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File translated by Michael C. Behrent - Assistant Professor - Department of History - Appalachian State University - Boone, NC 28608
A few statistics
According to the latest census, in 2002, there were 49 million housing units in Russia, including 13 million individual units; 34 million apartments; and nearly 500,000 “communal units.” In 2007, public housing amounted to 18.8% and private housing 81.2% of the total stock. Three quarters of Russian housing belongs to private interests.
Source: “La copropriété en Russie, Association Nationale de la Copropriété et des Copropriétaires, France.” Read the article.
History of Cities – Heritage
The remnants of communism are still evident in Russian daily life. Housing in urban areas offers a clear example: most Muscovites still live in the countless buildings found on the city’s periphery, which continue to expand. Whether they are rich or not so rich, Russians, whatever their origin, share for the most part a similar habitat. Moscow is the most expensive city in the world, offering few housing options.
The numerous buildings are based on architectural plans drawn up by the state. Their design reflects the period in which they were built. Buildings constructed in the fifties and sixties under Khrushchev attest to the beginnings of industrial architecture and the rise of concrete. The “Khrushchyovka,” as they are known, are recognizable by their relatively small size (no more than five stories), low ceilings, and identical apartments. Buildings of the postmodern period (1970-1980) are just as disciplined internally and still rise to only a few floors. The facades, however, are of widely varying styles. Finally, in more recent buildings (1990-2000), stylistic unity has returned, though concrete still prevails, even if it is now hidden by pastel-colored facades.
These styles overlap with one another. The buildings surrounding Moscow thus shape the inhabitants’ visual landscape. Their austerity recalls the “relentless utilitarianism” and rigor of the core principle of Russian Constructivism: to limit form to a bare minimum. In every corner of the city, one finds these buildings as far as the eye can see. They are always the same, in suburb after suburb, arranged in a rhythmic succession of concrete and vacant lots. Whatever activity there is concentrated around small shops or the large shopping centers that abound along the city’s outskirts. Besides the city center, Muscovites have few places to congregate. When the weather is nice, they meet up in small groups to drink or talk at the foot of their buildings.
These totally interchangeable dwellings nonetheless harbor within them very different realities, resulting in a mixture of social classes. Though Russians now have more purchasing power, they have yet to alter their habits, particularly as they relate to housing. There are deep divides between the inhabitants of a same group of building. There is considerable inequality in buildings between the “new rich” and those who were assigned them by the city’s social services. What from the outside might resemble an archetype of European public housing can prove, rather, to be a place of unexpected diversity, where a multimillionaire may share a floor with a family of five living in a two-room flat.
Saint Petersburg is Russia’s second largest city, with 4.6 million inhabitants. Here, a one-room apartment of 40 square meters costs approximately 80,000 euros. Given these high costs, many were tempted by the allure of co-investment and have been scammed (see below the Movement of Misled Co-Investors below under social movements). About 1,500 people have been affected. In some cases, government building agencies have been implicated in these fraudulent schemes, as they were responsible for choosing the construction company. They have yet, however, to take responsibility for their role.
|Periphery St. Petersburg||St. Petersburg|
Right to Housing
Article 40 of the Russian Constitution of 1993 reads: “1. Everyone shall have the right to a home. Nobody may be arbitrarily deprived of his (her) home. 2. State government bodies and local self-government bodies shall promote housing construction and create conditions for exercising the right to a home. 3. Low-income citizens and other citizens mentioned in law who are in need of a home may receive it either free of charge or for an affordable payment from State, municipal and other housing funds according to the norms established by law.”
Source : CETIM
However, many examples show that this legislation, if it is good, is not necessarily respected in the field. Exemple from the network of the International Alliance of Inhabitants
THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION: COMMUNAL APARTMENTS
The 1917 revolution abolished private property. Residential buildings were thus nationalized. Many large luxury apartments belonging to aristocrats or merchants before the revolution were divided into smaller rooms and distributed to workers as “communal apartments.” Individuals bound by no ties of kinship lived in the same apartment, sharing a communal kitchen and bathroom. At the beginning of the Soviet Union, communal housing was free; very quickly, however, the state began demanding rent, modest though it was. Meanwhile, the management of common areas remained the responsibility of local authorities, with residents only contributing a tiny fee to the upkeep of these areas. The rent was, needless to say, insufficient to pay suppliers’ costs. While the need for a rent increase was regularly debated, it was never imposed, as low rent was always considered one of socialism’s most tangible social achievements.
SINCE 1991: THE PRIVATIZATION OF HOUSING
In 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the government initiated a vast wave of free (i.e., with no financial counterpart) apartment privatizations, benefiting their current occupants. However, legislation relating to common areas was never clarified, meaning that local authorities remained responsible for their upkeep.
The privatizations are allowed to continue until March 1, 2013. To privatize a housing unit, the primary tenant must receive the approval of every other occupant. S/he must then submit a privatization request to the city government. If all conditions are met, the occupants become joint (and equal) proprietors of the dwelling.
