From Informal to Illegal: Roma Housing in (Post-)Socialist Sofia
This paper discusses the changing housing regime during Bulgaria’s transition from socialism to post-socialism. Focusing on the Roma minority in Sofia I trace the present-day legacy of socialist housing policies. After 1989 the displacement of Roma people drastically increased. As their self-built houses and annexes were informally legitimisied but not formally legalised under socialism, they were evicted by neoliberal urban authorities to clear the way for new private developments. Many small Roma neighbourhoods were pronounced ‘illegal’ and destroyed and their inhabitants were pushed out to zones without economic and education opportunities. Triangulating archival and secondary sources with ethnographic observation and qualitative interviews, I ask what past and present legal regulations, policies, and practices made Roma settlements in Sofia vulnerable to demolition and their inhabitants to displacement. I claim that, as in other periods of the development of the Bulgarian capital, quick-fix solutions were characteristic of the socialist period. In the case of Roma, in order to provide a temporary solution to the overall housing shortage the state turned a blind eye to the increasing amount of semi-legal housing. Furthermore, as Roma mostly remained low-skilled workers, they did not benefit from the redistribution that championed certain occupations privileged by the one-party state.
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