A News24 TV report has questioned the Tirana Municipality’s decision to demolish three student accommodation buildings, allegedly made uninhabitable after the November 26 earthquake, arguing that at least one of them was not damaged at all.
In a report this weekend, journalist Erion Skendaj showed that Building No.18 in the Qyteti i Studentit (Student City) in Tirana had no visible damage, and yet the government has evacuated it, and it’s awaiting demolition.
“[…] there is not the slightest crack, neither in the ceiling, nor in the walls, nor around the doors, […] walls have no damage, neither the structure nor tiles.”
The journalist said authorities have demolished part of the main entrance of the building to prevent people from accessing it. He raised the question of what could the inspectors’ report have found in order for the Municipality of Tirana to have decided to demolish the building.
The decision to demolish buildings no. 15, 18 and 19 was taken on 5 December. Dozens of homeless families had occupied the buildings several years ago and were paying rent, but they had to leave after the decision.
Questionable Demolition of Buildings
Buildings no. 15 and 19 have already been demolished as the municipality said they were dangerous for inhabitants, adding that families will be provided with partial rent subsidy for one year.
None of the three inspectors’ reports mentions “demolition”. Inspection reports of Buildings no. 18 and 19 fail to detail issues found during the inspection but they conclude that: “There are issues with the building’s structure. Evacuate all inhabitants.” About 80 families living there were evicted as a result.
The report on Building no.15 lists several damages, and urges the government to “urgently repair” the building. Yet, the building was demolished instead.
Mayor Veliaj underlined the fact that these buildings had been occupied by homeless families:
“We were presented with three inspection reports […] showing that Buildings no. 15, 18 and 19 were damaged beyond repair, they had structural damages […] No students live in these buildings, they were occupied in 1991. They have been occupied for 30 years.”
The mayor also explained that Tirana Municipality has a plan to rebuild the buildings:
“Constructing new buildings has been Tirana Municipality’s plan, with a KFW [German state-owned development bank] project, but we can’t wait until the end of next year when the project implementation is planned to start. Now that the quake struck, whoever has seen the images must have noticed modifications and interventions in walls from outside. A media portal had noticed even a tree growing in its walls […] This is the reason why I want to ask the City Council to demolish this building that has been occupied for 30 years.”
The decision to demolish the three buildings was also praised by Prime Minister Edi Rama, who also underlined the occupation by homeless families: “I think demolishing the three student accommodation buildings was the right decision. After a 30-year-long occupation, it’s time for those families and their political protectors to leave.”
Public-Private Partnership University Campuses
In a similar fashion, the government has decided to demolish 10 more buildings of the Agricultural University of Tirana occupied by tens of homeless families who pay rent.
In both cases, Mayor Veliaj has promised the construction of “university campuses” through public-private partnerships.
On December 12, while attending the demolition of one of the buildings, Veliaj said:
“As we have done with new schools, with a scheme where we make payments over the years, we believe that at Qyteti Studenti [Student City] we will also have the opportunity to make payments over the years as a new campus begins here, as well as at the Agricultural University of Tirana, and while from a disaster comes a tremendous advantage to bring an urban layout that will endure for another 100 years in Tirana.”
The scheme Mayor Veliaj is referring to is that of seemingly corrupt concession contracts for the construction of 5 schools worth €14 million, and 4 more schools worth €14 million.
Journalist Erion Skendaj’s report, and Veliaj and Rama’s statements raise questions whether the earthquake was used as justification to evict families, demolish buildings and open the way to another potentially corruptive PPP scheme.