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12° Nicosia,
15 July, 2024
 
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Legalities and time constraints delaying repairs of refugee apartments

Constantinos Ioannou, Minister of the Interior, discussed the private sector-based sponsorship plan in Parliament

by Pavlos Neophytou

In the aftermath of the deadly earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, the new Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou made his first appearance before the House of Representatives Refugee Committee, providing clarifications on the plan to address the maintenance or reconstruction of refugee apartment buildings. In his remarks in Parliament, he mentioned a plan aimed at overcoming both legal issues - given that many houses and apartments are not owned by the state - and time constraints. He stated that the plan being developed by the Ministry of Interior will be presented to the next Cabinet for approval after consultation with the Ministry of Finance.  Regarding the report on dangerous apartment buildings, which members of the AKEL Refugee Committee (with Stefanos Stefanou present) also requested today, Mr. Ioannou stated that the names of the apartment buildings will be given, but the report, which may be subject to misinterpretation, will not be released.

The Ministry of Interior's plan will be presented to the next Cabinet for approval after consultation with the Ministry of Finance.

Municipal Sponsorship Plan

The Interior Minister stated that the plan will cost $100 million over a ten-year period. Concerning structural and seismic issues, he told the committee that a sponsorship plan would be developed for all 358 existing apartment buildings so that tenants would have safe housing without relying on the state. With the approval of the sponsorship plan, he said, there would be temporary arrangements for tenants to relocate in order to begin repairing the houses, with priority given to repairing 43 blocks of flats that had the most structural and building problems.

Utilization of the private sector

The plan includes a state subsidy to help owners with the maintenance, repair, and/or reconstruction of apartment buildings, as well as a one-time grant for temporary housing. Simultaneously, the private sector will be tapped to avoid delays in the process by covering the cost of NTEK-approved civil engineering services, supervision costs, and private contractors. The affordable housing production incentive can be used to make the project financially viable in cases of redevelopment on the same parcel. A lift will cost an additional €50,000 per apartment building.

"It is a project that overcomes the problems that exist at the moment because we have to realize that these apartments have been securitized, so the fact that they are privately owned has so far made it difficult for the government to insist on maintaining and demolishing them. If one or two refused, the government had no choice because they are privately owned, according to the minister. "With this plan, we are giving money to private individuals to decide for themselves with the input of a civil engineer what they should do with their property. We subsidize their decisions, which overcomes legal issues and, in particular, time constraints. All of this will be completed very soon and it is now up to the owners themselves how soon and quickly they move to resolve it," he said.

Allaying fears

At the same time, Mr. Ioannou clarified that if residents are forced to leave the building for maintenance or reconstruction, they will be reimbursed for their rent. The Ministry has also decided to allay the fears and concerns of those who live in the 43 dangerous refugee blocks, and once the plan is announced, they will not feel safe staying in them for weeks or months until maintenance work is completed. "In the meantime, those who provide rental contracts will be eligible for a subsidy. "It's just to make sure that those who are concerned are also reassured," Ioannou said.

They refused permission for an elevator due to... noise

It is worth noting that the day of the Home Affairs Minister's first appearance before the Refugee Committee was marked by an elderly man living on the third floor of a refugee block of flats who was unable to attend his wife's funeral, with Ioannou stepping in to find a solution before going to Parliament.   In a statement on the matter, Mr. Ioannou explained that about 40% of the apartment buildings have elevators installed, while in the majority of the rest they are absent, he said, "not because in the past there was no willingness on the part of the state, but because there was no consent from owners, for reasons such as noise on the ground floor or the building of an extension that did not allow the installation of elevators, so that someone living on the third floor, as in the current incident, is left 'trapped'."

[This article was translated from its Greek original]

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