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Vacant buildings are scary in Warsaw. How many are there?

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Boarded up windows, decaying walls and ubiquitous graffiti. One of the empty buildings stands only 100 meters from the Centrum metro station in Warsaw. In another, in a quite prestigious location, in Wola, homeless people live. In the capital, where apartment prices exceed PLN 20,000 per square meter, there were over 2,700 vacancies in 2023. The city admits: this number is not decreasing. Among other things, the “premises for renovation” project will help, which can be used by people waiting in line for a flat from the municipal resource.

“Recently, I've been walking around downtown Warsaw more intensively than usual, venturing into downtown courtyards. Many of them are charming. However, I also found some like this…” – wrote Jan Baran, a former activist of the Miasto Jest Nasza association, currently associated with the X platform Poland 2050 party. Observers had to guess where exactly the building in the photos was located. It turned out to be a yard in the quarter: Aleje Jerozolimskie, Krucza, Nowogrodzka, Marszałkowska. Just 100 meters from the Centrum metro station.

Another abandoned building is located in a quite prestigious location, on Grzybowska Street. Recently found in it four bodies, it also turned out that homeless people lived there.

PLN 22,000 per square meter

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Why in a city “where a square meter of an apartment in the center is worth on average 22 thousand zlotys” are there so many empty buildings? MJN activist Damian Gregier sent inquiries to all Warsaw districts about the addresses of vacant buildings. ” As a result, he collected a database of 212 addresses, and there are also 94 vacant buildings from Praga-Południe (this district was the only one that did not provide addresses, but only the number ). Additionally, many of the addresses are monuments, such as the tenement house at 5 Wileńska or Chmielna 126, which are deteriorating from year to year,” we read on the X MJN platform.

Activists point out that in times of “an unprecedented housing crisis, it is hard not to ask why this is happening and what the city is doing to restore these buildings to a usable condition – so that they can be used for residential purposes again.”

We also asked the town hall about this. From the response of the city hall's press department, we learned that vacancies “are a natural phenomenon in the housing stock, and the larger the housing stock, the greater the turnover among tenants.” Warsaw has approx 81 thousand municipal apartmentswhich lives over 150 thousand people.

READ ALSO: “Studio studios” the size of a cellar for hundreds of thousands of zlotys

Vacancy rates have been increasing since the pandemic

We also asked how the number of vacancies has changed since the pandemic of 2020, which had a significant impact on the deepening housing crisis in Warsaw.

According to city hall data, the number of empty residential premises in buildings permanently used (not intended for demolition) was:

2020 – 2,423
2021 – 2,662
2022 – 2,817
2023 – 2,735

These numbers include empty premises, ready for lease in a new stock (buildings put into use during the year, which, depending on the moment of commissioning, have not yet been partially or fully occupied at the end of a given year) or renovated.

“Continuous turnover in the stock means that those premises that were listed as empty in previous years are occupied on an ongoing basis, but new ones are added. On average, every year Warsaw renovates approx. 1800-2000 premises (however, the number of vacancies is not decreasing because new premises are constantly being acquired as a result of natural population movement),” we read further.

SEE ALSO: “Enough of the Cold War.” Prague residents demand connection to central heating

The data also included the number of apartments without central heating installations, which are unattractive to tenants. What is the city doing to improve it? As we learn, it equips buildings with such installations, thereby reducing the number of vacancies of this type. The remaining ones are regularly qualified for annual renovation plans determined by the districts.

Further information shows that the given number of vacancies does not include premises located in buildings with claims and those unsuitable for occupancy due to their technical condition. These are entire buildings requiring major renovation.

The Covid law blocked evictions

Officials point out one more problem. Increase in the number of empty apartments over the years 2020-2022 falls during the COVID-19 pandemic, when there were restrictions on signing contracts for the renovation of empty residential premises, bringing renovation contractors to the construction site and accepting renovations of vacant buildings, which had an impact on the level of implementation of this task.

An additional negative phenomenon, significantly affecting the number of empty premises, were the regulations contained in Art. 15 of the Act of March 2, 2020 – the so-called Covid Act. While it was in force, the provisions prohibited evictions. “The final repeal of this ban took place pursuant to Article 20 of the Act of April 8, 2022 amending the Act on assistance to citizens of Ukraine in connection with an armed conflict on the territory of this country and certain other acts (…), which had a real impact on the number recovered to the stock of premises as a result of evictions, and thus resulted in an increase in the number of vacancies in 2022,” explains the press department.

