Chapters
Chapters

by Diana Oncioiu

photographs by Zora Iuga

You climb down a couple of stairs. It’s dark. You don’t even need light because the smell is your guide. Damp is ruling everywhere. With every stair climbed down you feel it in your nostrils stronger and stronger. As you reach the corridor, you can barely breathe anymore. There is a strange mix of damp and stale air and under the June heat it gets under your skin.

There are doors on both sides. You stop in front of a wooden one on which the white paint has begun to peel off in thin stripes. You open the door and enter. You take two timid steps and you are already in front of the bed that takes up the whole space between two walls laden with damp. There is some space left for a wardrobe on which the door bumps whenever you open it and for another piece of furniture that fills up the space left between the bed and the wall.

Light creeps through a windowpane above the bed. The windowpane is framed by two religious icons. A string used for drying the linen or as a storing and hanging space, crosses the room. Everything is squeezed in and stifling. The only chance of fitting four persons into this space is to have two stay on the bed and other two standing, glued to the door.

Here, live not four, but three people: Mariana P. and her two children, Adrian (10 years old) and Ioana (6 years old).

The space they live in is literally a `lumber room`. It is a tiny little room, crammed, dark, set up in the buildings` basement. It neighbours other rooms where owners of the apartments above store things like tires, potatoes, boxes, cardboards – basically everything that can be taken out of an apartment and kept in a basement.

For Mariana and her children a room like this, measuring less than 9 square meters, is called `home`. The three of them are neighbours with two other men living there as well. They all have their own lumber rooms.  The shared bathroom is on the darkened hallway, having a toilette and a tap through which only cold water flows.

Not even statistics count these people. Among the data of the National Institute of Statistics the `living space` category leaves out the so-called `storage closets and lumber rooms`.  In Romania the official statistics report that a person has on average over 10 square meters of living space. But statistic is not about everyone.

Mariana from DS1

Mariana P. is 41 years old. As a child she was thrown on the streets by her parents. She doesn’t even know where exactly she was abandoned. From there she made it to different childcare centres – at Periş, Tâncăbeşti and Braşov. She lived for a longer period of time in a centre on Mihai Eminescu Street, in Bucharest’s District 2.

For seven years she lived with the father of her children. She left him when Adrian was 4 years old and she was pregnant with Ioana. Mariana left when the beatings were not directed only at her, but at her boy too. Without too much of a choice Mariana came back to the place where her parents had left her – on the streets. For a while she tried to find shelter there. She was sleeping with Adrian in Cişmigiu Park. From time to time people were bringing them warm blankets and something to eat. Sometimes, when it was raining, they were even allowed to sleep inside staircases.

Mariana`s salvation was the basement’s lumber room on Ferentari Street number 72. She’s been living here for six years now. The lumber room belongs legally to Ilie L., a 75 years old man that bought it in 2007 from an apartment owner. He has been living here since. And then Mariana came.

The old man offered to help Mariana after finding her on the streets. In order to accomodate her, he had to move in in with his children. He still comes back to the lumber room from time to time, especially when he has a fight with his family. When that happens, Ilie stays here for a couple of days before going back to his kids.

Even though she lives in District 5, Mariana takes her children to school in District 2. They wake up at 6 a.m. and change three means of transportation in order to get there. First she leaves Ioana at school and then the boy; they learn at different schools. She’s also the one who picks them up from school; first the girl, then the boy. She is a woman of faith, who has always found a refuge in the church.

It was more of a spiritual nature: Mariana enjoyed listening to the church service. She still does. She never knew if she had been baptized and so she recently decided to do it at 41 years old in order to put an end to this doubt. She was baptized in mid-June 2016. The thought of her christening, even if it was done so much later, gives her peace of mind.

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Mariana (on the right) preparing to be baptized.

