By Fasika Tadesse
On the sunny midday of June 14, 2017, the three neighbours Melese Abayneh, Birtukan Demisse and Alemitu Assale were sitting clueless in the wreck of their houses, which they had been living in for the past five years. These neighbours teamed up as they are all from the same town, in the southern part of the country.
It was their third day to sit in the middle of a building wreck following the full knockdown of their houses. Three of them work as daily labourers and have been living in the area renting one-room houses each, from a single property owner, in Arada District, Wereda 01, Kebele 16.
Last Monday around noon, four youths, which were organised by the city administration, demolished the houses for redevelopment purposes, following an order from the District.
Their houses were part of the 1,510 houses planned to be knocked down and cleared for redevelopment use before the end of the current fiscal year, across three Kebeles. These houses are also part of the 15,909 houses planned to be entirely demolished with the aim of clearing 186ha of land.
When the District decided to clear the area for redevelopment two years ago, it registered the houses to give people replacements of either condominium or municipal houses. It also provided 11,000 Br for transportation fees to move household items and furniture to the new houses. For the owners of private houses, the administration gives a replacement plot, money for the construction of the house and a rental fee for one year until they finalise constructing their houses.
And the property owner of Alemitu’s house was one of the people who got a condominium and left the area months ago. The tenants remained at the area, as they were not able to be registered and get substitutions since the district does not consider replacements for renters.
Even though the project started over a year ago, it has been interrupted for months because of casual processes throughout the year including planning at the early stage and evaluating the process after some progress, according to Berhe Mesfin, Arada District Wereda 01 administration chief executive officer.
But over the past 20 days, the demolishing was resumed aggressively. And at the beginning of last week the move was massive. One of the houses that were demolished last week was rented by three neighbours who live in the area.
“I was serving lunch to my twin kids who returned from examination,” said Alemitu, a mother of four. “Suddenly I heard a voice from outside while four youths were rushing to climb on the top of my house to remove the roof.”
The next step was a mess, according to her. They did not even give her time to listen her explanations and beg, they just removed her house’s roof in a rush and also the necessary materials including the door and window of her one-room house. It only took them half a day to leave the house bare, according to her.
“We did not receive notice in advance, but we only heard rumours that the demolishing had resumed,” Alemitu told Fortune.
Alemitu’s house was a municipal house, one of the three types of residential units in the area up for demolishing along with houses of the former Government Housing Agency and private houses.
The Wereda also considers giving residential units as replacements for 180 individuals who lived in the area as a dependent, which includes those who live in the area for two years, considering their economic status. But it did not consider giving replacements for tenants, according to Berhe.
“Even the dependents are following up their cases after they have left the area,” said Berhe.
Including Alemitu’s house, as of Friday, June 16, 2017, 830 residential units were fully demolished, out of them 803 are municipal houses, 163 private and 42 owned by the former Government Housing Agency.
“We did not manage to be included in the list of either tenant nor dependents to get a replacement,” said Birtukan, a mother of two who also lived in the area for six years migrating from the neighbourhood Arogew Qera. This left them to be homeless and to temporarily reside in the wreck of the houses.
The target is to demolish and clear 56ha of land starting from Tewedros Square, near to Satan Bet, the well-known and the oldest cinema hall in the city, extending to Sheraton Addis Hotel. After relocating the residents and clearing the area, the administration designated the land to government institutions and local investors.
The Addis Abeba Communication Affairs Bureau and the Policy Study & Research Centre (PSRC) are among the bodies that will get land for their offices, according to Berhe.
They were offered to take a three-bedroom condo at Bole Bulbula site after paying 97,000 Br as a down payment eight months ago. This means the family has to pay 4,100 Br in monthly fee.
“The house was almost incomplete,” said Yasin. “We spent 65,000 Br to finalise it in eight months because of financial constraints.”
“This was very difficult to finish the house with the financial capacity of our widowed mother who has no income, rather receives support from her children,” said Yasin.
Yasin, a spring mattress worker by profession, had to wait months to save money with his brothers to finish the condo gradually, but in the midst, their house was demolished while they were inside their former house.
For Marqos Alemayehu, head of the district’s Housing Development & Urban Renewal Agency, the move of this family is illegal. Even though their new house still needs finishing works, they were not supposed to stay in the area for such a period after getting a replacement, according to him.
“One month is enough to clear out all the finishing works and leave the areas,” said Marqos.
Many people are abusing this right, according to Marqos. Many people do not leave the houses on time, rather they rent the new condos by staying in their old neighbourhood. And he believes that they do not need to get a warning to leave the house as they already receive replacements.
In the areas, not only residential units but also businesses faced the knockdown. One of the businesses to be demolished includes Ephrem and Bekele Wood & Metal Works Enterprise. The business was established in 2005 as a Small & Medium Enterprise (SME) just behind the office of the Central Statistical Agency (CSA), which is one of the institutions that asked to develop the area by themselves along with 41 other investors and institutions. These 42 were also given the notice to start to redevelop the land within a week’s time.
There are four sheds, which were fully constructed by the Enterprises. The roofs of the sheds were covered with plastic sheets after the Enterprises lost their roofs, made of corrugated iron, due to the demolition. The roofing was removed by the order from the Wereda as owners could not remove the roofing within the three-days notice from the Wereda, according to Berhe.
“To avoid the hustle, we kept the owners under custody for hours and removed the roofing, as they could not operate without the roofing and leave the area immediately,” said Berhe.
Ephrem disagrees with the forward by Berhe.
“The move of the Wereda is ridiculous,” said Ephrem Nasir, a member of the Enterprise. “Even Saudi Arabia gave three months in advance to Ethiopians to leave its country, but for its citizens, the Wereda gave only a three-days notice.”
The enterprises did not get a replacement while they were told to leave the area.
“As it is over five years since they were established, they are not privileged to get a replacement,” said Berhe.
The Enterprises operate heavy machines, and they need time and space to move the machines, according to the member of the enterprises. They need at least three months to finalise and deliver the orders they already received and find another space area, according to Ephrem.
Such cases are the major challenges they are facing not to demolish the houses and clearing the area before the end of the current fiscal year, according to Marqos.
Because of this and other reasons many houses stand alone in the area without being demolished, including the 30 houses whose owners claimed they do not have money for condominium schemes and desired to get municipal houses. Their houses will not be demolished until they get replacement municipal houses.
And, of course, the three neighbours plan to stay in the middle of the wreck, with the hope of being included in the dependents list and get a replacement, even though the City Administration people claim that they do not have space for renters.
“We searched homes to rent in a group, but the price we were told was 1,200 Br for a single room and renters are not willing to rent houses for families,” says Alemitu.
“This is beyond my capacity so that they can bulldoze the area. But, I with my children will stay here as we have nowhere to go,” said Alemitu with frustration.
On the other hand, after negotiations, the owners of the shed were told to leave the area before June 20, 2017; if not their shed will be bulldozed, according to the Wereda administration.