Vsetín officials threaten to take houses away from Roma

Vsetin, Czech Republic, Oct 2008 - Most of the Vsetin Romany families whom the Town Hall resettled to the Jeseniky and Prostejov areas and to whom it provided interest-free loans for the purchase of houses have failed to meet their commitments, Town Hall spokeswoman Eva Stejskalova said.

She said if the Romanies failed to repay their loans properly they could lose the roof over their head.

The Town Hall as the owner of the new houses could order their distraint and sell them, Stejskalova said.

The Romany families were moved out from a dilapidating house in the centre of Vsetin, mostly populated by rent-defaulters two years ago when Jiri Cunek, current Czech Deputy Prime Minister and chairman of the junior government Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL), was Vsetin mayor.

He was sharply criticised for his step.

According to the contracts the Romanies signed with the Town Hall they are to repay the loans in monthly installments of 1500 to 2330 crowns.

"The interest-free loans worth between 350,000 and 557,000 crowns were provided to eight Romany families although they were not entitled to alternative housing and the Vsetin court confirmed this," Stehlikova said.

However, only one family is repaying the debt properly while the others have failed to pay the installments by the due dates set out in the contracts, she said.

There is a several months delay in the payment, Stejskalova said.

She said the town authorities had appealed on the Romanies to repay the loan arrears within a fortnight.

If they fail to do so, the matter will be taken to court, the Romany families will be faced with execution and the town will sell the houses, Stejskalova said.

"The Town took an accommodating step when it provided the loans to the families because that had no legal right to alternative housing," Vsetin Deputy Mayor Lubomir Gajdusek said.

Of the 64 families resettled two years ago, 22 have found new housing in the town and several families were moved to the Jesenik and Prostejov areas.

The remaining families were moved to container-like flats on the town's outskirts.

Stejskalova said a mere 42 resettled families were paying the rent on time.

The resettlement of Romanies from the centre of Vsetin was criticised by Romany associations and human rights activists.

Czech ombudsman Otakar Motejl also criticised the Town Hall saying that it made a mistake.

However, Vsetin officials have dismissed the criticism from the very beginning and defended their decision as correct.

Source: CTK