Are we entering a golden era for predatory lenders, payday loans and pawn shops? Queues are forming in front of some of them. - I lost my job. I don't have a penny - says a client.
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Saturday afternoon. On the Marszałkowska street between Dmowski square and Plac Konstytucji everything is empty. Almost all premises are closed except Żabka, two pawn shops and a shadow bank offering payday loans. Several people are waiting in front of one predatory lender near Hoża. On Monday, pawn shops placed additional advertising stands on the pavement. The pawnshops are also among the few open businesses.

Pawn shops don’t ask personal questions

- I worked illegally. I lost my job. I have no savings. I want to sell my electronic equipment. I came to find out how to do that - says a man in his forties. He just left the pawn shop. The woman who accompanies him leaves looking ashamed.

Shadow bank, before which the queue lined up on Saturday, was closed on Monday. The information on a glued piece of paper says to call the phone number provided for loans. The man on the line wasn't very forthcoming. I asked him for a loan of 5,000 PLN per year. He wanted to know what income I have, what is my bank account. I asked about the interest rate, he stated that his role is only to provide the information to the consultant. He said that I would get the money in a day or two, and the contract by email within 30 days.

In another pawn shop, I asked if there were more customers due to the coronavirus epidemic. The young man behind the glass windshield refused to talk. - I don't talk to clients. They want a loan and I don't ask why,', he cut me off.

The economic effects of the epidemic are already visible. Those who worked under civil contracts and in industries that were immediately hit by the crisis, such as  gastronomy, culture, tourism, or hotels, were left without any income. They live in rented apartments or rooms and often have no savings.

- More and more people who have recently become victims of illegal evictions are calling us. They have rented apartments on the private market. They lost their jobs due to the epidemic - says Jakub Żaczek from the Tenant Rights Protection Committee. He explains that the government “anti-crisis shield” should protect against such cases: one of its provisions prohibits the termination or amendment of contracts by apartment owners until June 30. Żaczek also appealed to the town hall for rent holidays for tenants whose financial situation worsened due to the coronavirus epidemic. - The Mayoral office introduces various rent reductions for entrepreneurs. Municipal tenants are also in a difficult situation - says the activist.

Warsaw accumulates reserves

- We are already receiving applications from municipal tenants who have lost their source of income due to the epidemic. They are asking us for exemption from rents. From a legal point of view, we cannot introduce the so-called rental holidays. We are analyzing the government's “anti-crisis shield” in this respect. But this is a very recent matter. In addition, the shield concerns entrepreneurs. The only legal option at the moment is to reduce rents by up to 80 percent in the event of a decrease in income over the last three months - informs Magdalena Młochowska, director of the housing policy office in the Warsaw town hall.

Wojciech Gajewski, director of the Social Assistance Center in Praga-Północ, admits that they have more and more calls from people who found themselves in a difficult situation after losing their jobs during the epidemic. 

- I think we will receive more of these calls by the end of April and the beginning of May, when people will run out of their modest savings - says Gajewski. He adds that after verification, residents are directed to food warehouses.

Vice President of Warsaw Paweł Rabiej assures that the city hall is preparing for increased demand and accumulates reserves in the Food Bank so that they are ready when needed. 

- The groups which are most at risk are young people who worked on civil contracts in broadly understood services, as well as lonely senior citizens, and families with children in which one of the parents lost their jobs - says Rabiej. 

He adds that people who have not benefited from such assistance already should apply for food stamps. 

- Today a young man who until recently worked as a waiter came to the mobile food station at Arkadia. He doesn't have any source of income now. At the same time, he has to pay his landlord - he rents a room - says the vice president. 

He assures that the city is prepared for the situation thanks to thecrisis reserve in the budget that can be rapidly mobilized. 

- Nobody in Warsaw will be starving - Rabiej assures.

Every day, 400 journalists at Gazeta Wyborcza write verified, fact-checked stories about the coronovirus pandemic for you.

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