Mimiu-Catunu REPORT Romania (Ploiesti) 11.2007-07.2009
This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.
A Report on the Conditions of Habitation Synthesis by Ioana Florea / Catalin Berescu Ploiesti, Prahova County, Romania
CONTENTS Ploiesti city is among the biggest urban areas in Romania, with a recent acceleration of the economic development process. Except for the general transition “shock period”, it never had periods of strong economic decay. It lies in the central-south part of the country, north from Bucharest. It represents a railway and road knot, linking Transylvania, Moldova and the south of the country (mainly the Bucharest region). It is worth mentioning that Ploiesti was one of the main industrialized cities in communist Romania, because of its oil resources; thus, now it is surrounded by partially abandoned – partially functional – partially transformed industrial plants and factory buildings. Being a formal industrial center means, at a locative level, that the predominant form of dwelling in the city is the block of flats, made of prefabricated cells – some designed for housing the single workers (“colonists” or work migrants, brought from all around the country, hosted in one room flats) and some designed to host the workers and their families (2-3 rooms flats, with small sizes and standard form). The Census 2002 data note a total population of 232 527 individuals in Ploiesti, among which 5 873 declared Roma. It must be taken into account that the Census data are collected on a household bases – thus the data only include those individuals which have a registered house number and a formal dwelling paper, specifically for Ploiesti. All the other cases are left out of the statistics: people who recently came in Ploiesti and live here, but didn’t formally register their “residence”; people who live in improvised shelters or unidentified
homeless; people who build unauthorized houses and didn’t receive a house number. This is an important aspect that significantly affects the real statistics in bigger Romanian cities. As a formal record of the ethnic affiliation, the Census only registers those Roma who selfidentify/ self-declare as Roma. But, in fact, the hetero-identification performed by key actors (such as the local authorities, the school boards, other decision makers) affects even those Roma who declare/ self-identify as non-Roma. Thus, the hetero-identified records recently operated by the municipality are worth considering: in February 2007, the town hall estimated 18 000 Roma actually living in Ploiesti. Other sources (Roma facilitators) contested this high number, considering that there cannot be more than 12 000 Roma in Ploiesti, including those in mixed families, that even in the private/family life don’t identify as Roma. Anyway, if the estimations are at least to some extent valid, we can say that Ploiesti is the city with the highest rate of hetero-identified Roma population, from the entire country, and a locality with relatively high rate of Roma population. These 2 issues related to statistics are usually present in debates about the Roma, at a national level. In fact, the ethnic aspect is not essential. But it is important from the perspective that poverty is ethicized in Romania and the Roma population has a much higher probability to suffer from poverty - especially around these big cities where the statistics are biased.
The Roma in Ploiesti live both in compact settlements and in mixed areas. But, according to the different sources of data, most of the Roma live in compact, segregated communities (not in the classical sense of the term “community”, but in the sense of similarities and networks existing in these settlements). There are 5 settlements in Ploiesti, inhabited mainly by Roma: Mimiu-Catun, Bereasca, Radu de la Afumati, Boldeni, Rudului. Among all, it is generally agreed that Mimiu presents the worst living conditions, the highest rate of extreme poverty and highest number of social cases – although Bereasca is a much larger Roma
settlement, situated even further away from the city center. There are 2 main general characteristics of the Catun-Mimiu neighborhood: 1. housing segregation, at the southern edge of the city, in an isolated and unfriendly former industrial area and 2. it is composed only of houses. There is only one block with social housing status, at the edge of Mimiu. Actually, it seams that at the municipality level, most of the Roma live in houses, not in blocks – which is worth mentioning, in a city where the blocks of flats are predominant.
Entrance There are 2 entrances into the neighborhood: one from the South, marked by the road (from east to west) that used to go between the factory buildings, now partly abandoned, and a perpendicular smaller road (going up north) following the wall of the former Astra refinery (the main industrial plot). The houses closer to the road belong to the Romanians, who have a higher living standard. As we go further north, the Roma houses appear between the Romanian houses and after about 1 kilometer, the Roma houses become the predominant ones. This first part of the neighborhood is called Catun. The actual Mimiu,
were the houses with the poorest conditions are concentrated, is at the northern part of the neighborhood. Its northern side is limited by the Southern Train Station and the train tracks. The second entrance is from the North, from the train station, across the train tracks. Entering Mimiu from this direction, the first area is the block of social housing and, a little further, the compact houses area of Mimiu. This is actually the entrance from/ towards the city center. Considering the fact that one has to cross the train tracks to get here, it means that one can only walk this way. From this â€œcloserâ€? entrance, the time to walk from Mimiu to the city center (and vice versa) is approximately 40 minutes.
