Solutions to informal settlements (international conference, July 6, 2018, Bucharest)

On Friday, July 6, the international conference “Tackling informal settlements – practices and policies dealing with housing informality” was held in Bucharest, with the extraordinary participation of internationally renowned experts in the field of housing and urban planning, like Sasha Tsenkova (Professor, University of Calgary, Canada), Julien Damon (Professor, Sciences Po Paris, France), Ashmet Elezovski (National Roma Center, Macedonia) and numerous representatives of national authorities (MDRAP, ANR), local authorities, NGOs and local communities facing informal housing or related issues in Romania.

More than 64.000 Romanian families live in informal settlements, without a property paper on the land and their house, in some cases without an identity document, together with a limited or inexistent access to basic services and road infrastructures. The houses are often located in places which are exposed to safety and health risks for the residents. However, the current normative framework, governmental policies and EU programs for Romania don’t contain clear references to informal settlements. This is one of the main obstacles to public interventions on these informal settlements, which could stop or reduce this phenomenon.

UN Habitat estimates that 1 out of 8 people in the world were living in slums in 2016, which represents a total of approximately 1 billion people. According to Sasha Tsenkova, it is estimated that around 15 million people are living in informal settlements only in Europe, without counting the recent migration wave, which would mean another 3.5 million people.

While other states recognize the existence of this socio-spatial phenomenon and start to seek solutions to informal housing or related issues, the topic is still barely studied in Romania. Moreover, public initiatives and debates on the implementation of national solutions to alleviate the problems related to informal housing are poorly developed and, even when people show interest and availability, the lack of experience and of dedicated legal frameworks make it difficult to act.

“In Romania, the phenomenon of informal housing is significant both by the number of affected people and by the lack of reaction over the last 25 years –by central authorities and at the community level, where individual and collective cases can be solved. There are several typologies of exclusion that have led and still lead to informal housing in both urban and rural areas in Romania, with serious consequences for people’s basic rights”, mentioned Sasha Tsenkova during the conference in Bucharest.

The event provided the opportunity to present both the phenomenon of informal living in international context, and good practices applied in other countries that recognize, define and approach it. In addition, one of the most important objectives of the conference was to facilitate a sustained dialogue and to support public and private actors that are relevant to the recognition and  addressing of the phenomenon at local level to work together, including to exchange knowledge and good practices known or necessary for the development of policies and programs dedicated to this phenomenon in Romania.

We invite you to watch below a short film about the phenomenon of informal living in Romania.

The event agenda

I. International Panel – Recognition, responsibility and solutions – good international practices

Speakers:

  • Sasha Tsenkova, Canada – “Informality, Urban Planning & Rebuilding Resilient Communities”
  • Ashmet Elezovski, Macedonia – “Legalization of Roma Housing in Macedonia”
  • Julien Damon, France – “Three perspectives on slums: the world, Europe, France”
  • Q&A

“We can’t come up with a uniform definition to cover all types of informal communities which exist around the globe. In many countries, it is a phenomenon –unfortunately, growing- with a longer history, that accompanied the waves of urbanization. People were attracted to cities as places of hope, chances for a job and a better life, as places of prosperity. For many people, however, the promises of urbanization didn’t come true, and they became marginal citizens. Informal settlements, which I call “self-made cities” are, in fact, areas that are as viable as possible, with real economic and social potential, yet untapped”, said Sasha Tsenkova.

Sasha Tsenkova stressed the importance of understanding the phenomenon of informal settlements as an opportunity and not just as a challenge, evoking the three “P’s” (people, politics, places) in the sense that policies must be made for people to create resilient communities. As for Julien Damon, he highlighted the differences between the wealthy countries of Western Europe and the poor cities of the Global South in terms of coagulation and territorial development of cities. The scheme “planning-construction-living” of the West is opposed to the scheme “living-construction-planning” of the South, with serious consequences for housing.

“It would be extremely ambitious to talk about solutions that can simply be taken from one place to another. Two things are, however, extremely important: public attention for the recognition of the phenomenon, and public investment in programs of solutions to multiple forms of informal housing. There are enormous amounts of money meant to solve problems of communities like Roma people, it’s crazy that they are not currently directed to resolving housing problems”, underlined Julien Damon during the conference in Bucharest.

The intervention of Ashmet Elezovski, representative of the National Roma Centrum in Macedonia, highlighted how, in Macedonia, following the adoption of a law on the legalization of informal settlements, a local NGO supports people living in informal settlements in the process of legalizing their homes.

“It was extremely important to add this issue on the political agenda in Macedonia. Our campaign started in 2005 and consisted, on the one hand, in concerted actions of advocacy and awareness-raising campaigns by a group of NGOs, and, on the other hand, in 2010, in a direct work with the beneficiaries, in order to inform and organize them, so that the law on the legalization of informal infrastructures can have the desired effect among the categories most affected by informality”, said Ashemt Elezovski.

II. Moderated discussion – National context and issue

Panel guests

  • Constantin Bobaru, Mayor of Bumbești-Jiu
  • Mariana Buceanu, National Roma Agency
  • Bianca Ciocan, Adviser to the General Secretariat of the Government
  • Petre Florin Manole, Deputy
  • Eugenia Sas, National Agency of Cadastre and Real Estate Advertising
  • Daniel Vâlceanu, Ministery of Regional Development and Public Administration
  • Flori Nica, GAL Reșița

III. Thematic working groups

  • Legislation
  • Urban restructuring and planning
  • Integrated approach, complementary measures
  • Possible European and national funding towards disadvantaged communities – limits and opportunities

The recommendations discussed in the working groups are available here. (in Romanian)

The event also provided an opportunity to form an inter-institutional working group on informal housing in Romania, a need identified by most of the participants and included on the agenda of institutions such as the National Agency for Roma or the General Secretariat of the Government.

The international conference, organized by PACT Foundation, MKBT: Make Better, GAL Resita, Asociatia DEP Bumbesti-Jiu, Grupul de Initativa Valea Corbului is part of the project No man’s land: informal housing in Roma communities- recognition, responsibilities and common solutions, which aims to document the phenomenon of informal housing in Romania, its proportions and its effects; to raise awareness about this phenomenon; and to explore possible normative and operational solutions, in order to improve living conditions in informal settlements, as well as to limit the phenomenon.

The event benefited from the support of the French Embassy in Romania and Habitat for Humanity Romania (through the project Build Solid Ground , financed by the European Union).

Thank you!

Pictures from the event

photo: Andrei Dudea