Tbilisi City Hall on January 28 tore down ten “illegally” built houses and constructions as well as several structures on state-owned lands in the Orkhevi neighborhood on the outskirts of the Georgian capital, allegedly leaving several households without shelter.
The City Hall’s municipal inspection started knocking down the houses early this morning, with media footage showing desperate residents –girdled by police– pleading with authorities to stop the process.
The move comes in the mid of winter, as Omicron rampages in the country with a record new 75,800 cases reported this week alone.
After the buildings were flattened, Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze said that “no one will be allowed to seize state-owned lands and then carry illegal constructions.” He stressed that “all sorts of warnings were given” to the residents prior to the demolition.
According to the Mayor, City Hall’s queries have shown that residents of “illegal” housing are “people who own land plots in regions, people who own flats in the capital.”
But Mayor Kaladze also stressed his office would help those possibly left homeless “as much as possible” and provide them with municipal housing shortly.
While the houses were being torn down earlier in the day, a municipal inspection employee present on-site also claimed with Mtavari Arkhi no one had lived in the constructions. As for the people gathered there, he said the authorities were not aware whether they were Orkhevi residents or not.
But some of the locals have disputed the authorities’ claims, saying they no longer have any other shelter. One resident of the area said he and his son, relying on social assistance, lived in a wagon and were ordered to leave the place.
“My father and I have nowhere to stay,” another man told Mtavari Arkhi TV, stressing the only thing they now expect from the local government is a single room where they can stay.
Another resident of now-flattened buildings, Kakhaber Iluridze, said that while he has a flat in Tbilisi, he has to live on the unregistered property to tend to his cattle, being a subsistence farmer.
Iluridze said he was a victim of the devastating 2015 flood in Tbilisi, going on to claim that following the disaster an unnamed City Hall employee had issued him assurances that he could move to the Orkhevi area.
Following the demolitions, Social Justice Center, a local civil society organization said events of January 28 once again exposed “the zero sensitivity Tbilisi City Hall has towards the homeless and people at risk of homelessness.”
The watchdog stressed that the demolition in Orkhevi was not an isolated case, but rather a manifestation of the city’s “repressive policy.”
Also, it asserted the lack of appropriate state housing services and authorities’ “inaction” on the matter, citizens are left with no choice but to construct homes without permission or live in various other facilities.
In 2020, Tbilisi City Hall similarly demolished 12 “illegal” homes on state-owned lands in Tbilisi’s Africa neighborhood.
Back then, civil society organizations, activists, and opposition politicians on all sides of the political and ideological spectrum criticized city authorities for what they called an “inhuman” move to deprive low-income people of their residence amidst cold winter temperatures, pandemic-induced harsh conditions, and lack of appropriate housing policies.