During the communist regime in Albania, almost all privately owned property was seized and became the property of the state. After the fall of the regime, Albanians gained the right to own property. This restoration of fundamental rights, while necessary and fair, resulted in abuses due to some 50 years of issues. It also produced urban chaos.
With or without papers, people built on any plots of free land in Tirana. Houses, apartments and villas sprung up throughout the city and the surrounding area.
Only apartment blocks from the socialist period remained, privatized in favour of inhabitants in the early 1990s. Not aesthetically pleasing and of varying quality, they are present in every town, village, and city in the country.
Their redevelopment is necessary for a number of reasons but Prime Minister Edi Rama appears to be doing it for the benefit of private companies, not the owners.
Much of the plan to redevelop them, would not have been made possible if it was not for the earthquake of 26 November 2019. Many of them were damaged by the earthquake, and in Tirana, large swathes of communist-era apartment blocks are to be demolished and replaced with larger, and higher apartment blocks. These blocks will include commercial, social, and cultural facilities according to government plans.
But this kind of construction is expensive and cannot be undertaken by the state. Instead, the government chose a model which will see the buildings being developed by private developers who will give previous residents some of the apartments in the complexes.
The idea was first introduced in the Urban Development Plan of Tirana 2030, drafted by Stefano Boeri. The plan included the development and transformation of semi-urban areas on the outskirts of Tirana. These were called ‘transformation areas’.
While the plan looks good on paper, it was difficult to implement in practice.
Consider a four-storey building with four entrances and 30-40 families living there. Each family likely has children and heirs. The chances of reaching an agreement and a financial deal with each of them are slim. The only way to be able to demolish the property and rebuild it is with an arbitrary order, essentially forcibly evicting people from their properties.
Due to this, the plan stalled, until the earthquake.
The earthquake presented the government with an opportunity to realise the transformation plans that they’d previously had to shelve.
During the disorder that followed the quake, the government drafted a normative act that gives them the power to demolish, develop, and construct as they wish. It even allows them to do so without respecting property rights.
The normative act gives the government the following rights:
- Any kind of procurement related to construction can pass through an accelerated procedure, therefore reducing checks and balances in place for competition and transparency;
- The development of certain areas including demolition and construction is mandatory. No owner, business, or other can stop the government from developing an area according to its plan. The government has even called this ‘forced development’;
- The normative act links reconstruction to development, that is, the development will take place wherever the government chooses, not just in areas that require buildings be rebuit;
- The expropriation of anyone who has private property in development areas will be compensated at state prices or the absolute minimum price. Alternatively, they can have an apartment in the new building for a similar value in terms of state prices;
- Any kind of construction permit can be acquired via accelerated procedures that are immediately approved by the Council of Ministers;
- Municipalities can cooperate with the private sector by providing land for construction in return for apartments in the new building.
Simply put, the government now has the power to do the following:
- Destroy any building it wants;
- Expropriate any owner it wants;
- Develop the area as they wish;
- To develop with state funds and private individuals or companies;
- Rush everything through via special procedures.
This also allows the state to violate the right to property and ownership and to avoid the principles of competition and transparency, two basic principles of the public procurement procedure.
The Albanian government is using the earthquake to implement year-old plans that it could not implement due to having to respect the constitutional, legal, and human rights of citizens.