In Debrecen, needy families find it more difficult to find housing than those who could solve it on their own or with a little help under market conditions. How could this problem be fixed? And what about the much-maligned (mass) transport? The Szikra Movement calls for radical changes, we learned from Mihály Dombi, a member of the organization in Debrecen.
Where did the idea come from to join the Szikra Movement and deal with the issue of housing as a priority issue?
I have been dealing with environmental protection and sustainability for about 15 years, and my accumulated knowledge has roughly indicated that the state of the capital market, redistribution mechanisms, the tax system, etc. how much influence they have on the direction the world is heading. I was looking for ways to influence this, for which science is limited, and after various popular materials (which also had a limited impact on public awareness of sustainability) I found the Spark Movement, which was still fresh at the time. I recognized in it the messages that I believe are the only way out of the dynamics of an unsustainable world. I think environmental protection and sustainability are necessarily left-wing politics. Szikra is the only one that authentically represents this in Hungary. A green future and sustainability are among the clear priorities in the movement, so we were practically made for each other.
How did you join a non-governmental organization?
I am still active in the civil sphere, for example here in Debrecen, I am a member of one of the largest civil organizations dealing with public transport. I believe that communication channels, professional and semi-professional tools and institutions that are not available in the civil sphere at the Hungarian level are necessary for the transmission of messages. This was the main reason why he became more interested in politics.
Which organizations and parties does the Szikra Movement cooperate with?
Szikra is a Budapest initiative, so it has an intensive relationship with housing, environmental protection and youth organizations in the capital, but we try to build very consciously and organically. We are active users of the results of scientific life and the civil sphere, we monitor them, even if not all of them are intensive, live relationships. The Szikra Mozgalom is currently not such an organization that we can promise immediate salvation. We grow and develop, keeping in mind our basic principles: sustainability, justice, solidarity.
What would be the ideal solution for solving housing problems in Debrecen?
Basically, the problem in the city is that the condition of social housing and apartments that can be rented well below the market price is very bad. Most of these are panel apartments that are not particularly attractive from a consumer point of view, and if the buyer or tenant also has to spend money on renovations (for example, the replacement of windows and doors, which is now a million-dollar item), this is too much for many families. 3% of Hungarian residents of working age have over HUF 5 million in savings. Of course, you can take out a loan, but those who are forced out of the market-based housing market are not among the most creditworthy people. Even with today’s interest rates, this solution is not an option. The Cívisház did say that there was an oversubscription for these tenders, but since roughly a third of the apartments could not be rented out, I assume that the oversubscription applied to those properties that are in a good location and required lower renovation costs. Although this could have a price-reducing effect on the market, I am afraid that these apartments will not go to those who actually need them, but those who could get by in the market segment with a little help will also take advantage of the opportunity.
In an ideal situation, the municipality is actively present in the real estate market, not primarily with construction, but with the management of the existing stock. Buy apartments in order to then rent them back, there would be a great need for an apartment agency in Debrecen, which would be an attractive alternative even for those with little capital. The proportion of apartments that the city owns, but cannot rent out, is very high because they are in such bad condition. And we could deliver these to the truly needy by removing competing elements from the system. This includes the bidding system or, in the case of the same tender ranking, advance payment. We know an applicant who paid three years’ rent in advance.
You mentioned the Szeged system at the press conference as an example to follow.
There are good and bad examples. The point system operating in Derecské, for example, is a distinctly elitist system, favoring those whom the city would like to see in the settlement. Politically, this can be a goal, but then you have to admit that it is a competition and favors highly qualified families with large savings and a manageable number of children.
On the other hand, we think the Szeged point system is a good solution because here the higher score is given by the principle of need. This system offers renovated apartments – a real chance – to have a chance to get an apartment in that city for families with a more difficult fate, but with income and the ability to pay rent.
The emphasis is on chance, and that is why we consider the Debrecen system unacceptable, where low-income, truly needy families cannot compete with better-off applicants under such conditions.
What do you see as a problem in Debrecen besides housing?
The problems of Debrecen are very similar, they almost stem from the same source as the problems of the capitalist world. The problems of suburbanization, transport and the housing market can all be linked to the accumulation of capital and the regulatory environment that governs it, i.e. the influence of politics and large economic organizations.
If we want a green city, good transport, and a healthy environment, we have to get the very rich and very influential people to show responsibility towards society. This can be achieved with several means, of course, we only think of democratic ones.
What would be the solution to improve public transport in Debrecen?
Fewer cars. 140,000 cars rumble through the city’s roads every day, and without reducing this, it is not possible to operate an efficient public transport and cycling infrastructure. In Debrecen (and in any city) these cannot fit together, because our spaces are simply finite. The DKV timetable is also so difficult because the 140,000 cars cause regular traffic jams in the city.
If it weren’t so easy to drive and park in the city, then suburbanization wouldn’t be so attractive either, but of course, it has to be added that the average property in the city is not one that can be bought with the work of two lifetimes. The city must do its part to ensure that apartments in Debrecen are available on the real estate market. We also consider it an express goal that moving to the agglomeration is not forced.
How could the number of cars be reduced? With better public transport?
Making public transport better, or even free, by itself did not lead to results where they were experimented with. People will not get out of their cars, which they spend more than a million a year on. We will not break this with free bus services. The advantage of traveling by car is that it is more comfortable, provides a shorter travel time, and is easily accessible. These three factors must be changed at the same time. We cannot say that DKV flights are not comfortable. The entire fleet has been replaced, and the blue tram is increasingly rare. On the other hand, there is a big problem with the travel time, especially with the non-backbone trains, which operate with a half-hour or one-hour follow-up time. Who can plan any trip like that? The travel time of public transport will not decrease as long as they have to avoid these 140,000 cars in the city. As for availability and payoff, I would support making parking much more expensive in Debrecen. In Székesfehérvár, for example, the hourly parking fee in the inner zone is over HUF 1,000. Serious action should be taken against wild parking – I consider it unacceptable that people use the city’s green areas for P+R. Due to a legal gap, the public space supervision cannot take action against them.
For now, we can see opposite processes, just think of parents driving their children almost to the door of the classroom…
It turned out this way because they can, the city actively helps parents in this. The downtown pedestrian area was damaged when the “Kiss and Ride” lane was allowed for motorists to drive through the area behind Kálvin tér. This is not always used as it should be. Let’s take a look, for example, at the bicycle lane created 15 years ago in front of the Benedek Elek Primary School, which is often used as a parking lot. Even though we talked about it several times, the city does not have the resources to prevent this. In Germany, for example, there is no free school choice partly for this reason (and to prevent inequalities).
Would the school bus be a solution?
I don’t think the school bus is justified in Debrecen, rather it should be used in less populated areas. Rather, we need a more usable public transport system that meets all needs. In addition, the development of cycling infrastructure would also be essential. A family should be able to cycle safely from, say, the Csapókert to the city center.
– Sándor N. Nagy –