent needs and for a limited amount of time is not sufficient and consolidates the government’s institutions of force by expanding their powers. The expropriation of all unoccupied properties is necessary, with the aim of creating public living spaces due to public need.

  1. THE CONVERSION OF THE COUNTRY’S EMPTY BUILDINGS INTO SOCIAL HOUSES!

In today’s critical context, we need more than ever public housing for the persons without shelter and for those who live in crowded conditions. The measure will also have positive effects when coming out of the crisis by creating public houses that provide universal housing as a fundamental right.

  1. THE TAX ON WEALTH!

Guaranteeing a just redistribution of the burden brought about by the current social, medical, and economic crisis through the progressive taxation of income, capital, and profit, as well as of the great owners of houses, physical and juridical persons, according to the number of properties. Part of this state income should be directed towards a solidarity fund dedicated to the construction of public houses.

  1. ELIMINATING THE PROFIT OBTAINED BY BANKS!

We ask for the suspension of pay and the cancellation of all interest until the end of the year for housing and consumption credits, according to the financial situation of the persons, on a case by case basis, with the possibility of an extension. In the period following the pandemic, for those who earn less than the average income and who have garnishment for creditors or are affected by the salary cuts because of the crisis, protection systems will have to be put in place against the loss of a house through foreclosure.

  1. FINANCIAL SUPPORT FOR ALL PERSONS AT RISK OF LOSING THEIR INCOME SOURCES!

Regardless of one’s employment status, whether as a freelancer, informal worker, or day labourer, all persons who will lose their means for living decently are in need of support to pay for food, medicine, personal hygiene products, childcare, senior care, disability care, pet care, and others.

  1. HOUSING SUPPORT FOR ALL PERSONS AFFECTED BY THE INCREASE OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE CASES!

Persons affected by domestic violence do not have sufficient shelter and housing spaces where they could separate from their aggressors. The quarantine measures mean more time spent in the house they share with their aggressors, which leads to more violence. The women and children who are affected by the intensification of domestic violence need urgent options for adequate housing!

III. The Need for New Governmental Housing Politics

Since the first days of the SARS-COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic crisis, it has been evident that the effects of the housing crisis, already prevalent during the last decades, would affect most strongly the persons with low income, who are living in a state of uncertainty and inadequate conditions. Due to precarious living conditions, the health of these persons is likewise vulnerable. After only a few weeks, we can already tell that more and more people are and will be affected by unemployment and diminishing financial resources, which will impact their living situation.

The housing crisis, as we have lived it until now, means exorbitant living costs for people who are not property owners, including very high prices of utilities, astronomical rent prices, and/or monthly mortgage payments with high interest for real estate credits. If, in these conditions, the price of living will be just as high as before the pandemic, then the number of persons who will be left without a place to live, or who will be forced to live in even more crowded conditions, or who will be forced to accept to live in informal living spaces will grow exponentially.

Health, work, and precarious living are interconnected. “The country of cheap labour” makes the great majority of its population vulnerable, leaving them with extremely limited resources and with a high level of debt. The handling of the crises of capitalism through measures that save capital and put pressure on the workforce does not lead to resolving the problems of the majority of people but rather to their aggravation. The public health aspects, exposed to the COVID-19 pandemic, intersect with the great problems of the capitalist political economy, of racism, and of the global systemic violence. The fragility of the public health system in Romania reminds us of the stakes of Romania’s integration into the circuit of global capitalism: as a space in which, after the privatization and tearing down public property, including the area of housing, foreign investors found new opportunities for fleecing the population and accumulating capital. The domain of real estate, suffering an acute lack of public housing, was one of the most profitable economic spheres of late capitalism. Counting in euros, Romania has over 30,000 millionaires, while almost half of the full-time workers are earning the minimum salary, and those who earn more than the average salary represent only around 16% of the total of salaried workers.

