According to Law no. 151/2019, informal settlements are “groups of at least 3 housing units spontaneously developed, occupied by individuals or families who are part of vulnerable groups defined according to the Social Assistance Law no. 292/2011, with the subsequent modifications and completions, and who have no rights over the land they occupy. Informal settlements are usually located on the outskirts of urban or rural localities, include improvised dwellings, made from recovered materials, and / or dwellings made from conventional building materials, and by their localization and socio-demographic characteristics generate exclusion, segregation and social marginalization. By being located in areas of natural risk (landslides, floods), biological risk (garbage dumps, landfills, contaminated sites and the like) or anthropic risk (safety or protection areas as defined by Seveso objectives, of technical-public infrastructures and so forth), some informal settlements endanger the safety and health of their inhabitants.
The main factor that led to the emergence of the first nuclei of informal settlements is historical and is related to the forced sedentarisation of the Roma during the communist period, starting with 1948. Also, with the forced systematization of villages, the Roma population has often been moved to housing units on the outskirts of towns and villages, especially in poor urban areas or in semi-urban settlements in agricultural areas. This makes many of the informal settlements in Romania already several decades old, with families established there for several generations and a community that has grown gradually over time.
The socio-economic factors that contributed to the emergence and spread of this phenomenon are related to the rapid urbanization and the forced land systematization in the period of 1950-1975, the residential mobility these provoked, the post-socialist restructuring of the national economy, which led to an increase in poverty and social exclusion, as well as low access to housing for disadvantaged categories after 1990. Moreover, a poor land planning system, as well as the lack of adequate land management tools contributed to this phenomenon. Numerous forms of informal housing are the result of the process of social and economic marginalization of many groups in the context of economic change which Romania has traveled over the last decades – for their occupants, these settlemenents being places of refuge in the absence of other resources and options.
Following the repeal of the law on land systematization in 1990, the development of localities was made, until 2001, without any legal framework on spatial planning, and the subsequent regulations made it difficult to integrate the territories containing informal settlements into the built-up areas of adjacent localities. This has made many of the informal settlements expand further in the absence of urban regulations, without building permits or even in biological or natural risk areas, making it even more difficult to identify technical and legal solutions for these settlements at the present moment. Contributing to this expansion was also the fact that these areas have been ignored over time by authorities and developers of urban planning documentation, as well as the absence of this topic from the public and political agenda. The legislative solutions adopted so far have addressed the problem in partial modes without an understanding of the territorial reality as a whole and without a careful analysis of the potential consequences of some of the measures. The delay in legal and urban recognition of informal settlements has aggravated the situation within them, because in the last decade, in the context of building materials getting cheaper and residents accessing higher incomes, most old houses made of adobe or shelters made of recovered materials were rebuilt, becoming wall houses with concrete foundations. In addition, the non-inclusion of these residential areas in the built-up areas of the localities (intravilan) rendered impossible the carrying out technical utilitities projects (road infrastructure, water access, sewerage and public lighting).
“In Romania, the phenomenon of informal housing is significant in terms of the number of people affected, but especially due to the lack of reaction of the last 25 years – both from central authorities and at the level of communities, where measures can be taken to solve individual or collective cases. There are several types of exclusion that have led and still lead to informal housing in both urban and rural areas, in Romania, with serious consequences on the basic rights of people.”
Although informal settlements are generally perceived as a purely residential issue, it is important to note that there are many other problems associated with them, such as: lack of identity documents, lack of access to infrastructure, lack of access to social services, overcrowding or the fact that the phenomenon is increasing by the day.
According to the current legislation, without property papers, a person can only get a temporary identity document valid not more than one year, after which it must be renewed.
The consequences for those who don’t have identity papers are serious: without them, the risk of social exclusion increases, and any relationship with public authorities becomes very difficult. It is a legal practice that during an interaction with various local public authorities, citizens are assigned based on the address on their identity card.
In addition, because many informal settlements are located outside the city and therefore are not included in the general and zonal urban plans, access to public infrastructure is more difficult and often absent: the authorities have no tools to prove the need of expanding the road infrastructure, water or sewage systems, etc., and people in such a situation have no paper to claim their rights. Access to electricity is also very difficult as any contract with electricity suppliers requires a property document.
People living in informal settlements can’t take a job legally and can’t sign any formal contract, which leaves them without adequate protection against abuse. In addition, people who can’t get identity papers will not benefit from any kind of social service (social assistance, education, medical assistance), except for emergency medical assistance.
Restricted access to social services makes the situation worse for these people, who often live in overcrowded conditions, which increases the risk of illness and/or injury. According to European statistics, Romania has the highest overcrowding rate in Europe (48.8% compared to 23.7% in Lithuania or 2.4% in Cyprus) and is ranked first regarding severe housing deprivation (DSL) – a benchmark for poor housing conditions.
investments in providing infrastructure and services to those living in informal settlements, to increase the quality of their life and to reduce the risks to health and safety (eg. access to water and sewerage, road infrastructure, security and regularization of the banks of water, waste collection etc.). These measures are described in the literature under the term “slum upgrading“, especially designating modernization measures of the infrastructure;
“formalization“ programs that involve the elimination of the state of informality of land and constructions through support in the granting of property titles, authorizing constructions etc. These types of measures have the role of increasing the security of employment, of facilitating the provision of identity documents and accessing services, allowing taxation, evaluation, commercialization and insurance of the property etc. Theoretically, the formalization process would also involve correcting the urban planning of the area by eliminating the constructions non-compliant or located in unsafe areas, widening the road width to allow safe access etc. actions that in practice probably involve the most difficulties in implementation.
The most common public policy measures used to address the urban problems associated with informal settlements in the UNECE region:
Action guides for regulating informal settlements dedicated to local public authorities and communities living in informal settlements are available here.
If you know of any informal settlement in Romania, please fill out this form. In-depth knowledge of the scale and effects of the problem is the first step for identifying the adequate solutions.
You can find more information about informal living in Romania in the Resources section or here.
If you have any further questions about this phenomenon or additional information which could help clarify the issues mentioned above, please do not hesitate to write to us .