Ina Allkanjari

The expropriation and demolition of several dwellings in the ‘5 Maji’ neighborhood for the “Tirana Riverside” project highlighted the lack of a clear and transparent plan to house the affected residents that belong to certain categories as regards the dwelling status. They speak of an agreement-act offered by Tirana Municipality, which does not define any period as to when the apartments will be available and in which area.

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“No occupier can hinder Tirana’s development! In the new “5 Maji” neighborhood, we are persistently working to build better, sturdier, and safer houses for the households affected by the earthquake”, Tirana Mayor Erion Veliaj stated on January 20 of this year.

Screenshot, post of Tirana Mayor Erion Veliaj on his official Facebook page, dated 20.01.2022

Mayor Veliaj’s statement came one day after the demolition of several dwellings in the “5 Maji” neighborhood, the area where the Tirana Riverside project will be implemented. The new development plan requires owners of private dwellings to relinquish their property through a mandatory agreement-act with the state.

Based on the Mayor of Tirana’s statement, Faktoje decided to speak with some of the residents of “5 Maji,” who expressed concerns about the transparency of the aforementioned agreement-act.

“Dwellings in this area include both legalized and non-legalized ones, but these terms are used to exert pressure because, given that the state has approved my documents since 2006 and has not provided a negative remark indicating my property’s exemption from being legalized, and has even accepted my money, it means I am in conformity. In line with the DCM of 2011, I paid the money for the land, while now I am being told that this is not recognized and the money should be returned. If I have purchased it, how can you take it from me?” – Gjin Nikolli, a resident of one of the private dwellings to be demolished in the area of “5 Maji”, told Faktoje.

Photo taken on 21.01.2022, Gjin Nikolli’s dwelling in the “5 Maji” area

Mr. Nikolli says that, despite having received the expropriation agreement-act by Tirana Municipality, he and many other residents refuse to sign it because, according to him, receiving a new apartment is a promise that has not been detailed in the contract.

Photo, Tirana Municipality’s agreement-act for “5 Maji” residents to be expropriated

“The contract says ‘it promises,’ but the Municipality should provide an answer as to what will happen, given that the Municipality is the one evicting us. We are facing a done deal, with unilateral contracts. We were given an agreement-act consisting of 8 paragraphs, with which we disagree because it states that it will be provided ‘in the future,’ without defining any timelines for the start and completion of works, or when we will be handed over the dwelling. Another reason we disagree is the lack of a specified location where the apartment we are to receive will be, if we will even receive it. It just states it will be in the future and nothing else. There is no other specification, no location, nothing”, says Gjin Nikolli.

Photo, agreement-act of Tirana Municipality

When asked of the whereabouts of his neighbors, whose dwellings were demolished a few days ago, Mr. Nikolli says:

“My dwelling is yet to be demolished. The residents whose dwellings were demolished are staying under the open sky or with their relatives, but without a proper solution.”

On January 19, Mayor Erion Veliaj promised that Tirana Municipality will also provide owners expropriated for non-legalized dwellings with apartments with the same surface area:

“They have built illegally, abusively, have set up illegal water supply connections and illegal OSHE connections, which will now be legalized by receiving an apartment with the same square meters, constructed by Tirana Municipality…They have to sign the contract to receive these square meters, which were once without permit and had no urbanization, and will now be legalized and urbanized using the design of one of the world’s best architects.”

In the discussions with the residents in “5 Maji”, certain questions were raised about the Municipality’s agreement-act:

Some of the questions raised by the citizens in this area, according to whom, no answers have been included in the agreement-act of Tirana Municipality.

Photo taken on 21.01.2022, demolished dwelling in the “5 Maji” area

Dwelling demolished on January 19 in the “5 Maji” area

Mr. Gjin’s daughter, Laureta Nikolli, who owns a non-legalized dwelling in the same area, told Faktoje that, although the Mayor also promised apartments for non-legalized dwellings, she was not eligible for the reconstruction process.

Screenshot, reply sent to Administrative Unit No. 8, specifying that Laureta Nikolli is not eligible for the reconstruction process

“I submitted a request to the Municipality and I received a reply on December 2021 stating that I will not benefit from anything and cannot be included in the reconstruction process since my house is not legalized. I fulfilled all the necessary requirements and was told I am not eligible. If I had been affected by the earthquake, I would have been eligible, but this was said to me orally rather than in writing. I submitted the requests to the Municipality after seeing the TV announcements that we would also be eligible”, says Laureta Nikolli, who lives in this neighborhood with three family members.

Photo of Laureta Nikolli’s dwelling, “5 Maji” area

The Ombudsperson also responded about this issue.

“The Ombudsperson draws attention to certain provisions of the said decision, which, as a result of the procedures implemented with the excuse of the 2019 earthquake emergency, now in 2022 do not provide sufficient guarantee to the citizens affected by the demolition of their dwellings and who are evasively promised a form of non-individualized and undefined compensation,” the said institution’s response states.

Screenshot, Ombudsperson’s post on the official Facebook page, dated 19.01.2022

Tirana Riverside Project

The Tirana Riverside Project being implemented in the area known as “Bregu i Lumit” in Tirana was planned prior to the earthquake of November 26, 2019, but was later announced that it would be used for those made homeless by the earthquake. Stefano Boeri, an Italian architect, was entrusted with the construction plan. On January 31, 2020, the Council of Ministers announced the reconstruction of the “5 Maji” neighborhood, appointing Tirana Municipality as the project implementation unit.

Photo, Tirana Riverside project, ‘5 Maji’ area

The new neighborhood along Tirana’s River is envisaged to house over 11 thousand residents or about 3,175 households. In addition to the residential apartment buildings, three large centers will be built in this area, two of which will be primarily used for offices and the third as a commercial center.

Photo, Tirana Riverside project, ‘5 Maji’ area

The reconstruction process, issues with the Municipality-offered contracts

For a while now, Faktoje has been tracking the reconstruction process following the November 26, 2019 earthquake and has reported on the lack of transparency, followed procedures, and missing contracts by the responsible institutions, which would provide these residents with the guarantee that their apartments will be rebuilt in the same area to be reconstructed.

Another neighborhood where inhabitants are concerned about their future homes after the earthquake is Ish-Kombinati, where the Municipality intends to implement the “Kombinart” project. During the verification, Faktoje discovered that several households are still residing in the apartment buildings that are scheduled to be demolished, citing the fact that they have not been offered any contracts ensuring that their new residences will be located in the same area.