READ ALSO: “He doesn't live because you can't live there. He just stands on the threshold and adds more things.”

“Premises for renovation”. For whom?

Officials assure that: despite these obstacles, preparing vacant buildings for occupancy through renovations is the city's priority and that is why 2023 was a record year in terms of funds spent. “It is assumed that in the 2024 budget the city will allocate no less for the renovation of vacant residential premises than in 2023, i.e. approx. PLN 70 million” – they enumerate.

The rules for managing vacant buildings are specified in detail in a resolution of the Warsaw Council – it specifies the conditions and criteria for inhabitation. The City Hall also reminds that a project called “premises for renovation” has recently been implemented. “The project is addressed to residents of the commune who are already waiting for housing assistance – and therefore meet certain criteria – who have the opportunity to renovate the premises on their own. However, this does not mean that the future tenant has to do it himself, because he may have support, e.g. from his family. If If the district management allocates such premises, it will inform qualified persons about the possibility of renovation on their own,” officials wrote in response to our questions.

SEE: They took over an empty apartment because they were “fed up with the crowds”.

The project has just started. As we read on its website, on January 26, 2024, an ordinance entered into force that allows district management boards to allocate premises for renovation to people who meet the criteria and are qualified for housing assistance. Officials estimate that the effects of its action will be visible only after some time. They also ensure that the implementation of the project will not affect the situation of other people waiting. “We assume that it will enable faster settlement of apartments requiring renovation, which will allow people waiting for housing assistance to conclude contracts faster. This is the next stage of work related to vacant properties in our city. This way, people waiting for an apartment can carry out the renovation themselves and adapt the premises to their expectations,” they write.

Who can apply for such a premises? Four criteria must be met. Interested parties must prove that Warsaw is their place of permanent residence; that the income from the last 12 months does not exceed a certain value; they live in housing conditions that justify their improvement and cannot provide for their housing needs on their own.

A detailed description of the criteria can be found here on the city website>>

1.8 million vacant buildings in Poland

Members of the Polish Association of Developers and Employers of the Republic of Poland said at a meeting with journalists that it is not so easy to count vacancies. Hanna Milewska-Wilk from the Institute of Urban and Regional Development explained that the last research on this topic was conducted three years ago. – We are planning to conduct a second such study regarding uninhabited apartments – she announced.

According to Milewska-Wilk, in the European context, if in Poland we have just over 10-14 percent (depending on the region) of uninhabited apartments, we are in a “fairly good situation”. – Good in the sense that there is relatively little of it. On the other hand, the census was conducted during the pandemic and was also based on registration data. During the pandemic, some people simply left, including large cities. Our housing situation was changing a little then, she said.

The specialist also pointed out one more problem. – We treat our registration obligation quite loosely. Therefore, the largest cities usually say that they have an underestimated number of inhabitants. Because, for example, people who come to work or rent apartments often simply do not register, she said.

According to data from the Central Statistical Office, we are talking about: 1.8 million uninhabited houses and apartments in Poland. – If we put them on a map, it turns out that these are the areas of eastern Poland, but also the West Pomeranian Voivodeship. But on the other hand, these are the most touristic cities in Poland, and they are small. So here we simply have uninhabited apartments, said the specialist.

This may also mean that the premises are not actually occupied by anyone, but may be used for other purposes. – We know the situation perfectly well – there are law firms, notary offices, accounting offices, but also short-term rentals. This means using apartments for accommodation purposes or simply tourist services – she said.

Poles have second homes

The analysis of Central Statistical Office data also shows that Poles often have second homes. – In Poland, we do not have a category for tracking how many residential premises we have. Because these are houses and apartments that are used only periodically. We do have houses on recreational plots, which are year-round houses. And there are people living there permanently. But on the other hand, we have houses that are very often inherited, but are only used in the summer due to the fact that in winter a lot would have to be invested in renovating such a house to make it comfortable in winter and meet “our today's standards” – she said. Milewska-Wilk.

– On the one hand, these empty buildings are a certain potential that could be used to use what we have. These are both environmental and ecological considerations. But also speed. It is much easier to renovate an apartment or building that already exists and adapt it to the purpose for which it was previously designed – she further assessed.

But – as she noted – renovations are currently very expensive. – Especially if it is an antique substance in any way – she emphasized.

Author:Katarzyna Kędra

Main photo source: TVN24, X

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