Industrial ruins The general aspect of the neighborhood is of a deserted industrial area. It is quite depressing. The bigger road marking the southern limit, where the school is, goes between former factory buildings, half deserted. The main road going north, limiting the eastern part of the neighborhood follows the wall of the former Astra refinery plot, now the property of the petrol company Lukoil. The Mimiu Street (which gives the name to the neighborhood and marks the western side of the neighborhood) actually separates the houses from an industrial land fill â€“ probably illegal. Catunu (the ethnic and economic mixed area) is separated from Mimiu by
a plot of abandoned petrol tanks. The actual Mimiu settlement, the northern enclave of Roma households, is surrounded from 3 sides by former industrial buildings. This characteristic of the landscape affects the everyday life. In addition, the industrial ruins are not ecologically disassembled. Thus, the high level of toxicity implied by their presence is a worrying aspect. On the other hand, the presence of the ruins offers a source of income for the poorest inhabitants, who collect the scrap materials â€“ either for selling them or for improvising their own shelters with the recovered materials.
Estimators of the demographic dimensions Most of the Roma in Mimiu self-identify as Roma â€“ but probably most of them were not registered in the 2002 Census (because of the registered residence issue or because they were somewhere else at that time). In the last few years, Mimiu suffered from a high level of internal migration, more poor people coming here in search of an (improvised) shelter, as most of them had to leave their apartments in Ploiesti (for different reason).It is worth mentioning that the different sources of demographic estimations for Mimiu do not correspond: the Census 2002 data do not correspond to the data provided by town hall representatives in a national survey in February 2007 neither to the data offered by the Soros Foundation informants nor to the data offered by the Romany teacher (from School no 19), who knows the neighborhood well. All these data differ significantly from each other. We consider a realistic estimation to be of about 900 individuals permanently living in Catun-Mimiu area, in about 200 households/locative spaces. The population is rather young, the average age being somewhere under 40 years.
DATA Despite the fact that there are 2 entrances in the neighborhood, there arenâ€™t any means of public transportation coming at least closer to it. Even the bigger roads limiting the area are in a bad condition. Only the main inner roads are paved, the rest being just mud paths. Reason why, when it rains, the cars cannot enter the neighborhood â€“ nor the ambulances, if needed. When it rains, the mud roads represent a problem for the people who try to walk the area, as well. The main transportation form for the dwellers is walking. Some dwellers also have bikes, usually in a very poor state. More members of the same family share the bike alternatively. Even more families share the same bike, if needed. The bikes are used to carry different materials for the household, as well. The rudimentary barrows are sometimes used for transportation of repair materials and heating fuels. At present, a plan for the urban regeneration of Catun-Mimiu is in work, in the frame of a present PHARE program. The main plan is: to use the Hippodrome (now an abandoned area, in the south east of CatunMimiu) as a developing center/ point and to link it with the Southern train station, with roads passing through Catun-Mimiu, thus intending to transform Catun-Mimiu into a popular passing/ intermediary area. The future of this plan is still very uncertain â€“ manly because of the local authorities political/ economic interests.
DATA History of the settlement First dwellers Many Roma in the community and other Roma from Ploiesti, who used to live here till recently, tell stories of the first generation on Roma, inhabiting the same area about 140 years ago. Many of the present dwellers claim to be the offspring of those first settled Roma or to have bought the land directly from them. These stories of continuity have no formal prove – neither in the local authorities’ records, nor in the family papers. In addition, in most urban areas in Romania, it is hard to follow the continuity of the Roma, it is hard to keep traces of the first Roma settlements and it is hard to imagine that there even was a strong family continuity – mainly because of the intensive inner migration produces by the communist system. It is said that quite some Roma houses were already constructed in the area before the Second World War. During the war, a nearby refinery was being bombed, thus the dwellers had to leave their houses – which were totally destroyed. After the war, the people returned and started rebuilding, with the precarious after-war means.
Historic plan 1928
This oral history of Roma continuity in the Mimiu area is mistrusted by the local authorities and even the Roma NGOs in Ploiesti would not necessarily sustain it. Communist period There aren’t any clear records of what happened to the Roma community from Mimiu during those times. Or what happened to the grandparents of the present generation of dwellers. But, as the case in most industrial cities in Romania, probably most of the Roma started working for the Astra refinery, for the oil tanks, or for the boiler-cleaning factory. Usually they were working as unqualified workers, for the lowest wages. But probably most of them received apartments in the city – as almost all workers – and started living in the workers blocks. Thus, Mimiu was quite empty during those times, its population moving in the blocks of flats neighborhoods. Only few people remained here, living in the houses. But it is possible that the migrating Roma families kept their land plots in Mimiu (didn’t sell them).
