Belgrade resembles other European cities when it comes to the manifestations of neoliberal urban development policies including urban renewal, endorsement of private investment construction, financialization of housing, etc. However, the recent historical circumstances of transition from a socialist to a capitalist socio-economic system in the 1990s and 2000s along with the status of being at Europe’s periphery, have made Serbia, and thus Belgrade as its capital, somewhat particular in terms of the scale and character of such manifestations.
When it comes to housing, Belgrade is among the cities that have the highest percentage of privately-owned housing units (over 95%). At the same time, it is estimated that around 70% of its people are struggling with access to decent and affordable housing. While private investment in exclusive housing is growing, allowing for the wealthy to accumulate capital in real estate, at the same time, evictions due to tenants’ indebtedness are increasingly frequent, leaving some without any housing solution or resources to provide one. Since the only way to resolve one’s housing needs is through the market, and the pace of rising rents largely exceeds that in average income, there is a continuous lack of affordable housing. Exacerbating this fact as in many other larger cities today, are Belgrade’s fast-growing numbers of short-lease rental of units (due to platforms such as AirBnB), while long-term renters are finding themselves in precarious positions and unregulated relations with their landlords. The state has put insufficient efforts to address this reality and has not yet articulated any long-term housing policies that would improve it. It is thus necessary to employ all available resources to map and fully grasp the scale of the “housing crisis” in Belgrade and Serbia, and to advocate for systemic solutions for its mitigation and resolution.
We, the CMMM Belgrade City Team are members of the Ministry of Space (MoS) collective. Since its establishment, MoS has been concerned with the political dynamics of urban development, spatial politics and the politicization of spatial issues. Housing has certainly been one of the focal points in our practice and we have contributed, together with other housing activists and relevant organisations, to the struggle for a radical transformation in the city-level and state-level approaches to housing. These contributions include: research studies on alternative forms of affordable housing, dissemination of knowledge on progressive housing solutions, policy proposals for strategic housing documents, participation in activist initiatives against forced evictions, and the development of alternative housing practices (such as cooperative housing).
A critical perspective and critical research and tools to re-think the realities on the ground have been deeply immersed in the methodologies and programs of the Ministry of Space. Among others, critical mapping has been in our focus in recent years, as it has become a more common tool in urban research, activism and communication globally (e.g. the ‘Map of actions’ which we created and published in 2013, our contribution to the New Metropolitan Mainstream project from 2014-2016, our project ‘Map of untransparent urbanism’ from 2017, etc.). In recent endeavours, ‘municipalism’ has served as an adequate framework for current urban struggles and activism in Belgrade, where the context is that of persistent crisis of democratic institutions and lack of participation in the processes of urban planning and development. Hence, being part of the CMMM project offers us at MoS a valuable opportunity to join resources with other European urban scholars and activists, to intensify our existing work and results by employing critical mapping to connect municipalist projects through the subject of housing as a burning issue for all of our societies.
The Ministry of Space thus plans to use the frame of the CMMM project to consolidate and connect the bodies of critical knowledge and research on the field of housing in Serbia to support local struggles and movements. Specifically, we aim to critically map and visualise the housing related policies and strategies in the city of Belgrade and their local and global roots and extensions, to better understand how these are engendering urban segregation and housing deprivation (including issues of short/long-term renting, new construction projects, infrastructure development, social housing investments, etc.). By doing so, we aim to provide more information to support existing and future housing struggles and efforts that are pushing to create policy solutions and alternatives that would ensure the integration of the “housing as a right” principle in the long-term housing strategies, models and legislation.
In the course of the project implementation, the Ministry of Space will continue to join forces and resources with the most relevant local initiatives that deal with housing, as well as to share its results with the networks it is involved in, such as:
1. Who Builds the City (Ko gradi grad) was established in 2010 in response to the urban developments in Belgrade, which are characterized by the corrupt and mismanaged privatisation of public resources and clientelistic government behaviour that create ground for monopolistic private sector actors. One of their most prominent projects “Smarter building” represents an initiative to build the first contemporary housing cooperative in Belgrade. This organisation has also initiated the regional network MOBA.
2. A11 – Initiative for Economic and Social Rights (inicijativa za ekonomska i socijalna prava) is a non-profit, non-partisan and non-governmental organisation which promotes and protects the rights of individuals from vulnerable, marginalised and discriminated groups, with a particular focus on economic and social rights. Housing has been lately in their focus, as they have been tackling the housing conditions in Roma settlements and social housing estates.
3. Joint Action “Roof Over Our Head” (Krov nad glavom) has been established as an umbrella organization that brings together groups and individuals united in the struggle for the right to housing. In their actions and campaigns, they mostly fight against forced evictions that leave people in the status of homelessness (often forced through nontransparent and sometimes even illegal procedures). They are also addressing the inadequate housing conditions for increasing numbers of people without sufficient income.
European Action Coalition for the Right to Housing and to the City gathers movements from different cities in Europe fighting for the respect of these fundamental rights. These movements – composed of tenants; slum- and self-built neighborhood dwellers; squat residents; victims of eviction, inadequate housing and indebtedness; professionals and researchers – exchange their experiences and knowledge, and join struggles in solidarity towards a wider transformation of housing conditions and policies across Europe.
International Network for Urban Research and Action (INURA) is a network founded in 1991 in Salecina Switzerland that gathers activists, researchers, community and environmental groups, universities and local administrations from around the world; people who wish to share experiences and participate in common research about urgent issues in cities (urban renewal tendencies, community-led practices, inner city labor markets, social housing provision, etc.).
Image credit: Iva Čukić
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