Press Release of the Roma Parliament
Residents of Székesfehérvár—largely Hungarian citizens of Roma ethnicity—have turned to our organization for assistance in confronting their housing crisis. In three meetings in July, a total of 30 families asked the Roma Parliament to represent them and defend their legal rights and interests. According to the families, there are at least 60 to 80 households, or about 500 individuals, currently at risk of eviction and becoming homeless. Among those who asked for our assistance about a third are not Roma. Our assessment is that among those are being evicted about half are Roma and half non-Roma Hungarians. Most have had no warning and are currently debt-free. They earn the minimum wage or below, mostly from public works.
One local resident, Elvira Lakatos, put it this way: “We take bread away from our children’s mouths so there would be a roof over our heads.”
The Székesfehérvár city hall is not extending leases that are up for renewal or is presenting reasons to annul the leases on such grounds as that families hosted relatives for 3-5 days and did not report the visit, families do not use the property for their own purposes, the family has been living in the apartment long enough to have saved money to take care of the rent on an apartment on their own. No official justification for the evictions has been provided.
The locals are guessing that the apartments are needed for 30 NATO soldiers, the Videoton business, skilled laborers from abroad, or perhaps Hungarians impacted by the foreign-currency denominated mortgage crisis.
The apartments in question were largely built with EU funding for the purpose of housing the Roma community and disabled individuals. We met one individual confined to a wheelchair who will have to leave his home within three months.
Thus far we have met with ten families who have either become homeless or are staying with relatives as a result of the new evictions. One retired, ill Roma individual left so as not to lose custody of grandchildren. The Lakatos and Szajkó families had their children taken away (three each), and the children are now staying with foster parents while their parents live in the forest. One individual now residing in the forest—Noémi—goes from the forest to her job as a cleaner at a supermarket.
The Roma Parliament on July 27 considered the concerns of the Roma and non-Roma families, and presented the individuals now living in the Palotavárosi forest, separated from their children.
In the name of the 30 families who turned to us for representation, we are demanding:
- An immediate halt to evictions and a pledge to impacted families that the city will not follow in the footsteps of Miskolc’s anti-Roma policies.
- In the case of those currently living in the forest, we request assistance, housing support, and custody of their children.
- A review of the municipality’s policies and decision-making, especially when it comes to families with children, ill individuals, pensioners, and grandparents.
- A municipal decision annulling eviction decisions made over the past months.
- Assessments of the socioeconomic condition and income levels of families impacted, to be used when examining future changes in residence to avoid threats to the well-being of families.
We call upon the leadership of the city as well as on political parties not to repeat the professional and political mistakes of the 1997-2000 Székesfehérvár ghetto affair. We ask that local officials and politicians use current evidence, not outdated, ten-year-old photos. We also ask that they respect the basic rights of their citizens and voters and show the city’s residents—Roma and non-Roma—that they have representation.
These are the goals of the Roma Parliament.
The statement of the city of Székesfehérvár
The response of the city of Székesfehérvár to Aladár Horváth’s press conference is a lengthy and somewhat confusing statement that it is not easy to follow. The announcement begins with a denial that the evacuation decision has anything to do with ethnic discrimination, which is odd in light of Horváth’s own admission that only half of the families to be evicted are Roma. The city’s account also includes such, in my opinion, superfluous pieces of information as that unemployment in Székesfehérvár is low and that the earlier elimination of “infamous ghettos met with the approval of the overwhelming majority of the people of Fehérvár.”
Following these introductory remarks come some details regarding the four “evicted” families mentioned in Horváth’s press release who found shelter in the forest. It is hard to decipher what the real situation is, but it seems that six non-Roma and two Roma individuals do live in the forest and that they are being taken care of by “the street activists of the Crisis Center on a daily basis.” It is not clear from the city’s release whether these eight people have anything to do with the eviction of individuals from low-income housing that Horváth is talking about.
City officials deny Horváth’s claim that the families are not behind on their rent. At least “one Roma couple owes a sizable amount of money on their rent” and they are guilty as well of a “total disregard of the rules of cohabitation.” The city claims that this couple has been offered “several possibilities for their housing needs” but they declined all offers. The fact that the official statement mentions only one family leads me to believe that the others are indeed current on their rent.
The town officials explain that the real reason for the evictions is the city fathers’ desire to have a turnover in the inhabitants of these low-rent apartments owned by the town. The idea is that families in need should stay no longer than three to eight years, during which time they should be able to get on their feet and move to apartments available on the open marketplace. Some of the families have been living in these buildings for the last 17 years.
It seems from the above explanation that among those about to be evicted were some, perhaps most, who paid their rent regularly. It’s just that the authorities thought that they had overstayed their welcome. Whether these people were aware of this policy, whether it was in fact a policy, is not at all clear.
Finally, the city’s statement contains several before and after pictures showing old low-income housing occupied by Roma families and what was recently built to replace it. The contrast is striking (with the discarded junk I assume intended to reflect poorly on the occupants) but unfortunately irrelevant.
The problem is that the new housing units seem intended for an entirely different segment of society. Those who are facing eviction currently live in apartment buildings, not in the slum-like “before” housing. Wherever they end up if they are evicted, it won’t be in the attractive low-income housing that was opened with great fanfare recently. The city fathers obviously believe they’ve been subsidized long enough and that it’s time for them to pay the going rate for housing. There were dozens of pictures taken at the time the new housing was opened, and I couldn’t spot one Roma among the occupants. They look to me to be mostly elderly white folks with a sprinkling of middle-aged or young people.
The city of Székesfehérvár declared on July 27 after Aladár Horváth’s press conference that it had followed all the rules and regulations and that, as far as the city’s low-income housing is concerned, there is perfect understanding in the city council. For example, the recent statement of Roland Márton, the head of the MSZP-DK-Együtt caucus, reflects consensus on the issue. I may add that the Székesfehérvár city council consists of 15 Fidesz, 1 Jobbik, 1 independent, and 3 MSZP-DK-Együtt members. I couldn’t find a copy of Roland Márton’s statement.