HISTORY Transition period The fall of the communist regime corresponded with the fall of the big state ran factories and industrial plots. For most of the workers, this meant unemployment, transformed into long term unemployment – because of their poor labor flexibility, low level of qualification and education, and because the instability of the new labor market. The workers apartments were either sold on the free real estate market, either sold for the former workers (some were allowed to buy their houses really cheap in the early ‘90s), and few of them transformed into social housing blocks. The transition found the Roma from Ploiesti in all these situations: living in social housing blocks; buying the cheap former factory-owned flats in which they were living as factory employees; buying apartments in flats, from the free market; renting flats from other owners; still living in the old family houses. Although in the early ‘90s most of the Roma had apartments in blocks, the high rent costs pushed the poor further and further to the edge of the city, in smaller and smaller apartments, or back to their parental houses, in the outskirts of Ploiesti. Even flat owners were pushed away – by the high upkeep costs of the flats and debts added in time (because of unemployment and scarce sources of income): thus, they sold their apartments in the city, moved in the marginal houses areas, hoping to pay their debts and to make a living in these cheaper neighborhoods. In short, most of the former workers, becoming unemployed (a lot of Roma being in this situation), had to sell their better flats, move away from the center, then sold again and moved to smaller flats, and sold again till they arrived in areas such as the marginal neighborhoods, Mimiu being the worst of them all, from Ploiesti region. In parallel, during transition the rents started to rise. Thus, the poor (a lot of Roma being in this situation after the massive transition “disponibilisations”) couldn’t afford the rent in the city and most of them found shelter in the marginal segregated communities, such as Mimiu. In conclusion, Mimiu started growing and gathering more and more families who remained without any other housing options in Ploiesti. As any poverty enclave, it generates an inner flux of even more poverty. This is not a unique case or a unique scenario in Romania: almost all big cities, former industrial centers, have an equivalent of Mimiu, at different stages of poverty. The Roma population is significantly higher in these neighborhoods than in better of residential areas. Of course, in time, there were families who managed to find better places or who moved in rural areas and sold the houses in Mimiu to other “new comers”. This process never stopped, but the reverse process is much more intensive in the last years.
Historic plan 1954
Legal status -the land As we will outline several times in the content of this report, the formal status of the property documents is the most critical aspect of the entire situation in Mimiu. The vulnerability of the people in Mimiu lies precisely in this juridical aspect. One on hand, the present dwellers claim that the land where they built houses belongs to their ancestors, dating before the war. But there are no formal documents, nor from the time of the first settlements, nor from the more recent land transactions. The only documents are the hand receipts for some transactions – and even these are not to be found in all cases. Fortunately, for the moment nobody else claims these pieces of land. But the local authorities did not officially recognize the property rights of the people – al least not yet. So, for the moment, the official status of the entire area is “private property” belonging to Ploiesti municipality. The official attitude is “tolerance”. But this tolerance is a very unstable status. The people themselves cannot pass through the process of legalization on their own: first of all, because of the costs, secondly because of the low access to juridical and procedural information, third because the final decision of legalization is made at the municipality level – it is, after all, a political decision of the local authorities.
The team of urban regeneration expert for the PHARE program stated, off the record, that the petrol company Lukoil has in property some of the surrounding lands of Catun-Mimiu and probably also the petrol tanks that separate Catun from Mimiu. And the expansion plans from such an important investor would have priority on the municipality agenda; in other words, if Lukoil would decide to buy the entire industrial plot, the municipality would sell Mimiu, together with the former factory buildings, to Lukoil. And the people would just have to migrate somewhere else, without receiving any damage payments what so ever. Except for this continuous state of uncertainty, the negative effects of the unsolved legal status are: impossibility to connect to facilities, difficulty to obtain a permanent ID, which further leads to difficulties in obtaining a social help file, to register for medical insurances, to obtain a formal job. Legal status -the houses As in the case of many poor communities in Romania, in which the house is the main form of dwelling, the houses don’t have construction documents or building authorizations. For most of the houses in Mimiu, such an authorization would never be given, under the proper procedure; mainly because of the high costs of the procedure and because the precarious state (far below the legal standards) of the buildings – not to forget about the legal status of the land, in the first place. Thus, even with the support of the local authorities to legalize the land property, the formalization of the houses status would be even more complicated and time consuming. It is worth mentioning that already in late November 2007 the people had found out, from rumors, about an intervention plan being designed for their region and started to fear that they will be evacuated. Despite the harsh conditions in which they live, the people would rather know that Mimiu is the place where they could really settle and try to make a living.
