On the 19 January 2013, homeless activists and their allies squatted an empty building in the seventh district of Budapest. The squatters demanded the institutionalization of a right to housing and an extensive system of social housing instead of punitive measures and overcrowded shelters. The activists were arrested and now face misdemeanor charges because of disobeying police instructions.
“We do not leave until the government and local authorities take seriously mass homelessness and housing poverty,” said Jenő Keresztes, one of the homeless squatters. “We are here to raise awareness about the tens of thousands of empty buildings, where homeless people could find their home. The majority of these empty buildings are in private hands, but local authorities also have great responsibility in leaving buildings such as this one unused for years. Instead of taking care of them, they leave them to dilapidate. This building alone could serve as a home for at least 10 families,” said Jutka Lakatosné, another homeless activist.
The squatters were supported by dozens of young activists forming a living chain at the entrance of the building as well as an ever-growing group of protesters on the other side of the street. The supporters were chanting slogans such as “Housing, not jails” and “Right to housing for all!” The head of the local authority’s real estate office agency visited the house and told the protestors that the local authority has no responsibility whatsoever either for homelessness or the abandonment of the house. Five hours later the police arrived in great numbers and arrested one by one the activists blocking the entrance of the building. The activists did not cooperate and therefore were carried by police to police cars. The supporting protesters first chanted “We are with you” right near the activists. Later, the police pushed them back where they could not see the arrests anymore, but they stayed until the last one of the activists was taken away from the location and supported them with loud drumming and chanting.
“I do not have housing worthy of human dignity either, I am just temporarily allowed to stay in an otherwise empty building which does not have heating. Nonetheless I do not fight for myself alone: we would like everyone to have access to decent, affordable and healthy housing, and we want the government and the local authorities to take responsibility for this,” said László Dombovári, a homeless activist. In Hungary there are currently millions of people suffering from various forms of housing poverty. Ten thousand of them are living in the public spaces or shelters of Budapest. Around half a million families have arrears that threaten their housing, and every fifth household gets behind with their mortgage payments due to lack of resources.
The City is for All supports the demands of the homeless activists. We have organized several marches to raise awareness about empty buildings and demand their utilization, spelled out our related policy recommendations, and protested for the codification of a right to housing and the establishment of an extensive system of social housing. According to The City is for All, the implementation of a right to housing should include a ban on evictions without the provision of acceptable housing alternatives as well as housing policies that ensure access to decent housing for everyone. Right to housing would not mean the provision of free housing by the state, but that the state establishes and maintains a system of housing policies that ensure fair access to housing for all members of the society.