Tirana Riverside built upon ambiguity about fate of local Roma community

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According to the project of world-renowned Italian architect Stefano Boeri, the 5 Maji street part of Administrative Unit 8, is expected to transform into one of the most modern neighborhoods of Tirana with vast green spaces spreading in a 29 hectares territory and houses that will shelter around 12,000 citizens.

Tirana Riverside will become the new home not only of those whose house was damaged by the devastating November 26 earthquake but also many others, including the Roma community who’ve been living in the area for many decades.

Tirana Riverside Project / official website of Boeri architecture

The houses that will be demolished have been marked with an “X”. Consequently, owners were evicted with the promise that they were to get an entirely new home, as well as having their rent paid while they wait for that.

But their homes have not been demolished yet, while a majority now live in houses that they are paying the rent for, unlike what was promised to them.

The Roma community living in the area tells Euronews Albania that the entire process has been characterized by a lack of transparency and many remain without a roof in their head while temperatures fall below 0 in the cold winter season.

It’s been three months since Drita no longer lives in her home and she recounts how willing she was to give away her villa in exchange to something she was told that would be in the interest of the public good.

“I’ve been living in the 5 Maji street for 30 years and I’ve spent all my money building the two-story villa”, Drita tells us.

“We are four families that co-own the villa and we were told to clear out the space so that we don’t become an obstacle for the project. We were told that they would give us a bonus to pay the rent and that the houses were to be demolished for the interest of the public good. And that is why I accepted and put a lot of faith in the state. But at the end of the day, they kicked us out in the streets. We were waiting to get the bonus, and then nothing happened”, says Drita who has been living in a barrack for the past three months in squalid conditions together with her son, her pregnant daughter-in-law, and nephew.

The room where Drita lives and sleeps together with her son, daughter-in-law and nephew / Euronews Albania

“I sold the furniture in order to afford rent. I’m sick and don’t even receive an invalidity pension, and my young son is also sick”, she says.

In her knowledge, none of the other homeowners received any state money to pay rent, and they have addressed their concern at the office of the Administrative Unit 8, but did not receive any information, most likely because of the discrimination toward the Roma she says.

“The town hall assured us that we would get a home and I had faith that they wouldn’t kick us out in the streets. The police surrounded us when we were taking our things out as if we had killed someone”.

All Drita wants is more transparency and the house that was promised to her by the representatives of the town hall that went knocking on her door.

Bardhyl, another local we spoke to, raised another issue, and that is the safety of his little children. He’s concerned because heavy tonnage vehicles drive by, posing a danger to the children in the area whose playground has now turned into a construction site.

“They just occupied my space without even telling us anything. At least they could pay me the bonus so that I can rent a home. I have somebody who is sick at home. The road is completely destroyed so I can’t even take her out of the home”, says Bardhyl.

The construction of a new building near his home and the ruins of the houses demolished nearby for the Riverside project brought a huge pile of waste just a few feet away from his front yard, adding to the constant loud noise brought by the heavy machinery that work there.

Waste and rubble from the demolished homes has been thrown near Bardhyl’s home / Euronews Albania

Locals have clashed several times with the construction company demanding that the latter stops throwing waste near their homes.

Also, Bardhyl is concerned that in case of an emergency, it would be impossible for an ambulance or firefighters to drive there due to the damaged road.

Even Bardhyl claims that none of those whose house was demolished has received any rent bonus.

“They haven’t received the bonus in two months. They are paying out of their pockets”, he says, while calling on the state to be more transparent.

He also complains that there is some ambiguity as his house is located between two others that are to be demolished, but to this day no one has given him any information on the fate of his own home.

“I have all paperwork signed by the head of the Central Asset Registration Office. This house has been built with my sweat, just like others”, he says.

Locals warn to take the streets seeing it as the only solution to make their voice heard.

On 31 January 2020, the Council of Ministers announced that the “5 Maji” neighborhood would undergo reconstruction and appointed Tirana Town Hall as the enforcement unit of the project. Meanwhile, on the official webpage of the National Agency for Territorial Planning, this project is still “in the drafting process”.

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