Victims of urban transformation protest construction still unfinished in Istanbul’s Fikirtepe
Gülistan Alagöz – ISTANBUL
The former residents of Istanbul’s Fikirtepe neighborhood demand their houses - set to be rebuilt as part of a massive urban transformation project - are completed as soon as possible as they say they are unable to receive rent allowances.
Many former residents have said they have been having problems receiving their rent subsidies - given to those forced to vacate their houses for the project - from the contractor firm, as required by the urban transformation law.
Some of the contractors have finalized the buildings in the neighborhood and handed them over to their owners over the past six to eight years since the project was launched, but some have not still done so. Especially in the recent months, the ongoing constructions in the area have slowed down.
Some of the construction companies have gone bankrupt or faced problems finding necessary capital.
Fikirtepe is divided into 61 “islands,” or sections of land. Leke Fikirtepe Platform spokesperson Engin Akgüzel told daily Hürriyet that of these 61 sections of land, 41 are “problematic” in terms of construction process.
“The number of problematic islands is 41. In some these, the demolition [of buildings] was undertaken years ago, but the new construction did not start. In some, the constructions are going slowly, whereas in others, the process has locked down on the grounds that more than one [construction] firm is in the process. The number of victims surpasses 60,000,” said Akgüzel.
Some of the construction firms have not been giving rent allowance to house owners “for a long time now,” said Akgüzel, adding that this situation had put the former residents of the neighborhood in financial difficulty.
“In districts with high-income level, public [financial] support is provided, but here this is not the case. We do not know why this is so. Our neighbors and friends are striving for their lives in difficult circumstances,” he said.
Fikirtepe residents initiated a protest last year in June to raise their voice against this. Many families joined the movement, pitching tents on the construction areas.
“Many officials came to see our protest for which we had pitched tents [June of last year]. And a promise was given to us last year in June. But we cannot reach anyone right now. We are neither getting any rent allowances nor are being provided any solution explaining how these constructions will be undertaken. We believe that if the Environment and Urban Transformation Ministry gets involved, the problems will be solved,” said Akgüzel.
Akgüzel said that in the past years, when contractor firms did not complete their ongoing constructions, public authorities had gotten involved and the relevant institutions completed the remaining constructions. “They lent helping hands to them, but why not to us?” Akgüzel said.
According to the platform head, following the launch of the urban transformation project, many residents of Fikirtepe headed to neighborhoods far from central Istanbul to find affordable houses. “And then foreigners, from Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, rented old houses [in Fikirtepe] dating back 200-300 years and settled here,” he said.
The head of Education and Merdivenköy Neighborhoods Association (FİDEM), one of the associations in the area, similarly said the public authorities had “kept their hands off” Fikirtepe in the recent months. “It is as if they became blind and deaf to the situation. It is not possible to solve the problems of Fikirtepe without a public institution that would serve as a bridge between construction firms and right holders and would manage the process,” said Ercüment Oruç.
An official of the Environment and Urban Ministry told Hürriyet that they were working to solve the problems regarding the situation. “From now on, firms that do not have financial and technical power will not take part in the urban transformation projects,” said the official who asked to remain anonymous.
“We are also working on another regulation that concerns firms that the signed relevant [construction] agreement but do not get to work. There are examples of this in Fikirtepe. We’ll tell those firms ‘If you will not undertake constructions, do not waste the citizens’ time any longer and we will make sure that the agreements are cancelled,” said the official.