Kisvárda offers Roma families $5,650 to leave town

November 16, 2017

Kisvárda pays USD 5,650 to Roma if they leave town
Photo: abcug.hu/Zoltán Adrián/Képszerkesztőség

The Kisvárda council pays HUF 1.5 million (USD 5,650) to local underprivileged Roma families if they leave the town, reports abcug.hu.

Kisvárda – which happens to be the hometown of Minister of National Development Miklós Seszták – has been developing rapidly in recent years. Downtown is dotted with billboards informing residents about the developments financed from the government’s Széchenyi-plan program. Just to name a few that were implemented or are about to be from government and or EU Funds in the 17,000-resident Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg county settlement:

  • A 2,500-seat soccer stadium reportedly costing USD 7.54 million
  • An upside down country house and an aquarium put inside the local fishing pond, worth USD 1.69 million
  • A water film studio and a slide park
  • A multifunctional stadium, worth USD 13.2 million
  • Soccer academy development, worth USD 2.6 million
  • Spa development, worth USD 1.88 million
  • Conversion of the local high school’s gym into an athletic center for a reported USD 1.53 million

A well-equipped “Minority-Roma Methodology and Education Center” built by the town at a cost to Hungarian and EU taxpayers of USD 2.64 million has reportedly been handed over to the local professional soccer and handball teams, even as Roma inhabitants are barred from using it.

Just a few houses away from the Roma Education Center, Roma families live in low-grade social housing. Although the council has recently renovated the roof of the social houses, conditions are still terrible.

“Molding and wet walls occur in every apartment as the most serious health damaging factors,” reads Kisvárda’s Integrated Town Development Strategy accepted in 2015. “With the exception of one, tenants of all apartments noted the presence of rodents (mice and unfortunately rats) and bugs (cockroaches and ants) in the building.”

“Anything would be better than this,” said Márk who lives in one of the social apartments. Like the majority of social housing tenants, Márk would be eager to move out if there was a place to go. It seems the council also desires this, as in 2013 the council decree on social housing was modified so as to make it possible to terminate the leases of “problematic” tenants in exchange for financial compensation.

Since 2013 the council has been able to offer up to HUF 1.5 million (USD 5,650) of grants per apartment to those tenants who terminate their lease agreement with the council by mutual consent. The tenants can spend the non-refundable grant on purchasing or building a property. The decree also stipulates that those who receive the grant may neither apply for council housing nor rent any other property in Kisvárda for 15 years.

According to Socialist (MSZP) council member Bertalan Csonka, 20-30 families received the full grant of HUF 1.5 million each over the past four years. Csonka told abcug.hu most families moved to neighboring villages because HUF 1.5 million is not even enough to buy a building site in Kisvárda, let alone a dwelling.

“I would like to think that this is not in the background,” Csonka said when he was asked whether he thinks the council set up the grant scheme to oust the Roma from Kisvárda. However, both Csonka and the other MSZP council member voted for the proposition in 2013. According to the official records, during the meeting when the council accepted the decree, nobody raised any questions about the necessity of the proposition. Vice-notary Mrs. András Lénárt only said grants will be paid “primarily out of the town’s interest.”

“It is also worth noting that these tenants did not always show the most exemplary behaviour,” Csonka said. “They behaved flagrantly in community life. They did not always use the apartments as intended, and I have put it very delicately. The town is very patient and permissive even with those who did not pay the rent or utility bills.”

“They simply decided we have to go,” an outraged tenant told abcug.hu. Families told abcug.hu that Fidesz council member Tamás Major had informed tenants they can stay in the apartments until April next year, in exchange for which they will each receive HUF 1.5 million. Abcug.hu contacted Major to ask about the grants, but he hung up.

“They told us to be happy but about what?” tenants told abcug.hu for fear of not being able to purchase anything for HUF 1.5 million. A man said the cheapest property he found cost HUF 3.2 million (USD 12,300). High property prices are not the only factor that put residents in a desperate situation, as many of them simply do not want to leave the town where they grew up.

The 2015 Town Development Strategy included plans to resettle tenants of the poor quality social apartments into new council apartments “in an integrated area,” and a “complex intervention system of multiple elements based on individual abilities and needs” that included the renovation of apartments and introducing public utilities, environmental planning and the construction of a laundry. The council calculated that the development could be implemented from HUF 250 million (USD 940,000), however the town’s application for grants was unsuccessful and the project was eventually sidelined.

Abcug.hu wanted to contact Fidesz Mayor Tibor Leleszi but he declined to comment.