HOUSING Infrastructure We will discuss here the case of the families living in houses, in Mimiu – as they represent most of the dwellers in the neighborhood. In parallel, we will present the situation of Catun side. Water For any settlement the water sources are vital: first of all drinking water, with proper quality control, is vital for life and health, secondly enough water for washing, laundry and dish washing is vital for health and hygiene. Unfortunately, the water sources are a real problem in Mimiu. And this situation should be considered a priority, a real emergency, and solved – by external factors, as the community doesn’t have enough resources to solve it. Actually, according to the operating laws, the responsibility for installing infrastructure networks belongs to the municipality. For the about 600 people living in the actual Mimiu enclave, surrounded by the 3 abandoned factory buildings, there are only 3 water pumps, installed in the yards of 3 chosen households. It is impossible to dig wells in the area, because of the former refinery – the land is infiltrated with petrol. So, the only way for the people to get water is to queue in the yards of the 3 households that have water pumps. The 3 households were chosen by the water distributor (APANOVA company) and one informal local leader. The perverse effects of such an arrangement are quite significant: first of all, the local leader is not recognized by all the dwellers and is not necessarily in good relation with many of them; thus, his choice of the 3 families doesn’t necessarily represent the interest of the community. Secondly, the chosen families are not in good relations with all the others; thus, some families can be disadvantaged or even blocked access to water. Thirdly, it is physically almost impossible for so many households (about 200) to share not more than 3 water sources – for drinking, washing and domestic activities. We were told that most of the households are restricted to take only 10 liters of water from the “dealers”; this is not enough from covering the family needs. Thus, drinking needs are given priority over hygiene needs – decision which affects the health state of the Mimiu population. Borrowing water from one household to the other is a frequent practice among neighbors.
Electricity The houses closer to the southern road and to the refinery wall have access to electricity. The few roads that lead into the community are with public lighting. But most of the houses in Mimiu are not legally connected to these facilities. The few households who have a contract for electricity allow their neighbors to connect into their network through improvised cables and “pull electricity” for lighting, in return of about 20 euros a month. Other households, that cannot make this kind of arrangement, “pull electricity” from the public lighting power polls. There are entire networks of “borrowed” electricity, with improvised wires. The main use of electricity is for 1 or 2 light bulbs in each household. People resort to these illegal arrangements because otherwise they would have to “stay at the candle light”. The reasons for the situation are complex: not having property documents, necessary for a legal contract for facilities; not affording to pay for the installation; not affording to play the monthly contract payments. Sewage system Neither Catun nor Mimiu are connected to a sewage system. Some households in Catun afford to call the local company for cleaning the septic tank. All the others either built a septic tank in the garden, either use the land fills around. Either way, these practice affect the health of the household members and worsen the situation of the habitat. These improvised arrangements would be normal in rural areas, close to the fields or forests. But in a city, on a formal industrial platform, surrounded mostly by ruins and abandoned buildings, where the ground has lost the regenerating powers, these arrangements become dangerous for the dwellers.
Garbage disposal We could notice a strange mixture between the legal and illegal practices of garbage management. First of all, there is a legal contract with the municipality services for street cleaning. Few of the Mimiu dwellers are hired on the cleanersâ€™ positions. Their area of responsibility is limited to the main roads leading towards the community (the paved roads). Deep in the community, no cleaning company has any jurisdiction. The domestic garbage and the garbage on the community streets (the mud streets) is not collected by anyone. In addition, the entire area is actually an illegal land fill: some near-by small factories and some local garbage collecting companies spill the garbage in the neighborhood of the last row of houses (to the west). There are mostly unauthorized industrial discard and wastes. These add to the old ruins, now in the state of scrap materials. All these polluting factors affect the health of the dwellers. But â€“ ironically â€“ the negative ecologic effect is complemented by a positive economic effect: the illegally spilt industrial waste actually offer scrap materials, to be recuperated and re-sold by the Mimiu poor dwellers.
Heating/cooking installations Mimiu is not reached by the local gas pipes. Some households can afford to buy gas cylinders for heating and cooking. But most of the households in Mimiu use adobe stoves, built by the family members themselves or by helpful acquaintance. The fuels are many kinds: from bought wood, to scrap wood and carton recovered from the industrial waste, from recovered newspapers to even rejected/ thrown textile pieces recovered from the textile plant in Ploiesti, without mentioning plastic and all sorts of flammable garbage. Heating the houses is a real problem in winter. In a city of blocks, where most of the people have access to gas pipes, finding free or at least cheap materials for stove fire is quite a difficult quest. When there is no other option left but to buy them, it means gathering new debts. And it also means that people cook less hot meals, in order to save the fire materials for maintaining a constant supportable temperature in the house. This definitely affects the alimentation. And we have to remember that the school period includes all the cold months of the year (except for the short winter holiday) and that the precarious living conditions at home have a strong influence on the pupilsâ€™ scholar performance. In summer, the cooking is sometimes performed outside, but not many houses have outdoors kitchens or outdoors stoves; most of the â€œsummer installationsâ€? are improvised on metal grills.
