1. National Housing Strategy
On April 20 the Ministry of Urban Development, organized a workshop on undertaken steps to design the National Housing Strategy [i]. In fact, the vision, aims and objectives of the strategy were discussed, which together with an analysis of the situation and evaluation of housing needs, are considered completed and are included now in the current document. According to the notification of the Ministry, the document is designed with the assistance of UNDP, whose analysis of housing needs in Albania published in August 2014, was used for the situation analysis of the strategy[ii]. In this occasion we congratulate the Ministry for the quality of the study carried out in 3 municipalities, which evidenced not only real housing needs but also, and what is more important, how policies at the local level were implemented and how efficient they were. The study discovered that implemented policies have been problematic for several reasons. There is a lack of cooperation between local and central authorities; the government uses these programs to reward their supporters; banks use discriminatory procedures to make it impossible for a poor family to benefit from the housing program; mostly families with stable income are beneficiaries; gender discrimination and the fact that housing is combined with other problems such as depression, unemployment and illiteracy. The only element not mentioned by the Ministry of Urban Development is whether such initiative will be coordinated with the Minsitry of Social Welfare and Youth, since we are talking about social assistance programs. Nevertheless, we hope the introduced strategy will offer concrete solutions and easy procedures, in order to grant access to those really in need.
- Territorial reform or the reform of the land?!
On the other hand, Ms. Gjermeni, in an open lecture at the University of Elbasan, emphasized that from the study on the development of cities one of the things identified is ‘’the lack of local plans, dysfunction of public structures and institutions, has created a painful precedent in the country, with the usurpation of public spaces and the establishment of new neighborhoods with a complete lack of urban infrastructure’’ and that ‘’our focus as a Ministry, is placed in finding and implementing best models for a unified recovery of the territory not only to achieve social cohesion and development of informal zones, but above all to create and regenerate new economic opportunities for the inhabitants of these areas’’. It is not that what the Minister chose to emphasize is not true, but we doubt the eradication of informality as a core concept of the territorial reform. Illegal constructions are not the only plague of our country as legal ones which ignore urban plans contribute as well. The question that arises is will all constructions that do not fulfill criterias be demolished? At the same time, land reform should be the core concept of the territorial reform, without which problems will persist. On the other hand, we have not seen until now a local strategy, in the frsmework of the territorial reform, sincronized at the national level and the so called program Fund for the Development of Regions does not qualify as such since it is only a means through which local unit apply for projects. If the reform is in place, such problems should have been addressed and a final solution found. In fact, these challenges should be addressed before the Ministry acts so farsighted as to introduce the property tax, which was discussed by the Director of Territorial Development Policies at the Ministry of Urban Development, Mr. Nertil Jole [iii], invited at ‘’Dite e Re’’ show of ‘’Ora News’’. Naturally, the tax will bring additional income for local institutions, which will be translated into more investments for cities, but how will another tax influence citizen’s pockets?
- Removed barriers for construction permits
Meanwhile, in the abovementioned interview, Mr. Jole says that procedures for abusive construction permit (with the example of the construction of towers at the articifial lake of Tirana), have become more rigirous. This comes at a time when the government has notified through the Business and Investment Strategy 2020[iv] that it has shortened the deadline for procedures to obtain construction permits. It is not clear how the rigourosity of procedures will be harmonized with their facilitation, since businesses are the primary subject to benefit from abusive construction permits and the ones that have caused great damage to urban spaces.
In conclusion, we can say that the Ministry is doing a good job when it comes to promoting ‘its work’, since it is organizing competitions for projects between high school students, while what is expected from this ministry is implementation of projects. [v]