Turkish quake victims’ housing project among UN award finalists
İsmail Saymaz – DÜZCE
A housing project developed by the victims of a devastating earthquake in the northwestern province of Düzce has become one of the finalists of an award given each year by the United Nations.
“Düzce Hope Homes,” which was developed as a result of 15 years of struggle by 234 families who were tenants, not homeowners, during the Nov. 12, 1999 Düzce earthquake, is among the top 10 finalists of the U.N. World Habitat Awards.
Project founder Sami Kılıç said their efforts “have been worth it.”
“Initially, we imagined that healthy, safe and cheap houses could be built. Then we learned about our rights and walked to Ankara. Was it worth it? No one had asked the impoverished how they want to live before. Yes, it was worth our efforts,” Kılıç told daily Hürriyet.
After the earthquake that killed 710 people and left thousands homeless, victims of the earthquake who were non-homeowners were not able to receive post-disaster support from the government, prompting 67-year-old Kılıç to form the cooperative to fight for the right to housing to be extended to tenant victims in earthquakes.
Kılıç founded the Düzce Solidarity Housing Cooperative for Homeless and Tenant Earthquake Victims four years after the earthquake because they had nowhere to live except prefabricated emergency shelters.
The cooperative then launched the “Düzce Hope Homes” program to create its own housing solution.
The cooperative members held protests in Düzce and later in Ankara, including a 270-day sit-in at the Turkish capital in a bid to convince state officials for the project.
In their bid, they had asked for subsidized land backed up by law, but after the Housing Development Administration of Turkey (TOKİ), the state’s property developer, distributed land to victims but not those who were tenants, families filed a complaint in 2005.
The case ended after nine years and TOKİ provided 41 decares of land in Düzce’s Beyköy for tenants in exchange for 2,250,000 Turkish Liras to be paid in 10 years.
The families then called on architects and engineers at the Istanbul Technical, Yıldız Technical and Mimar Sinan universities for help. A total of 85 academics and experts formed the “Düzce Hope Atelier” and carried out works in Düzce for eight months, which included seven mass meetings that saw in-depth interviews with the families.
After families’ depicted the houses they had wanted to live in using Legos, the construction process began.
Members of “Düzce Hope Homes” applied to 12 banks for financing but were rejected by all of them.
The families applied to TOKİ for loans last week, just before they learned the project was among the finalists of the U.N. World Habitat Awards.
Today, all of the 234 families jointly make decisions, from the purchasing of items to selecting which companies to work with.
In order to be a member of the cooperative, one cannot own land or a home and their annual income must be below 38,000 liras.
Each member of the cooperative works a day a month at the construction site.
Moreover, a social center is being built, in which income generating production is being planned.
They grow grain in a rented field to produce and sell bread.
A medical facility, kindergarten, masjid and plenty of other establishments will also be built for the “Düzce Hope Homes.”
Dursun Altuntaş, a member, said it should not have taken 17 years for them to receive their right to housing.
“TOKİ should not have kept us waiting. We are planning to finish the construction, so we will not embarrass Habitat [for awarding us],” Altuntaş said.
Bedriye Kara said she had experienced bittersweet happiness for not originally receiving an award from Turkey.
“We have not been awarded until today. We would have wanted to receive this award from Turkey,” Kara said.