Mariana is not working anymore. `How can I put it… sometimes I have these crises from my head, do you understand? I feel sick and I fall down. I had been working for some time cleaning staircases. But now I need to take care and not bend too much. This is because since we were kids we had been treated harshly. They were beating us and forcing us to sleep with the blankets over our head. This is how life was in state centres.`

Mariana has an invalidity pension of 270 RON (60 euros). She receives the children`s allowances too, valued at 160 RON (35 euros), together with the scholarships they receive from school, totalling up to 500 RON (110 euros). Adrian and Ioana are among the best in their classes.

Ilie accepted Mariana as a legal tenant so that she can have an identity card issued. She didn’t have one and the Romanian law requires having residency in order to give you an ID. On Mariana`s identity card it is written Ferentari Street no. 72. The rest of the details you would normally expect to see on a Romanian ID are missing – no block entrance, no apartment number. However the mistery seems to be solved on the monthly expenses board that can de found in the block’s ground fall hallway. The lumber room hosting Mariana and her children is listed as DS1 (Underground floor 1). In this way the administration can collect the room’s monthly expenses that vary between 70 and 100 RON (15-20 euros).

`We don’t have any problems as long as we pay them. They have no reason to kick us out`, says Mariana. They do not interact too much with the neighbours above. She only knows an old lady who brings some sweets to her children from time to time. Mariana doesn’t want to disturb anyone with her presence. She is just thankful her neighbours above `tolerate us`. This is why she never complained that Ilie is counted in as well when it comes to determining the room’s monthly expenses` cost. Ilie never comes to stay more than a few days in a row.

`We have to be ok, to pay everything in time. Otherwise there could be a reason for kicking us out. They might sue us and then we are back on the streets again`, concludes Ilie.

The basements at no. 72

Ferentari Street number 72, where Mariana lives, is not located `in the ghettos`. Instead, this is a boulevard few meters away from a crossroad with one of the main streets of the neighbourhood. Buharest’s centre is only four kilometres away. The situation is basically `hidden` before everyone`s eyes.

Before entering on the lane at number 72 you bump into a freshly painted police office.  After you pass by the office, on both sides of the lane there are a host of red blocks of flats. They are old buildings built in 1949 within the height category officialy designed `S+P+3E`, where `S` is the basement – the place where the lumber rooms are located. A place that hosts people next to mice.

Ten years ago four children died stuck in a lumber room on Ferentari Street, at entrance 4A, in a fire that broke out from a candle. They had been living in the basement for more than two years together with their mother, who left them unattended on the night between the 13th and 14th of November 2006. Do you remember the Intifada from Ferentari? Five years after, in 2011, another three children died in an attic in Ferentari, because of a fire that broke out from a short-circuit on the improvised electrical wiring. Living in Ferentari in improvised spaces is the only option for Bucharest’s poorest inhabitants. Otherwise they would sleep in the open air. `Improvisation` does not only bring a roof above their heads, but also unknown dangers waiting right around the corner. Under these conditions survival is mostly a matter of luck. For those living in lumber rooms life is played on the Russian roulette with authorities standing idly by.

The block of flats 4A is the last on the lane opening up at number 72 on Ferentari Street. It has three entrances, 24 apartments and almost as many lumber rooms. In the basement of 4A where children died 10 years ago some 30 persons live now.

Adrian Chiriac has been the administrator of the block of flats 4A for the past two years. He knows lumber rooms are for storing things not people, but he shrugs his shoulders saying he can`t do anything about it. This is a situation passed down to him from the previous administrator. When he took over those people were already there, in the basement. He doesn`t think that charging them with the monthly expenses is illegal, because after all people living in lumber rooms use water too and throw litter too. However, it can be considered immoral agrees Adrian Chiriac.

Things changed for the better, he claims. A lady that used to live in a 4 square meters lumber room was paying for the monthly expenses around 300 RON ( 65 euros), only because the pipes of Radet (the public heating company) were passing through her `match box`. The new administration doesn`t do that – they only charge her 30-40 RON.

