A group of people whose houses were demolished in Istanbul’s Fikirtepe neighborhood amid a massive ongoing urban transformation project have recently started living in tents in the construction area, in protest at the still-unfinished construction.
The protest started last week with a family setting up a tent after they were unable to receive rent allowance – which is given to those forced to vacate their houses for the project – for a number of months. Many other families in a similar situation then joined the movement, leading to a “tent city” on the construction area.
Located in the Kadıköy district on the Asian side of Istanbul, Fikirtepe is one of the oldest settlements of the city. Formerly a working class quarter of modest apartment buildings and unkempt gardens on twisting, hilly streets, in the past few years the neighborhood’s modest housing has been mostly leveled and replaced by luxury residential high-rises.
Demolitions began in 2012 and are ongoing, with many former residents complaining that their new flats have not been handed to them as promised on time. They said they have been having problems receiving their rent subsidies from the contractor firm, as required by the urban transformation law.
Some of the contractors have finalized the buildings in the neighborhood and have handed them over to their owners over the past six years, but some have not even started construction.
Some of the construction companies have gone bankrupt or have faced problems finding necessary capital, while others have faced legal problems that have prevented many of the homeowners from receiving their rent allowance.
“I gave the contractor my three-floor house with a garden but now I’m left homeless. I built my house years ago, carrying its concrete blocks on my back. Who has the right to force me to go through this now?” said one 72-year-old man at the site who has not received his promised new apartment.
There are hundreds of people in the same situation as Şanım Şimşek, who told daily Hürriyet at the construction site that they “have been left homeless.” He vowed to continue living in the new “tent city” until their problems are solved.
“I receive a pension of 1,800 Turkish Liras per month but the rent of the flat I currently live in is 1,900 liras. We have given away our house and now we cannot make ends meet,” said another 58-year-old homeowner.
One of the firms responsible from the implementation of projects in the neighborhood is Pana Yapı, which has been reported to be in serious financial trouble.
“Pana Yapı has four construction sites in Fikirtepe. One of the constructions is finished but there is a lien on the houses. In three others, not even one nail has been banged in for the past year. There are 1,000 families whose homes are being constructed by this firm and there are 600 other families who have bought houses from this firm,” said Engin Akgüzel, an informal spokesman for the victimized homeowners.
“When we could not get an answer to the official complaint that we filed months ago, we established a tent here eight days ago. Now there are seven tents and this number is increasing every day. In Fikirtepe, along with the other firms, over 10,000 families have been victimized,” Akgüzel said.
Meanwhile, Environment Ministry Deputy Undersecretary Mücait Demirtaş released a photo of him taken together with Pana Yapı owner Raci Şaşmaz on his Twitter account on June 19.
“We have discussed the problem at the Pana Yapı urban transformation area at the ministry. We will not leave the rights holders alone,” he wrote in the post.