Communication facilities There is no home phone connection in Catun-Mimiu, nor any public phone. But most of the households have at least one mobile phone, functioning with pre-paid cards. This is actually one of the reasons for judging the Roma and the poor and for suspecting them of pretending: “they say they don’t have what to eat, but they all have mobile phones”. In fact, the second hand phones bought from the market (stolen merchandise, most
probability) are quite cheap and quite important for the daily workers – they can find out about the onthe-spot job offers only if they can provide a contact number. Some families have TV sets and some have cables – most of them in Catun. People listen to the mobile-phone radios – probably this is the most frequently used/ accessible media in the community.
The household surroundings 1.1.
House position Catun-Mimiu exhibits a mixture of land plots with more houses cramped into each other and of houses surrounded by big empty land plots. Some houses even share the same lateral wall, in order to save building material. Many houses are crowded near the roads, while some internal plots are still empty. But, in the last months, at least 10 new houses were built, thus the empty land plots are slowly being covered by new improvised shelters, but also by houses with a higher standard. 1.2.
Yards There are houses in Mimiu without any limitation mark of their corresponding land plot – without any fence. These are the families living in extreme poverty, who rather use the materials for heating or for house reparations instead of making a fence. The yards are mostly uncovered ground, with just wild plants. Some fences are improvised from scrap iron and wire. The yards are usually small; only the isolated houses, around which no one else built yet, are surrounded by bigger empty plots. Despite their small size, the yards take the function of a living room in summer and have the permanent function of a drier for laundry. In most of the yards, we didn’t notice any animals, fruit trees or vegetables. The better-off households rather build tall fences, in order to symbolically and visually separate from the rest of the poor households. 1.3.
Playgrounds As expected, the children’s play has an improvised nature. There is no such think as a playground, not even in the nearby school’s perimeter. In such a situation, the children play in the mud, in the polluted area. But simply plying is indulging for most of the children – who start helping their parents at work, at young ages; quite a number of children of all ages help their parents in garbage digging for scrap materials and in begging in the city center.
MIMIU-CATUNU 2. Building materials A common characteristic of the building materials in Mimiu is their mixed and improvised nature. The dwellers gather waste materials from the (illegal) land fill nearby, from the city, from the industrial ruins or buy some of the cheap materials – and use them in building and repairing the houses, as they manage to gather materials little by little. They perform the construction and repairs on their own, with the help of neighbors or relatives, who “pity them and help them for free” – otherwise it would be impossible to hire a professional team (for most of the Catun-Mimiu old and new dwellers). 2.1.
Roofs Main materials for building roofs (used in mixed proportions): bitumen cardboards (most of the houses), plastic covers, wood, tin boards fixed with stones or bricks, tiles (not many houses). Of course, there are also few houses, with proper tin roofs, made by professionals (probably from inside the community). The resistance structures are usually made of wood sticks, combined with some thin rafters. The structures are vulnerable, but enough for bearing the thin covers they have to sustain. The bitumen cardboards do not resist long and do not offer much isolation – thus being in constant patching. We could notice that, for quite a few houses, the constructors didn’t know how to actually “close” the roofs, thus there are uncovered gaps at the ends of the roofs. 2.2.
Walls The people in Mimiu recover bricks, concrete blocks, and wood from the former factory buildings, from the waste brought regularly and from the construction sites where they work by day (or simply the leftovers from around the city). Materials frequently used are: adobe (especially the old houses, that were made of adobe and they need continuous patching), wood, recovered bricks, but also BCA, for some of the new houses. The unrepaired gaps between the walls and the roofs are covered with plastic. Some old houses have a porch on one side, which was transformed into a sort of annex or even living room, by closing it with windows. Only very few house were whitewashed with lime this year. 2.3.
Doors and windows The houses in Mimiu have only 1-2 windows, of small size. Most of them are “refurbished” from some other construction sites, from other houses that received repairs. The poorest houses have plastic sheets over the small window frames. The households with better living conditions have curtains, decorations or plants in the window. We could notice many of the doors being in very poor conditions – with holes, with broken windows, not fitting the frame properly, being bended by humidity and age. 2.4.
Floors Most of the houses in Mimiu have no actual floors, but ground covered with plastic, carpets, or refurbished carpet. Thus, the humidity can be quite high. But we also registered cases in which the floors were covered with sandstone; these cases correspond to the families in which at least one member (male) works in a construction team (not necessarily formal, but on a regular bases, receiving many job requests in Ploiesti and Bucuresti), doing roofs or other better paid jobs in constructions.
3. Interiors People are both shy and ashamed to receive visitors inside their homes. Not even the Romany teacher, who has a close relation with most of the Roma families, is invited to enter the houses. Whenever she visits some parents or pupils, in order to find out about their absences or in order to council them on other problems related to school, she is asked to forgive the host, because it is too untidy for an inside chat. For strangers is even harder to get inside. 3.1.