District 5 authorities know about the situation of the inhabited basements on Ferentari Street no. 72. The district city hall surely knows about it – at least starting with 2006, when four children died there. The authorities also know about the situation from people like Adrian Chiriac. As block administrator he was summoned by the town hall for explanations. People living in basements were asking for social assistance and the authorities were trying to check up on their situation. The representatives of the town hall reproached the administrator that he and the flat owners` association were responsible for not kicking them out.

The town hall can`t do anything for them – this is what he was told. The administrator sued all lodgers from the `S`-es. He has currently won 14 trials in court.

Inside the basements on 72 Ferentari you are either a tenant or an owner. In order to transform a lumber room into a living space an owner needs a special construction permit from the city hall. There is a decision of a court in Romania according to which transforming a basement into a living space is similar to constructing a new living structure. The argument is that moving people into a basement room alters the primary scope of the underground space – to deposit goods, not men, women and children.

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View into a basement hallway: couple of stairs you don`t have to climb up, but rather climb down

Foto: Zora Iuga

According to the law altering the primary scope of a space can only be done with the consent of the executive committee of the flat owners` association and with the agreement of the owners directly affected (meaning those located near the space in question). Additionally it is compulsory for that space to comply with the basic terms from the living spaces law- that is to have at least 18 square meters, a kitchen, a bathroom and access to utilities.

In the case of failure to comply with these conditions the owners` agreements should have no value. The law clearly provides that city halls are obliged to verify prior to releasing construction permits whether these provisions from the law are abode by or not.

Adrian Chiriac admits that no lumber room inside the block of flats 4A has a permit issued by the city hall. Regardless of it those spaces are sold, bought and rented as actual living spaces. Adrian Chiriac discovered for example that the selling and buying of two lumber rooms inside his building was done through a notary whose right of practicing the profession had expired two years before. So it comes as no surprise that 9 square meters are referred to in this situation as a `living space`.

Two entrances away from the block of flats 4A, on 72 Ferentari Street at 1C the owner of a lumber room is foreclosed. His lumber room is now put up for auction. In the foreclosure executor`s ad, the following things are listed:

`The lumber room is situated in the basement of a building built within the height category `Ds+P+3E`, destined for living, with access to a shared bathroom, connected to electricity and water, with a usable area of 9 square metres. (…). The starting auction price is 13.534 RON (3000 euros).`

Contacted by Dela0.ro and asked how is it possible for a lumber room to be put up for auction as an actual living space, the executor starts to justify himself: `I don`t have the file at hand right now. Are you sure it is sold as a living space? You are right, it doesn`t fulfil the requirements under the law, but that is none of my business. My business is to recover the claim. An evaluation was performed and I wrote in the ad what I had received from the expert.`

The one in charge with the evaluation justifies himself, too: `Yes, you can`t really view it as a living space, but this is how it was listed in the land register. I took the data from there. It is very possible that in the 50s or 60s their scope might have suffered alterations. This practice was very common in those times. `

Enquired about the access to utilities that is unavailable in the basements on 72 Ferentari Street, the executor justifies himself again: `I didn`t have access to the lumber room. The evaluation is carried out based on the information received from the administrator, who told me that the lumber rooms even have heating.`

On social housing

Life in the basement is not at all the exception to the rule in Ferentari. It is rather an alternative for people living on the verge of extreme poverty. People socially excluded with the tacit consent and notice of the society they live in. In 2009, out of the total new homes in Romania, only 4% were for social housing needs – that means destined for the vulnerable groups. In 2013 the percentage dropped under 2%.

Theoretically speaking Mariana P. – a single woman with two children, disabled, coming out of a foster care institution – should benefit from social housing. Practically her file would never be on the list of the commission analyzing the cases of persons in need of social housing. This is because of how the allocation system of social housing is designed. Changing it would mean wrestling with a monster with several heads to chop off. Nobody really wants to take up this battle.

Until then Mariana (41 years old), Adrian (10 years old) and Ioana (6 years old) live in a lumber room of a couple of square metres, in a basement where even mice are running out of space because of the people around.