The pandemic reflects and exacerbates the housing crisis. Even before the current epidemiological and economic crisis, it was evident that housing was a political problem. Now it has become clear that even public health is a political problem, although the beneficiaries of the government’s politics aimed towards profit have always tried to hide this fact. It is vital for us to become conscious of this fact and to act towards this purpose when we plan to find solutions for multiple crises. Poverty, limited access to vital public services, and economic inequalities, especially within the domain of housing, are systemic phenomena: over the last three decades, a decent house that would offer adequate conditions of health and hygiene has become a luxury that fewer and fewer people can afford. The privatization of the current social housing fund, the government’s support almost exclusively for the construction of private houses and for real estate developers, the encouragement of the transformation of the living space into an investment for profit through fiscal measures favourable to this aim—all these have led to the current state of affairs.

The time has come for this political agenda to change radically: housing politics must satisfy the needs of the people and respect the right to housing as a universal right!

The time has come for new housing politics which would assure us that, in the future, similar pandemics will not find anyone in the situation of being without a roof above their heads, or risking eviction, or living in crowded conditions and/or without utilities!

The time has come to implement housing policies that no longer make the living space a source of distress in the face of the crises caused by financial speculations!

We need politics that support the production of not-for-profit houses: public houses, cooperative houses, and other similar options. Such politics will bring the radical changes necessary to the whole socio-economic order!

IV. Surpassing the New Capitalist Crisis

The emergency social measures are pressing today, but they are not enough to guarantee an exit from the epidemiological and economic crisis. They are not enough to reduce the dramatic effects of similar future crises, which, as we know, are inevitable in capitalism. It is crucial that this crisis is not “solved” as the previous ones were, in the favour of capital. It is vital to denounce and to surpass the structural adjustment programs, which promote the market and austerity as one-size-fits-all solution. These programs were imposed over the last few decades by the great international organizations, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, especially targeted towards the “developing countries” in exchange for new credits or promises of integrating into the “good” world of advanced capitalist countries. These programs result, everywhere and always, in measures against the public sector, austerity, and poverty, underfinancing public health, education, and public housing, as well as subordinating the development of all economic and social domains to the foundational logic of capitalism: the rush for profit.

The BLOC for HOUSING asserts that to surpass the crisis and to institute a just socio-economic order that serves the interests of the people, it is important that the state invest in public services, especially in public housing.

Because:

– There must be public houses for everyone who is in need, in order to provide a life of health and well-being for everyone.

– Building public houses has to begin as fast as possible after the state of emergency, which will have positive effects from a social as well as an economic point of view.

– It is necessary that all the spaces that are the property of the state, whether they are unoccupied houses and/or uncared for, or whether they are apartments currently leased by private persons or businesses, be urgently transformed into living spaces and granted to those who need them most.

– It is necessary that real estate developments be carried out for the public good.

– Real estate speculation must be controlled strictly by the government in order to slow down the increase of prices on the real estate market.

– Nobody should live in inadequate conditions any longer, and nobody should be burdened by the enormous costs of living.

– Nobody should be allowed to make a fortune due to multiple rented properties by which they have the power to dictate the prices on the housing market.

Everybody’s health and well-being depend on their housing conditions! The right for adequate housing is the right to health and to a decent life. Without a decent house, people have reduced access to well-paid and socially recognized work. Without adequate income, in a world where the access to housing occurs almost exclusively through the market, people cannot afford adequate houses. Precarious and impoverished living endangers one’s health and life. Our claims combine measures that should be imposed immediately with necessary housing politics for surpassing the crisis, as well as for the future that we anticipate. We need politics that distribute fairly the costs of the crisis.

The time has come for the rich to pay for everything that they stole through workforce exploitation, real estate speculation, and the theft of the government’s resources to the disfavour of the many.

We need radical measures to make sure that the economic post-crisis order will be one of equality and social justice. The time has come for those privileged by the system all over the world, who have accumulated profit and enormous wealth over the last decades, to pay their dues. They must contribute significantly to the costs of the programs needed for everyone’s state of health and economic situation to improve once and forever.

It is time to end the regime where the real estate developers, the great renting companies, and private utility providers make enormous profit off the backs of those who barely survive from one month to the next!

In solidarity,

The BLOC for HOUSING


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The BLOC for HOUSING is a network of groups and associations fighting to strengthen and organize politically the communities opposed to housing injustice. E-Romnja Association, The Common Front for Housing Rights, Social Houses Now!, The Right to the City, and RomaJust are part of the BLOC. They can be found at bloculpentrulocuire@gmail or on social media.

 

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