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Reporting housing protests: Interview with journalist Hazar Dost – II

Mert Batur

Click to read in Kurdish or Turkish.

In the second part of our interview with journalist Hazar Dost, we discussed the possible solutions regarding the housing problem. 

In the second part of our interview with journalist Hazar Dost, we discussed the possible solutions regarding the housing problem. 

Will TOKİ’s be a solution? What does it mean to expel students from city centers? How should public spaces be built?

Aren’t there any quick steps to solve the students’ housing problem?

The way to solve this problem is to immediately allocate public resources to students, such as dormitories and expropriation, especially the buildings given to foundations. Second, if there is still a need, student dormitories should be built quickly. The solution to this problem is not social benefits, such as setting a percentage discount on rent for students. Because, in this case, the landlord will continue to receive that money by increasing the rent. The accommodation problem cannot be solved by handing the students to the capital and supporting foundations.

Let me give you a number from 2012: the capacity of the private dormitories is 33.600, today the capacity of private dormitories is 90.000. Private dormitories have grown faster than state-owned dormitories. Why? The state says; Instead of building a dormitory there and making a loss, I collect taxes from these private dormitories; so the money goes into the safe.

“Should I pay my KYK debt or TOKİ installment?”

This year, two regulations on the housing problem were issued. The first was a circular prohibiting saying, “we can’t find shelter.” The second was a circular regulating the increase in the prices of private dormitories. Due to inflation, this circular gave private dormitories the right to raise up to 117 percent. These two circulars summarized this year’s situation very well. On the other hand, there were statements such as the TOKİ quota for students. What do you think will the housing problem be solved with TOKİ?

Let me ask a straightforward question: Could we solve the problem in Sulukule with TOKİ? Were we able to solve it in Fikirtepe or Altınşehir? We plan to build a construction by putting concrete on top of it; in short, Turkey’s housing and urban policy are not about solving problems; it is inefficient. It is only efficient in terms of the construction industry and capital because the construction sector is the most critical sector that keeps the Erdogan regime alive. The construction sector can sustain 10-15 industries on its own. That’s why there are constructions everywhere, and TOKİ got its share.

Erdogan’s announcement cannot be considered a piece of good news. A 25-year-old can’t own a house by paying an average of 2.800 Turkish liras per month for years. At least this debt will last until the age of 40. Frankly, I thought: Am I going to pay my KYK debt or buy a house from TOKİ and pay its debt? Because even if you work in Turkey, you can only pay for one.

This plan may be advantageous for those who can afford it, but the government does nothing for the poor and young people in this case. After all, it has a down payment. I don’t know a 25-year-old teenager who can pay this down payment. That is the plan announced as the gospel, after all.

Since the housing policy in Turkey is construction and rent-oriented, it has become beneficial for investors from abroad. There are empty houses and complexes in Esenyurt. It is either to launder money or to obtain citizenship. Housing policy has become a strategic move for purposes such as winning elections, not for citizens’ housing. It is used for anything but its original purpose.

This problem is not peculiar to Turkey. It is a global issue. 

For example, in the struggle in Germany, a solution is sought with a kind of expropriation referendum. However, that does not fit well with the landlord-tenant relationship in Turkey because the average houses are generally owned by individuals, not by a single company like in Germany. Therefore, this form of expropriation cannot be discussed in Turkey. There are other examples; The Homeless Workers Movement, the struggle after the attack on the squat houses established by the students around the Polytechnic in Athens, the occupation movements for the right to shelter in France, etc. There are cases where they are all included in some way, partly successful, partly unsuccessful. That may also give an idea of the final solution to the problem. I believe we should discuss the root of this question. What do you think about these developments?

I am exactly where you think I am. However, when we say quality accommodation, we should not miss the fact that the students are an essential part of urban life and urban sociology in Istanbul. Many students have many memories in places like Dolmabahçe and Beyazıt. For this reason, it would be wrong to force students to live far away from these places, in places like Başakşehir. Therefore, the right to shelter, or at least the right to quality housing, cannot be thought of without considering cities and urban culture. If I cannot recognize where I live while traveling from one end of Istanbul to the other, one of the reasons for this is our alienation from the city. Istanbul is on the verge of losing its urban sociology. Therefore, while considering the solution to the housing problem, we should also consider developing a solution without alienating the students and the university from the city.

For example, students need to live in city centers or at least in places close to city centers, close to transportation, cultural and artistic life, and parks. The state needs to develop a policy for rent increases in these areas. Let’s open the tender website of the General Directorate of Foundations. The rental contracts of the buildings in these locations are for 100 years. Who is it rented to? It is leased to Sütiş, Starbucks, and capital groups. Regulation can and should be made to open these places to students. In this respect, students’ active participation in the policies is required to develop a solution to the housing problem. Because students already know what they need.

“The solution to all these problems is in public resources”

It looks like we’ve been kicked out of the city centers. Referring to the global debate, the discussions mainly around concepts such as “commons, public spaces,” but the outcomes are usually propositions such as the construction of new public spaces. However, people have turned some places into squares for hundreds of years. That is not something that can be built and replaced later. Today, all these places are privatized, and we are kicked out of these spaces.

Likewise, I think that these areas should not be given up. What we need to do is not attempt to rebuild public spaces. For example, students have living spaces in Istanbul, such as Kocamustafapaşa and Çapa. Students are now excluded from places where students have lived intensely for a long time. Those who are better off replacing them. In the next stage, this too will transform and maybe even worsen. These will be places with more luxurious buildings, and only the rich will be able to live there.

First, everyone, especially students, must understand that the solution to this problem is through public resources. For example, a dormitory is built in Başakşehir. However, başakşehir is a place almost outside of Istanbul. Students from Istanbul Technical University (ITU), Istanbul University, and Bahçeşehir stay here. The government builds a home in the public domain there, but it presents the public domain in the heart of Istanbul to foundations. It’s a public resource. Couldn’t they build dormitories on public lands in the center of the city? Or, for example, couldn’t they make dormitories in the lands within the territory of Istanbul University, which were privatized and then transferred to cafes? There are several examples in various countries.

None of this is done, but the government tells the students, “We have increased the capacity of the dormitories.” How? “We put one more bunk bed in each room.” In fact, we can summarize AKP’s 20-year rule as “Don’t do anything completely, but let a triangle appear and market it!.” Build a university in every city, start the construction of dormitories everywhere, but make it look like you’ve done everything without doing anything. This policy will neither solve the problem nor subside the anger. However, this has consequences, as students’ right to quality education is taken away.

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