The body in which the system is thoroughly described

According to the law, social housing means `a living space let at low subsidized rents to people and families whose economic situation prevents them from affording to own or rent a property on the current market`s terms.`

The law also determines the categories of persons that can benefit from social housing:

  • Persons and families evicted or on the verge of being evicted from properties retroceded to previous owners
  • Young people under 35 years old
  • Youngsters coming from foster care institutions who have turned 18 years old
  • Disabled persons (grade 1 and grade 2 on the disability grading scale)
  • People with other disabilities
  • Retired persons
  • Veterans and war widows
  • Beneficiaries of the law honouring the martyr-heroes and fighters that contributed to the victory of the Romanian Revolution in December 1989
  • Those who suffered because of the anti-communist uprising that took place in the city of Brasov in 1987

In total, there are ten categories of people who can benefit from social housing.

The criteria and the scores based on which the requests submitted for social housing are prioritized are being determined by local councils and the general council of the capital city.  For example, in District 2 a person coming out of a foster care institution receives 40 points. If you are married you receive more points than a divorced. The score goes up with every child you have. If you have a bachelor`s degree you receive 30 points; if you have a master`s degree, another 40 points. In case you only graduated the elementary school you receive 5 points.

`There are no housing policies taking into account first and foremost, people`s vulnerability and then, whom we consider fit for living in towns - that is, nice professional young people with a higher-education degree. The current situation is the result of a certain ideology concerning who deserves to be part of the city and who does not.` Ioana Vlad, CFHR

Ioana Vlad from the Common Front for Housing Rights believes that some criteria set by local councils are absurd. `There are some criteria that seriously limit people`s eligibility. Somehow this points toward the very idea local authorities have regarding who is entitled to this type of housing and who is not. ` Ioana draws attention to the fact that in most cases vulnerable persons applying for social housing are not educated, so they get few points on that score.

Florina Presadă from the Resource Centre for Public Participation believes that based on these urbanistic criteria, seemingly fine at first glance, you actually cause an even greater exclusion. `When it comes to granting social housing this shows us there`s a meritocracy mindset behind. It`s who deserves it, not who needs it. `

Perpetually under consideration

In Bucharest, the social housing file can be submitted at two locations: the district`s city hall and/or Bucharest`s City Hall. The file consists of approximately 20 types of forms, records and other papers that need to be filled and submitted, then updated on a yearly basis. After that everything in the file is being evaluated by a commission in charge with issuing the priority list. This list is subsequently voted by the local council or the general council.

Inside Bucharest`s City Hall there is a `Commission for evaluating special social cases`. It was managed until recently by Ionel Deaconescu. This commission receives all social housing files, but not all are being reviewed – just the ones which are complete (meaning they have all the requested forms, records and other papers). The rest are put on the waiting list.

`If the salary certificate or the address of the office where they pay their taxes is missing we cannot review the file`, says Ionel Diaconescu explaining why a request filed in 2010 could end up being reviewed in 2016. And well, this is the most fortunate of cases. There are files submitted in 2007 which are going to be reviewed when all the necessary papers are included.

The same file can be reviewed and graded based on different criteria. In District 5 people having already requested social housing have always been advised to submit a file to Bucharest`s City Hall too, because District 5 has no social housing available. By law district city halls do not have patrimonial rights. They can only review files, put together priority lists and then wait to receive the list with available housing from the Property Fund Administration.

However, the waiting has no deadline. For example, in the last five years District 6 has not received any list with available housing from Bucharest`s City Hall, despite the fact that the level of requests has steadily reached 384 (with the majority coming from evicted tenants or from tenants threatened with eviction). District 2 has been assigned nine social housing facilities in the last five years, with currently 892 requests on the priority list.