Density and organization of space Both the statistics and the field visits revealed that the average density in Catun-Mimiu is 4 persons per house, in the conditions in which the houses are composed mainly of 1-2 rooms. But if we would consider only the households in Mimiu enclave, the average would rise to 5 persons per house/ room. There are extreme cases of 12 people, from 2-3 generations of the same family, having to share the same room, with only 2 beds. How these families try to make the situation bearable is: they sleep alternatively
MIMIU-CATUNU and they try to sleep at friends’ places. In such extreme situations, the married couple of parents sleeps together with one of the elders (grandparents) and with some (if not all) of the children. These living conditions have negative effects on health and hygiene, work and learning performance, intimacy and, indirectly, introduce a gap between the socialization in such families and the one in better living families. Only few families had enough resources to build separated houses/ rooms for the different generations of the same household or to keep in functional state the 2-3 rooms of the old houses. Thus, the image of the “classical” Roma extended family, with more generations living together, with many children and grandchildren can be seen in Mimiu as well. Actually, this is a portrait valid for most Romanian households living in extreme poverty in the country, but also for the very traditional Roma communities (which, in fact, are the richest). 3.2. Furniture (similar to Lehliu) Many families brought the furniture, carpets, linen, small decorations from the flats where they used to stay. The beds – the main pieces of furniture – are arranged near the adobe stoves. For many households, the furniture is minimalist: for sleeping and cooking. The few furniture articles and household tools perform different functions. For example, the beds are used both for sleeping, eating, and sitting. The beds are usually old, made of wood, with simple structures and covered with quite old blankets. The tables are usually improvised and the chairs as well, if any. The poorest families don’t have any other piece of furniture – the nails in the walls are used as wardrobes and cupboards. But there are few Roma families in Mimiu with a better living standard: more beds with better quality blankets; the pillows are not old; there are wooden chairs and at least a table, wardrobe, mirror and TV set.
Indicators of poverty As many authors (sociologists, anthropologists, social policy theorists, and urban planners) have shown in the last years, the urban poverty has different characteristics and mechanisms than the rural poverty. The extreme, long term/permanent, extended and economically elastic (not affected by the general economic growth of the overall locality) poverty is typical for urban and urban enclave settlements. Except a couple of new cases real estate speculators, all people in Mimiu live in severe or extreme poverty. Catunu is a combination of households over the poverty line, most houses in temporary and severe poverty and only few houses, the ones closer to the actual Mimiu, in extreme poverty.
MIMIU-CATUNU The following lists are not lists of generally applicable indicators, but the ones identified at the level of Catun-Mimiu neighborhood and mainly linked to housing conditions: Severe poverty - some but not enough housing improvements - water in the yard (only 3 households in Mimiu, but more in Catun), which also implies a higher status in the community - electricity and gas (gas cylinders), even if the house is made of precarious materials - medium density - a small variety of furniture (not using the same pieces of furniture for all domestic activities, but having different pieces of furniture for different functions). Extreme poverty - different houses sharing the walls (houses stocked to each other), in order to save construction material - improvised doors that donâ€™t fit in the door frames - impossibility for the ambulance to enter further on the community mud roads - toxicity of the ground (former petrol tanks nearby) - cases of social emergency are only discovered after a longer period (until the social assistance unit acknowledges the case) â€“ lack of communication with the exterior - shame of receiving visits inside the house - TBC suspects.
SEGREGATION 4. The complexity of the situation The housing situation is inter-connected with all the other aspects of the life in a poverty enclave. The precarious housing situation is due to the long term unregistered (unpaid) unemployment and scarcity of income sources. The lack of job opportunities is also due to the low level of education â€“ and, in its turn, generates a low level of educational mobility among generations. The housing situation, in its turn, affects the medical state, the physical performance of workers, the learning resources for the children, the external image of the community. This external image is a key generator of discrimination and social excursion, on the
MIMIU-CATUNU background of ignorance of the entire non-Roma/ non-poor population and especially of the local decision makers. Lack of job opportunities Ploiesti is a big, growing city, thus we cannot talk about a general lack of job opportunities. But at the level of the Roma dwellers, we should consider the fact that there are very few job opportunities for illiterate, unqualified individuals; at least 8 classes of education are requested by the companies in order to obtain a proper employment document, even for work in constructions; especially for unqualified women it is impossible to find work. Agricultural works – which would be a niche for the unqualified – are not required in such a big city. Domestic work opportunities – informal employment of the poorer women, to help in cleaning and maintenance of the better off households – could be found only through connections and recommendation networks, which are not accessible for the almost “untouchables” from Mimiu. In addition, the traditional trading and small handcraft works that the Roma used to do are no longer required on the “free market” of capitalism. There are men who manage to work in better paid construction teams, who are called for jobs in Ploiesti and Bucuresti. There are also few persons working for the public cleaning companies – they are the only ones with a proper labour contract.
