Romania: Mobilisation for housing rights in Cluj-Napoca

On Sunday, December 17th, the housing rights movement took to the streets in Cluj-Napoca. The Social Housing NOW! campaign, together with the Socialist Action Group (GAS), called for a demonstration under the slogan “We take back our city”. GAS organised a public meeting after the protest to discuss how we can work to ensure that the demands of the protest become a reality, as the public administration has ignored this issue for more than a decade.

December 17th has a special importance for the housing movement in Cluj. Thirteen years ago, on this day, several Roma people were forcibly evicted from their homes on Coastei Street because the administration found it more profitable to build a campus for seminarians from the Faculty of Theology. The evictees were not offered a decent alternative, but were moved to the Pata Rât ghetto near a landfill. The evictions were carried out with the complicity of the City Hall, the Babeș-Bolyai University of Cluj-Napoca and other authorities.

In response to these injustices, the Social Housing NOW! campaign was launched, in which academics, students, tenants and people from Pata Rât fought for common goals. Reports were produced, protests organised and demands written. Every year on December 17, the eviction from Coastei Street is commemorated in Cluj.

Thirteen years later, most of the people in Pata Rât live in the same toxic environment, social housing is not a priority for the administration, and the price of rent and utilities in Cluj-Napoca is reaching new records. Illusions in the goodwill of the City Hall and other capitalist institutions have been shattered. It is clear that the tenants in Cluj need grassroots organisation and their own political voice to win their demands.

This year’s protest began on a commemorative note, but evolved in a more militant way. We invited participants to tell us what they have lost over the years and how we want the city to work for us. The demands of the protest were:

We demand 50-25-10:

1) 50% of the total housing stock to be public social housing at affordable prices.

2) 25% of the houses built by property developers in new housing estates to be transferred to public ownership.

3) 10% of tenants’ income to be set as a ceiling for rent in public but also private housing.

We demand a city free from corporate influence:

4) The University Campus to be run for the benefit of students.

5) Urban planning must serve the public interest.

6) Urban renewal should not lead to rising prices on the housing market.

7) Free space for artists, social activists, non-profit organisations.

8) City Hall should not support profit-oriented festival organisers.

9) Pata Rât should no longer exist as a residential area in a toxic environment by 2030.

10) Guarantee the universal right to water and energy price regulation.

11) Prevent forced evictions and provide emergency shelter for the homeless.

After the protest, some of the participants gathered for a public discussion on concrete tactics and directions for the housing movement called for by GAS. The participants agreed on the need to build tenants’ associations in every block of flats in Cluj-Napoca and beyond. There are difficulties in this direction, mainly the existence of many uncontracted rents and the high degree of fragmentation of property ownership in Romania. However, tenants joining forces is necessary and inevitable. We want to focus our efforts in this direction.

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