Social housing facilitates offered by Bucharest`s City Hall to the district city halls are managed by the Property Fund Administration. PFA manages not only social housing, `having as object of activity the management, selling, repairing and maintenance of the state-owned and Bucharest`s property fund. `

No one knows exactly how many housing facilities does PFA manage, since the institution refuses to answer any public enquiry. Actually they refuse any type of conversation saying that none of their representatives can talk to the press without a prior consent from the city hall of Bucharest. Such consents are processed without any due time constraint. Dela0.ro has requested PFA`s point of view in mid-June. Until this article`s publication the `consents` were not granted.

`When people are left at the mercy of chance and no one sets in place an accessible mechanism for them, but rather build an entire system on procedures that leave them out, you cannot expect to achieve good results.` Bogdan Suditu, housing policies expert

For Bogdan Suditu, lecturer at the University of Bucharest and an expert in housing policies, the PFA is a classic example of non-transparency. However, the institution represents only a small part in this burdensome mechanism of assigning social housing. Before even talking about procedures, Suditu believes, we need to understand firstly that Romania lacks a housing policy.

He thinks that such a policy would require harmonization of the legal and financial instruments for solving critical problems or for guiding the population towards a certain type of housing facility. `On one hand, we have a legislation somehow similar to the definition of social housing existing at the European level, but on the other hand we have a myriad of laws contradicting and rendering it inapplicable`, says the expert in housing policies.

But let`s get back to Ferentari. The lecturer believes that Ferentari is a very representative case for the ineffectiveness of the country’s housing policies as well as of the ineffectiveness of the legislation concerning social housing in Romania. `Ferentari represents a cluster of spatialized social problems as a result of the State taking no action for the last 30 years. `

Suditu thinks that when dealing with cases such as the ones in Ferentari, having some kind of social policy isn`t enough. It has to go hand in hand with an urban policy, which means demolition, renovation and relocation. Refusing to take any action leads only to problems adding up. Ultimately that would mean the condemnation of yet another generation.

The end in which the dangers of eviction become the norm

When we entered Iacob Andrei Street in Ferentari it was hot and the clock had slightly passed over 5 o`clock in the afternoon. Everything was soaked up in silence. No one on the streets, except for an old lady sitting quietly in the shade, guarding the entrance of a block of flats. The type of woman who knows who you are, whom are you visiting and for how long you’re staying. And if she doesn`t know, she asks. So she asked us what were we doing there and after that she offered us some directions.

In the block of flats guarded by the curious grandma live Cristina L. and her daughter Claudia.

Cristina's studio

Cristina has been living in the small studio for 25 years now. The studio was given to her father to use as work accomodation. In the first years he lived there alone. As an abandoned man he couldn`t take care of Cristina and her sister, so the girls were raised up by their grandmother in Ialomita county. They came to Bucharest only when Cristina was in the 6th grade at school. For the last two grades she studied at the same school her daughter studies at now. Claudia is about to finish the 6th grade. Cristina also has a 16 years old boy. He choose to stay with her husband after they divorced.

After losing her father and mother at the beginning of the 2000s, Cristina continued to live in the studio on Iacob Andrei Street. In the last 25 years the rents has been varying from 6 RON to 20-30 RON (5-7 euros). Cristina has no idea how much the rent is now, because she hasn`t been paying it for a while. She heard that it jumped up to 150 RON (35 euros). The same is with the monthly expenses, which steadily accumulated. Cristina owes more than 10.000 RON (2200 euros).

Cristina had a tough choice to make between paying the rent and buying the medicines Claudia needs. She chose the medicines. Claudia has a severe congenital heart defect. Even if part of the medicines are reimbursed, Cristina still has to pay 200 RON (45 euros) every month for them.

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There were days when they went hungry in order to afford buying Claudia`s treatment. But now the medicines are no longer a source of worry. Starting with the 24th of November 2015 Cristina has been working as a caretaker in a kindergarten. For the first time she knows what it means to work legally with a working contract. When she is not at the kindergarten you can find her cleaning three blocks of flats to earn some extra money.

