Brussels: the municipality chooses repression and lies rather than solidarity

Press release – Solidarity Requisitioning Campaign

On Friday 26th February we wanted to squat the old Pacheco Hospice in the city centre. Our action clearly did not please the municipal politicians – Khalid Zian, president of the CPAS (Centres Publics d’Action Sociale) and Philippe Close, mayor of the City of Brussels – who opted for violent repression rather than negotiation. In the evening, we were bluntly kicked out by the police. 38 people were detained for several hours and will be fined. People were kicked in the head and verbally abused. We wonder where such a strong reaction against a solidarity action that has been rather well received in other municipalities and by the region in recent weeks comes from. Why does the city of Brussels not want to allow the use of a CPAS building that has been empty for 4 years to house people in difficulty?

The CPAS justifies the eviction by the fact that a temporary occupation is currently being considered and that a public call for tenders will soon be launched. Khalid Zian, the president of the CPAS, goes so far as to falsely assert that an occupation for accommodation would have been possible “on condition that it was properly supervised and agreed upon beforehand”. However, the municipal authorities have been approached several times about this building (by the Voice of the Undocumented – la Voix des Sans Papiers – already 2 years ago, by the Region this winter for emergency accommodation) and have each time refused to make the building available.

Also, the CPAS stated that “it will not enter into a temporary occupation agreement with persons responsible for a break-in in its buildings”. However, the actions of the Solidarity Requisitioning Campaign, which started at the beginning of the winter, resulted in the accommodation of more than 350 people, in the face of the inability of the public authorities to do so. This is also a good thing for some public authorities to see collectives doing their work for them.

It is a political choice to leave such spaces empty for 4 years and spend a fortune on 24-hour security guards, while many people in great precarious situations are homeless or poorly housed. It would have been perfectly possible to preserve this architectural heritage – only part of the building is listed – while returning it to its original use, which is what it was designed to do, namely to be a place of welcome for the most destitute. By hiding behind a future temporary occupation, the CPAS wants to prevent its building from being occupied by people in need. A problematic choice, which shows the ambivalence – or even unwillingness – of the government when it comes to guaranteeing the right to housing for all.

The battle for vacant Brussels is in full swing. While squatting has become a crime, temporary occupations for artists, craft workers or start-ups are multiplying and becoming institutionalised. By planing such a vacancy with a call for projects, an insidious political choice is being made, since it opts to enhance the image of the neighbourhood and the building, which is basically an excellent tool for real estate speculation. In front of an owner (even a public one) with whom to negotiate a temporary occupation of a building, all the actors are not equal. Some audiences are “sexier” than others. And the least desirable actors and actresses are, of course, the poor and undocumented. Moreover, isn’t it up to the government itself to use its vacant buildings to provide solutions where the need is greatest, rather than letting citizens compete for all.

The communal majority therefore prefers repression and the search for a way out, so as not to use its buildings as a response to urgent social issues. The political vision does not seem to be geared towards supporting the poorly housed, homeless and precarious, on the contrary, it still promotes a project that aims at entertainment. Is this really what our public authorities are supposed to do?

Some squats in Brussels
Some squats in Belgium
Groups (social center, collective, squat) in Belgium
Events in Belgium