Life in an Athens Housing Complex

A complicated tangle of property rights, squatters, and disrepair.

The eight-building Prosfygika housing complex in central Athens has managed to survive years of deterioration, redevelopment plans and threats of demolition.

The facilities, built in the 1930s, were meant to accommodate Greeks who left Turkey as part of the 1923 population exchange between the two nations after WWI. It has since become a centrally located eyesore. The visibly worn structure is covered in graffiti and also shell marks from the country's civil war.

Still, it has survived various redevelopment plans and was declared a protected site in 2008.

Today, Prosfygika provides housing not only for some 30 descendants of its original residents, but a wide range of low-income Athenians, squatters and immigrants waiting to move to more northern parts of Europe for work. 

The co-existence is not always harmonious. Prosfygika's dwellings are a mix of state-owned and private units. According to Reuters, 51 owners refused to sell their apartments to the Greek government back in 2001. The odd mix of backgrounds and a growing population of squatters have only increased tensions.

With the country's sluggish economy and rising homeless population, many squatters say there's simply nowhere else to go. Apartment owners repeatedly asked local authorities to remove the squatters as well as the graffiti, but were told that there's no money available.

But there's some hope -- an official told Reuters anonymously that there is a redevelopment plan in the works, which should be unveiled later this year.

A man is silhouetted speaking on the phone inside an apartment at the "Prosfygika" housing complex in Athens November 1, 2013. (REUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis)
A view of an apartment at the "Prosfygika" housing complex in Athens October 28, 2013. (REUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis) 
Immigrants pose in front of one of the buildings of the "Prosfygika" housing complex in Athens October 27, 2013. (REUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis)
Children play with a ball at an alley between buildings of the "Prosfygika" housing complex in Athens October 21, 2013. (REUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis) 
Tasos, a recovering drug addict, who has been squatting for years at the "Prosfygika" housing complex gestures outside an apartment in Athens October 28, 2013. (REUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis) 
A man prepares a meal at a soup kitchen outside the "Prosfygika" housing complex in Athens October 14, 2013. (REUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis) 
Turkish immigrant Emine Kilic hugs a baby during a soup kitchen at the "Prosfygika" housing complex in Athens October 14, 2013. (REUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis) 
Iranian squatters sit inside a living room at the "Prosfygika" housing complex in Athens October 28, 2013. (REUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis) 
Chrysoula Charizanou, 76, a Greek owner of an apartment, poses inside her bedroom at the "Prosfygika" housing complex in Athens December 4, 2013. (REUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis) 
Emine Kilic, a Turkish squatter and mother of 10, speaks on the phone inside a kitchen at the "Prosfygika" housing complex in Athens November 24, 2013. (REUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis) 
A doll hangs over a window of an apartment at the "Prosfygika" complex in Athens October 1, 2013. (REUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis) 
A general view of the "Prosfygika" housing complex in Athens October 16, 2013. (REUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis) 

About the Author