The studio where Cristina and Claudia live is rated as a `comfort 3` one. It has 16 square meters – which is less than what the law of living spaces provides (meaning at least 18 square meters). Before entering the main room you walk through a narrow hallway on which the girls have lined up nicely the few pair of shoes they have. From the hallway, the bathroom can also be accessed directly. A curtain fixed with some safety pins divides the hallway from the rectangular shaped room. There is little space in it so you can only find there a bed, a small table, a chest of drawers, a wardrobe, the fridge and two religious icons.

The room is also separated from the kitchen through a curtain. In the kitchen we bump into an old cooking stove and a cupboard where the washed dishes are piled up messily. There`s no sink. Instead, the space is filled up by a large canister for pickles that Cristina got from some neighbours. Out of the container a hose comes up. In order to turn the water tap on Cristina climbs up on a chair. There`s no other way. The tap is placed too high. She could leave it open, but the canister would quickly fill up and spill over.

For Cristina a `better life` would mean to feed Claudia every day and to dress her up. Claudia having her own room would be also great. At the moment all of these seem impossible, so she is thankful she can finally buy Claudia from time to time at least some of things she needs. She couldn`t afford it until now. After she got separated from her husband, Cristina was left alone with her two years old daughter, buried in debts. She even got the electricity cut and for five years she refused to steal it. A neighbour volunteered to set up a bulb wire for her. She said no. Cristina was scared of ending up in prison. So she had no other choice than to learn how to do things in the darkness.

For a time they didn`t even have a cooking stove or a gas cylinder. Cristina has found a solution, though- `I had to find somehow a way to warm up the water and bathe the girl. Yes, we are poor, but we never had lice. We found a large thick pot and we made fire in it and above we used to place a grating. That`s how we were warming up the water. In the summer we were placing the pot under the sun and the water got warmed up from the heat outside.` But then came the neighbours` help – first, the cooking stove, a very old one which could be easily mistaken for a heating stove.

`After I got the cooking stove it took a while until I got the gas tank too. So we had to do without it for a period. I had an old wardrobe. I took the drawers, I cut them in stripes and I fired them inside the cooking stove to boil the water. Such a black smoke came out…`

Cristina didn`t want to beg either. She worked at a soda bottling plants, then gathered scrap metal from the streets which she sold. `I was carrying the scrap metal with a sack. That I could do. The problem was when I had to put it down – it kind of got heavier when I would leave it down and take it up again`, says Cristina smiling. When she couldn`t find any job, she was lucky to have people from whom she could borrow money or lucky to have neighbours who would help her. She considers herself lucky for not being forced to beg. Therefore she doesn`t judge those who do it. After all, she thinks, it`s better to ask on the street for money than to steal.

When we left Iacob Andrei Street it was even hotter. Two hours passed by so quickly as if they were but a second. Silence was no longer reigning in the neighbourhood . It was noisy and bustling. Young mothers were walking their children in strollers, two little girls were in front of the entrance playing on a mobile phone, while outside several women were sitting among the colourful clothing hung on the drying racks. From the open windows you would hear from time to time a dog barking or see a cat shyly sticking her head outside.

Conclusions in which shrugged shoulders are foreseen

On the outskirts of Ferentari one of Romania`s social dramas is unfolding in unseen ways. Hundreds of people don`t know if tomorrow they will have a roof above their heads. Their stories are a mix of all the ingredients of a social disaster: personal misfortune, fishy businesses, authorities` indifference and society`s ignorance as a whole.

On Iacob Andrei Street, where Cristina lives, there are 18 block of flats with 150 studios and 6 flats. They are all housing social cases. And they belong to a private company. In 2014 the company managing the real estates went bankrupt. All 156 families living there were notified by the company about the termination of the renting contracts. The studios and the flats had to be evaluated by a liquidator, which set the price at 5,000 EUR. An amount impossible to pay by any tenant on Iacob Andrei.