Precarious sources of income The following phenomena are a direct outcome of the scarcity of job opportunities: - addiction to social benefits – which are stigmatized and perceived as the sign of laziness. This stigmatization was actually materialized though a decision of the Local Council to grant social benefits only for 2 years in a row. Thus, many families who would have the right to receive this help are considered not eligible anymore - using scrap materials collection as the main source of income – which is actually quite a dangerous work, considering the un-hygienic conditions - using children as workers
MIMIU-CATUNU - begging and performing small infractions, that are rapidly and severely punished by the police (in order to “teach a lesson” for the others) - generation of a key conflict and source of discrimination against the Roma: their debts for upkeep housing costs (such as electricity and, for other poor and ill-famed communities, gas and water) 4.2.
Alphabetization and education Only 30 children attend kindergarten. About 150 children and adolescents go to school – and the abandon is high in the last classes of gymnasium, when the teenagers start working for the family and, in parallel, start thinking of making their own family. Most of the Roma in the neighborhood have about 3-4 classes of school attending and many read and write with difficulty. We mentioned before the school close to the community – School no, 19. on one hand, the easy access to school is a benefic aspect, but on the other hand this means segregation: all the pupils are from the community, no one else registers in this school. In addition, as it usually happens in school from poor and marginal communities, the level of performance of the teachers is much lower. But usually the educational failure is rather thrown on the people’s lack of interest and “special culture” – than to accept the failure of the school methods. The long debated issue of early marriages: actually, in Mimiu, marriage is seen as an escape from taking care of younger brothers, the overcrowded household, the domestic works done for the smaller brothers. Marriage is actually hoping for more intimacy and hoping for a better life. The teenagers get married from choice and love, not forced by any traditions. 4.3.
Health conditions The people in Mimiu suffer from poverty affections, such as skin problems and respiratory problems. Not more than 30% of them have a health insurance and are registered for a family doctor. The reasons are many: lack of IDs, lack of insurance (which should be paid monthly and thus it is not affordable), poor access to 1 information, weak relations to the medical system – despite the fact that there is a health mediator . Most of the dwellers use the medical emergency services of the bigger hospitals, when they need assistance. And in fact they usually ask for medical services only when the situations are severe. The ambulance cannot enter the mud roads when it rains. There is no means of public transportation for the hospital. Family planning is another big issue in such communities. The women don’t seam to know a lot about it, but requested family planning council – which they didn’t receive yet – due to complications at the organizational/bureaucratic level. 4.4.
Mediation structures There is a complicated network of mediators – paid and trained by different NGOs, though different projects. This redundancy is in fact producing more trouble than advantages. And it seams that all of the mediators of facilitators became “experts” in what they do – although some of them are not really well informed about the community’s situation. It seams that the Roma expert in the town hall and the county officer for Roma are not powerful enough, if the Local Council adopts decisions against the poor (which in Ploiesti are mostly Roma). There are 2 officially recognized facilitators – but they don’t live in the community and they are already turning into “experts”, going more on trainings than in the community and starting to judge the poverty of the community in terms of “cultural inadequacy”. There is no school mediator. The Romany teacher from the school in the community does the work of a school mediator, but without being paid. The health mediator made discriminating and essentialising remarks about the Roma in Mimiu, thus proving that he doesn’t understand much of the social exclusion mechanisms. 4.5.
Informal leadership There were 2 informal leaders identified along the research. Both enjoy this role and, in parallel with representing the community, they follow their political and economic interests. Their level of welfare is higher than the average dweller. 4.6.
Level of participation The local authorities complain about the lack of community participation among the Roma in Mimiu. For example, they expected the Roma to have the initiative to put stones on the community road. But what the 1
Who seams rather incompetent and misinformed, from the interview.
MIMIU-CATUNU decision makers/ authorities have to understand is that the volunteering spirit cannot appear in a group of people that worry about their daily bread. The community involvement must be educated through partnership methods. Still, the neighbors help each other, borrowing water, electricity and hosting the poorest (the ones who sleep alternatively, see sub-chapter 7.1). There is another issue rising in Mimiu: some not so poor dwellers adopted the discourse of the very poor, hoping to be positively discriminated. Thus, community participation just at the discursive level has perverse effects. 4.7.
The church There is a church nearby, in Catun. But its relationship with the Roma is quite tensed: the priest suspects the Roma for having committed a recent robbery in his parish. Anyway, the relations have never been warmer. 4.8.
Discrimination Housing and school segregation are the severe indicators of discrimination. As usually in Romania (and not only), the economic problems are takes as ethnic issues – thus the economic discrimination is overlapping the ethnic one. The most frequent stereotypes used at a discursive level in order to “push the blame on the victims” are: - “the Roma never had jobs, don’t have and don’t plan to get any in the future” (local authorities’ representative) - Roma steal and blackmail and trick while trading (local authorities’ representative) - “they are their parents’ children not the children of the state” (municipal school inspector) - “they only follow their own interest, this is what Roma means” (municipal school inspector) - they don’t pay for facilities (the facilities distributors mistrust the Roma) - “they say they are poor but they have mobile phones” (health mediator) - all the institutions and authorities are willing and helpful and try to improve the situation, so it is their fault that they live in misery (all interviews taken by the SOROS researcher, including the SOROS researcher explanations).
