In God we trust. All others must pay cash.

“I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.” (Maya Angelou)

Bucharest functions as a magnet, attracting young people in search for better studying and working conditions. Still most of them are paying more than 2/3 of their income on rent and basic accommodation expenses. The rents in Bucharest match the ones in Budapest, Prague and Berlin while the wages are considerably lower. How can this be???

After Romania joined the EU the prices for buying and renting an apartment have dramatically increased. Bucharest became an Eastern European capital with Western European prices.

“At the moment there are a lot of foreign tourists and investors that rent or buy houses in Bucharest. This situation creates new labour opportunities for the locals, but the wages are still as low as in the wild East.  It’s basically inhumane to ask the average wage for renting a one or 2 room flat. The real estate market is acting brutally with all these people that need to rent apartments in Bucharest. ”

Bucharest is by far the largest and most expensive city in Romania. In the last 10 years it became overcrowded as more and more young people decide to come here for their studies. Only a small percent decide to leave it after graduation.

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Shortly after being accepted by a university, students have to deal with the situation of finding accommodation. The only options are: finding a bed on the student campus, buying one from a student that requested it but doesn’t need it, or renting an apartment in the city. According to the official statistics, the request for beds in Bucharest’s student campuses is double than that available. Buying (under the table) a bed in a 4 bed room for a year exceeds the average Romanian wage. Renting a 2 room apartment in the outskirts of Bucharest costs you an average wage.

At the moment, Bucharest is not a hospitable place for young people, but still it’s one of the few places where they could benefit from a decent environment for their self-development.

“And though home is just a name, a word, it is a strong one.” (Ch. Dickens)

Calin moved in Bucharest 10 years ago when he registered to University. He lived in a student campus for 4 years but after that he has changed apartments 10 times and paid over 10.000 Euros in rent alone. A few months ago he bought a small 2 room apartment in an old building.

“I decided to buy this flat when I was just about to be kicked out from where I was living because the owner wanted to sell the place. I really got sick of living this nomad life in Bucharest. I wanted to have a place of my own and not to worry that tomorrow I might be homeless again.  Everything that I have is in Bucharest and I had to carry it with me everywhere I moved. I realized that in the last 10 years I paid ridiculous amounts of money for nothing at all. […] I don’t think that buying an apartment was the best idea, but it was the only reasonable solution that I came across.”

Calin is a fortunate case because he is one of the few that can afford paying 550 Euros for his monthly loan, considering the fact that in Romania the average wage is 350 euros/month while the minimum one is around 150/month.  At the moment he is living in his own flat, but he barely has money for basic expenses. His job is well rated so he can hardly hope for a better paid one. He doesn’t see any solution and he laughs thinking that he will own this apartment in only 25 years from now…when he will be 54 years old.

“After I bought this apartment my whole life perspective has changed. From now on I can’t afford any risks. My first priority will be earning as much as possible.  I will have to refuse any opportunities that would pay less. In a way I am imprisoned by the decision that I just made. It’s kind of a dark future perspective for someone my age.”

“I don’t have any solution, but I certainly admire the problem.” (A.  Brilliant)

According to some statistics revealed by the latest studies on the quality of life, the chances that an average  young person has for buying an apartment are equal to zero. The real estate market in not regulated so the landlords and private agencies are given absolute freedom for increasing their prices according to their own will.  Every year at the beginning of September the rent fees are rising because the desperate students are coming to the big city. This is a feast for the hyena landlords and the real estate agencies that rip off the new-comers and the ones that were already here by increasing the rents. As winter is approaching, the young people face the dilemma of finding money for heating and rent.  And the story goes on and on…

The exact same apartment that was bought in 2002 for 10.000 euros is now being sold for 100.000 Euros. The average wage in Romania was 150 euro/month in 2002 and 350/month in 2008. As a conclusion, the price of apartments got 10 times higher in the last 6 years while the wages (only theoretically) doubled. The taxes for basic accommodation expenses (electricity, gas, water) have doubled since the beginning of 2002. Still, according to the official state census, the poverty diminished from 29% in 2002 to 14% in 2008, but more and more people are complaining about their life conditions and opportunities. In the census they do not include the exodus of labour migrants, from which a high percent are former unemployed people that temporary migrate in order to avoid falling into extreme poverty. The migrants are primarily investing money in houses, cars, consumption and entrepreneurship all from which the state takes great benefits (mostly in the form of taxes) that have nothing to do with the national production processes.

 

After moving from one friend’s apartment to another, Charli finally received a room in an old house.  Being a lunatic foreigner he couldn’t find a job that would pay him enough for a decent living. His new home had only one problem: it did not have a toilet. So, for a while he considered the fact of pissing in plastic bottles. Still he was considered to be a quite fortunate case, especially if we think that a lot of young people struggle to find a roof over their heads. Having running water and a toilet is becoming an extra option, for some people.

 

“I installed a skylight in my apartment… The people who live above me are furious!” (S. Wright)

Young Romanians are eagerly looking at their western friends who live in house projects.  No one here managed to establish one yet. House projects are a version of the old squats, representing big old houses that could be rented by many people which will live and work together on the basis of sharing common ideas and world visions. They are usually populated by young people and function as a residence and meeting place for discussions and action planning. No one in Bucharest managed to establish one yet, even though the idea was approached by different grassroots initiative groups.

Squatting in Romania seems to be a utopia. All the attempts have failed dramatically. The only real brave squatters in Romania are the people living in extreme poverty, who have nothing more to lose. Every month the police evicts them by throwing their belongings out the windows, but in an hour they settle back in. The squatted houses are usually in the centre of Bucharest, but they don’t benefit from electricity, running water or toilets. They function as illegally occupied shelters for homeless people. The fines for squatting are significantly high but since most homeless people don’t have id’s (with the silent consent of the Romanian authorities), they escape the penalties by virtue of their inexistent status.
But gentrification is slowly knocking at the gates of the old city centre, and more and more of these occupied houses are being transformed into luxurious stores or offices.

“Even the smallest dog can piss on the highest building” (J. Hightower)

To this complicated equation no one sees any solution. And definitely no one wants to give any answers.
The only solution for benefiting from a decent accommodation in modern Bucharest would be to constantly work in the direction of pressuring the state authorities in order to regulate the real estate market as well as to offer the young people a fair chance to live in a city where they have a chance to study and work in a competitive environment.

Initiatives of any kind should start from each one of us…

“ I believe that we should react to this unfair price boom by protesting, writing petitions and complaining from a grass root level. At the same time we should try harder in order to create house projects where young people could live together and pay less than what they would pay for renting a flat.”

Text and pictures by Simina
Thanks to: Victor and Calin

 

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