In February 2016 Sorin Oprescu, the mayor of Bucharest at that time, promised the City Hall will buy the properties on Iacob Andrei and turn them into social housing. In April 2015, the legal administrator of the company declared for Dela0.ro that no one from the town hall ever contacted him in this respect.

A year later none of the flats on Iacob Andrei were bought by the Bucharest`s town hall, as promised. In the meantime the company came out of bankruptcy. This doesn`t solve the problem of eventual evictions on Iacob Andrei. It only postpones it.

An incapable city hall

Cătălin Câmpeanu and Ionel Deaconescu, general advisors during Bucharest’s 2012-2016 general council term, say that there is an appendix to a decision of the general council which commissioned the Capital’s mayor office to buy the properties on Iacob Andrei Street. Câmpeanu goes even further saying that he himself proposed an amendment to the budget through which one million RON (220.000 euros) would have been allocated for this. The town hall was supposed to set up a commission and start the negotiations.

Deaconescu says on the other hand, that there was no commission set up and that Oprescu`s statements at that time were only political. The ex-general councillor also says that even if it were to do something the town hall has its hands tied. From a legal point of view, the town hall can`t buy those properties without a prior evaluation. If the liquidator asks for 5,000 EUR, but their value is set at 4,000 or 4,500 EUR, the town hall cannot legally purchase them.

Cătălin Câmpeanu draws attention to another problem as well. If the town hall eventually buys the properties on Iacob Andrei, they become social homes. In this case those living there illegally run the risk of being evicted. Their homes would then be given to those who have applied for social housing and are on Bucharest`s town hall priority list. Only those who bought the space or have legal renting contracts could be saved from a possible eviction.

The drama of the tenants living on Iacob Andrei Street illustrates at a smaller scale the drama of several groups of people from Ferentari. All are forced to stay in living spaces that do not comply with law`s provisions. They run the risk of being evicted even from these spaces without being offered any alternative whatsoever.

Nearby Iacob Andrei, in a similar situation are the studios on Livezilor Street. Here is the ghetto in Ferentari. The studios here have a surface under 18 square meters, with no heating or hot water and sometimes even no water at all. Despite all of these they are considered `living spaces` and for some of them people are actually paying rents. Not what one would call serious money, but they still have to pay for sure while authorities turn a blind eye.

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Foto: Silviu Panaite / Dela0.ro

Andra and her two children live in a match box on Livezilor Street. She has been living here starting with 1990. She remembers that it was OK on Livezilor Street at that time. People had curtains at their windows, the block of flats had an entrance door, but things have rapidly changed for the worse in just a couple of years. In 1997 they were left without heating and hot water.

The studio where Andra lives is an ex-property of ICRAL (a housing company from the communist times) that has been taken over by the Property Fund Administration. Andra pays monthly to the PFA approximately 20 RON (5 euros). In 1997 when they were left without heating the tenants gathered signatures and notified the PFA. Andra remembers that the reply was something like this – `PFA owns only one third of the studios from that address, the rest being owned by individuals. Therefore, the institution cannot intervene.`

PFA refused to talk with Dela0.ro about the situation on Livezilor Street. Just as the representatives from District 5’s city hall. No one knows how many requests for social housing are registered in the district. Neither if they have ever been solved. No one knows how many homes are available for social cases within District 5.

While the authorities remain silent people live next to other living creatures in conditions hard to describe. They are not just improvised. They are utterly inhuman and sometimes have dire consequences. When children burned to death in basements everybody took notice – from regular citizens to local and national officials. New dramas are waiting just around the corner in Ferentari. Like the old ones these will also be welcomed with sad astonishment and shrugged shoulders.

Then life will go on.

Update: According to an official reply received by Dela0.ro ten days after publishing this article, District 5 has 730 social housing files registered. According to the Residential Spaces Office inside the district city hall, there are available only 3 social housing facilities and 115 `affordable housing` facilities (which are a type of space that cover essential housing needs like food preparation, rest, education and hygiene.)

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