Housing rehabilitation plan, Ploieti, Mimiu arch. Catalin Berescu The Mimiu zone is an ethnical and poverty enclave that has to redefine its limits and the relationship with the city center. As it is situated in an area with a potential for development it is under the pressure of speculative investments that can affect the future of a community already affected by an historical process of social exclusion. The community that lives here has a semi-legal status; therefore it is necessary to legalize it as a whole through an official document adopted by a City Council decision. Ideally, according to the Romanian legislation, this would be an Urbanistic Zonal Plan (PUZ). 1. Developing plans for urban retrofitting a) The limits of the zone should include Mimiu, Ctunul, the area in between and the worker’s dormitory situated at the end of the Fabricilor str. These limits should be acknowledged by planners and the area should be consequently addressed as a disadvantaged zone. Redefining the relationship with the center and immedediate vicinity is essential for sustainable planning.
MIMIU-CATUNU b) The area must be reconnected with the center and the future plans for the conversion of the industrial site should be made clear and transparent. c) Plans must be developed in a consultative manner and only following the clarification of the legal status of the area. d) We must insist that the local authorities should consider social housing as a priority. e) The reconfiguration of the area should comprise the reestablishment of the old secondary streets, new alleys and the redesign of some plots in a way that should allow the recreation of normal size plots with regular shapes through a process of exchange of land. f) According to the inhabitants the soil is contaminated with petrol and also occupied in a significant proportion with large stacks of debris. Ecological measures are urgent and part of the redesigning process. 2. Legalizing land property a) The plots have an uncertain status of legality. Despite our interventions and of an initial favorable reaction of the authorities there was no significant result of the inventory action. Recent rumors state that the land belongs to a major oil company who might be interested in the local real estate market. b) Legalizing land should not be made for the existing situation, on the actual sites for all the households. The plots are too small, some houses are placed on the former streets, and some others are grouped in a way that creates a vulnerability to fire. c) The recent project of introducing a water network, before knowing the land property status and organizing the land creates a technical problem for the future development of the area. However, it can be argued that this could help legalizing the land. d) The City must preserve land for public space and public utility objectives, technical facilities and social housing. 3. Legalizing the houses a) Some of the constructions have a fair quality but none of them have building permits. The legalizing process should end with the legalization of the houses. We must insist on the idea that the process must start with the entire area and only end with the houses. The reverse order, often proffered, will only preserve the status qvo and block future development. b) The existing methodology supposes a process of technical expertise that is very expensive and will probably lead to even more expensive measures for reaching the construction standards. There is no alternative legal framework for legalizing in a minimal way an existing construction (e.g. by self assuming the risks). Form a technical point of view, the legalizing process cannot be solved locally but, a solution for including the houses in the tax system can be considered and would lead to the introduction of the houses in the legal framework. Local authorities are opened to a solution. c) Insalubrious constructions should not be legalized. They house families in a deep state of vulnerability therefore addressing the issue just in technical terms are not an option. Repairing houses should not affect people’s life by deepening the crisis. There is a great need to develop plans of relocation for the households that cannot be left to develop on their own or are not suitable for repairments. 4. Community Center The community center should be a public utility of local importance that should be administered by the City. According to our previous contacts with the vice-Mayor, local community and other actors the objective was accepted and we are waiting for a decision for a piece of land to be allocated. Objectives: • • • • • •
Strengthening social cohesion and local identity. Creating a space for socialization for various age groups. Promoting cultural activities. Providing a space for informal, alternative and adult education inside the community. Creating a public space that would enhance the nucleus represented by the church and football field and eventually being able to host a minimal sport facility. Keeping a piece of land that is now squatted indistinctly in the public domain and preserving it as an asset for a future major refurbishment of the area.
The objective: • A hall of approximately 5 x 8 m in witch a table tennis match could happen, or a gathering for about 50 seated people. • A minimal office.
Minimal deposit space Personal hygiene space (shower, toilet, washing machine)
An accentuation of segregation Lack of activities and continuity.
5. The eradication of extreme poverty housing • •
Replacing improper houses with social housing is the only feasible solution. The precarious social situation of the inhabitants should be addressed with complex support measures. Unfortunately, the authorities are not willing to Renovating houses is not a proper option. The quality is too low and. However, some support groups for minimal repairments can be organized in order to help families in difficulty to safeguard themselves and prevent accidents. There are a number of local skilled construction workers that can help for this if remunerated and if minimal materials are provided. Ecological toilets are an emergency.
Published on Oct 22, 2009