Prosfygika housing complex in danger again


In another attempt to get rid of the Prosfygika housing complex, the Greek State has recently passed its ownership to the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund (TAIPED), in order to be sold to private investors. TAIPED was established on 1st July 2011, under the mid-term fiscal strategy, imposed by the Troika and adopted by the Greek government. It is the agency responsible for implementing the Greek privatisation program with the sole purpose of using revenues for re-paying the country’s public debt. TAIPED is a limited liability company, whose sole shareholder is the Hellenic Republic, with a share capital of €30 million. The Fund is not a public entity, and it is governed by private law. Full ownership, possession and occupation of all ‘state owned assets’ (land, infrastructure and public companies) to be privatised are transferred to TAIPED, with the provision that these assets cannot be transferred back to the Greek State. 

TAIPED is, therefore, the vehicle for a massive, ongoing land dispossession and land-expropriation, with the aim of selling off state-owned property (real estate, infrastructure and companies) of vital importance for the present as well as the future of the entire population. Its sole purpose is to contribute to the repayment of a commonly acknowledged as non-sustainable debt.

Flat-roofed and geometric, a design typically influenced by the Bauhaus, the complex features eight housing blocks. Widely considered architecturally groundbreaking at the time it was built during the 1930s, its aim was to house some of the 1.5 million Greeks, displaced by the 1923 population exchange with Turkey following the end of WWI. History has left indelible marks on the walls of these buildings, in the form of bullets exchanged during the December 1944 battles, between the Athenian resistance fighters and the English occupation troops, in the aftermath of WWII. In fact, the complex is a significant part of the city’s history, a space where historical memory merges with architectural heritage. It has, at various times, been shelled, abandoned, threatened with demolition and even covered by a massive banner during the 2004 Athens Olympics, supposedly for “aesthetic reasons”.  

TThe purpose of government’s plans to sell the complex to a private fund is not simply financial. Ideology and politics form the basis of the affair: From the time of the Dictatorship, back in the 60’s, until fairly recently, the complex has been targeted by the ruling class, with an aim to get rid of these awkward leftist memories and obliterate a specific, militant aesthetic and form of perception.  Prosfygika mark the formation of public state housing policy and a specific management of space, as the building was a state plan, offering, for the first (and only) time in history, housing to immigrants and the poor. The complex represents the hope embedded in the new democratic structures, the enthusiasm for social experimentation and revolutionary politics and is, ultimately, a reminder that a prospect for different society and spatial organisation is possible.  

Today, the complex is a mixture of state-owned and private units. 51 owners refused to sell their flats back to the state in 2001. Those belonging to the state have been abandoned, and stand deserted, with all utilities cut off, despite the fact that the whole complex was listed as a protected site in 2008. However, despite adverse circumstances, the complex is still kept alive, thanks to new inhabitants: immigrants from Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan and other Asian countries, as well as homeless people – whose number is on the increase due to the crisis- have occupied the empty and abandoned apartments, this way linking the building’s history with the present and, once again, fulfilling the purpose it was originally created for.   

Prosfygika have managed to survive through years of deterioration, plans for redevelopment and threats of demolition and will continue to do so, thanks to the people’s own struggle to protect them.

Immigrants pose in front of one of the buildings of the “Prosfygika” housing complex in Athens October 27, 2013. Source: REUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis

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