No Roof for Water

On 4 June I got a telephone call from Toader Constantin, a member of the Roma Party from Focsani, who told me about a community of Roma living in social housing who risked being evicted as a result of the actions of the town hall and the water company, who had gone to court to obtain an enforcement order for supposed outstanding debts on their books.

The next day, I arrived in Focsani for the first time, with the intention of assessing the situation and informing Amnesty and the ERRC about what was going on.

Unlike Eforie Sud, Baia Mare and Caracal, where the town halls made evictions based on local council decisions, in Focsani, the town hall and the water company went to court to obtain an order to evict families supposedly in arrears.

More than 120 children and 100 adults live in the social housing. They all have their own stories and each of them suffers from a very serious social plight.

The oldest among them, after a lifetime of work, can barely survive on social security and although they would like to work, nobody wants to employ them.

Society does not give any second chance to those with a criminal record. This is the situation of a young man who has a horticultural diploma, but because of his record he can’t get the job he desperately wants, not only for himself but for the sake of his three children.

In order not to see his children and wife thrown into the street, the young man opted to pay the supposed water arrears of 2,200 lei. He says that because he does not have enough money to cover the whole sum, he had to donate blood twice in two weeks.
Not even those without a record stand much of a chance of getting jobs, because of discrimination and segregation.

Some of them have signed rental contracts with the town hall; some are still valid, others have expired. According to the practice met in numerous other similar situations, it is possible that the renewal of these contracts is a level by which the town hall tries to influence people’s votes in various electoral campaigns.

But many of them live in rooms vacated by friends or relatives who have gone abroad to work.

To come back to the supposed arrears, I should mention that in the building in question, there is only water twice a day, for two hours. And while the water supply is intermittent on the ground floor and first floor, it doesn’t reach the floors higher than that at all. The tenants have dozens of plastic bottles with they use to transport water from their neighbours’, making daily trips to collect water for washing clothes, cooking and personal hygiene.

In many of the cases that have been taken to court, the water company has not been able to prove any arrears, for which reason the court has already reduced the sums and cancelled a part of the late-payment penalties.

According to the people involved, their rental contracts have been made conditional upon their accepting the water arrears. In other words, in order to have a roof over their heads, they have been forced to accept debts they never incurred and for which they now risk being evicted.

A week later I went back to Focsani to witness an eviction ordered by the court. Robert did not have a rental contract in his own name and was living in a flat he was looking after for a friend, the person named in the contract with the town hall. Although he works for a security company, Robert can only afford social housing for himself and his family. Now, because of arrears that cannot be adequately proven, Robert along with his 19 years old wife Nicuta and their son Luca Nicolas have been thrown into the street.

I understand the principles of social housing and responsibility for certain obligations. But I cannot understand how we can turn an economic problem involving arrears into an infinitely more serious issue of housing, which over the short, medium and long-term results in a genuine nightmare.

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