At the outset of the privatization campaign, occupants refused to agree to privatization in order to harm their fellow occupants. This was common in communal apartments in which the co-occupants had no family ties. To resolve this problem, the Russian Constitutional Court cancelled the stipulation that dwellings had to be privatized in their entirety. Currently, an occupant of this kind of housing can private his/her share, i.e., a few of the apartment’s rooms, without the co-occupants’ approval. If similar situations occur in a non-communal apartment, jurisprudence recognizes that privatization without the approval of other occupants is possible only if their bad faith can be established.
THOSE FORGOTTEN BY PRIVATIZATION
Workers’ residences were first created by large factories during the Soviet period to allow families to live near their workplace. These residences were conceived as transitory dwellings. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, many families still lived in these residences. About 20 million people across the country found themselves in this situation. During the reform of the housing code, the residences’ inhabitants were completely forgotten and lost all their rights (in other words, they were unable to freely privatize their homes). Very few legal specialists accepted to assist them. Consequently, activist residents gradually got organized to defend themselves. Today, after much time spent in court, they have gradually won their battle. In principle, they may freely privatize their homes in the residences, providing these have not already been privatized. Yet in practice, few realize they have this right and proprietors exploit their ignorance. There are, moreover, many unresolved problems. For instance, legislation has not addressed the many cases of residences that were illegally “privatized” by companies or federal authorities in the nineties. Yet the privatizations of the nineties cannot be challenged as statutes of limitations have expired. Arbitrary evictions are growing. Residence dwellers resist by blocking proprietor agents or court bailiffs from entering their buildings.
An example: a residence on Rochinskaia street in Moscow, in which employees of the Finance Ministry’s security service have lived for twenty to twenty-five years. Watch a video on the residence.
SINCE 2006: A NEW HOUSING AND CO-OWNERSHIP CODE
On January 1, 2006, a new housing code came into effect. It officially established the principle of co-ownership. According to the new housing code, the common areas of a jointly owned building belong to the co-owners, who are required to maintain them. The distribution of costs for maintaining common areas depends solely on one’s share of the property. Even so, Russians are strikingly passive when it comes to co-ownership and, more generally, managing their buildings. It is difficult to achieve a quorum at co-ownership meetings. This tendency towards withdrawal can be explained by the fact that Russians are not accustomed to being involved in the management of their buildings’ common areas. Today, many do not even understand why they should invest time and money to maintain and improve the comfort of these common areas, which until recently were handled by public authorities.
SOCIAL DIVERSITY IN HOUSING: PROS AND CONS
During the Soviet period, it was government policy to integrate different social groups into a single building in order to avoid social stratification. A scientist, who was considered part of the Soviet elite, might have had as her neighbor a worker, a civil servant, or a salesman—the latter belonging to one of the least respected professions. Such economic and cultural diversity could create problems. It could often difficult to reconcile different points of view about home improvement work, notably when it entailed significant expense.
During the seventy years of Soviet rule, residents of private communal buildings were excluded from the management of their building’s common areas, responsibility for which befell to local authorities. This lack of personal and financial responsibility partly explains the poor quality of many dwellings today.
In 2005, 3.2% of dwellings were considered insalubrious according to current Russian standards, despite the fact that there is no legal concept of insalubrious housing. A building can be declared insalubrious by municipal and regional authorities, who make their decisions by assessing buildings on a case by case basis. Usually, a dwelling is considered insalubrious if the building in which it is located is at least 70% depreciated and if the structure has deteriorated to the point of being dangerous. According to the law, insalubrious housing must be either destroyed or rebuilt at the proprietors’ expense within a reasonable time period. Most of the time, proprietors do not have the means to rebuild. In these cases, municipal and regional authorities expropriate the land on which the insalubrious building is located and demolish it at their own expense. In exchange, the proprietors receive either monetary compensation corresponding to the value of the destroyed building and to expenses associated with a forced move (rent during the time it takes to find a new apartment, realtor fees, etc.), or another dwelling of the same size in the same city.
Public housing tenants receive, for their part, another rental unit. The size of the replacement unit can differ from that of the unit that was destroyed. Indeed, many public tenants eagerly await a decree declaring their building insalubrious, as it is often the only chance they have to substantially improve their housing situation.
Russia is experiencing a wave of evictions for non-payment of fees and rents. It is important to note that evictions are legal when approved by a court after six consecutive months of non-payment if there is no “valid reason.” Recent practice, however, is for the courts to interpret “valid reasons” very loosely, overlooking, for example, cases of unemployment or social isolation.
SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC ASPECTS
Parliamentary elections in December 2011 revealed a massive rejection of Putin and Medvedev, despite massive fraud practiced by their party. This disenchantment expressed itself in major demonstrations and anti-Putin anger. Many upper-middle class young people participated in the movement. Source: Read the article by Carine Clément.
THE MISLED CO-INVESTORS
The housing crisis worsened in the 1990s and the costs of purchasing housing increased. In this context, tens of thousands of people opted to build homes through co-investment (or withholdings). These investment funds were created by real estate companies and consisted of contributions from ordinary people with small savings, under the understanding that they would receive an apartment as buildings were completed. In almost every case, local governments guaranteed the integrity of these real estate companies and even became parties in to investment contracts. Many families saw this as an opportunity, investing all their savings into the real estate companies. Beginning in 2000, however, these companies went bankrupt one after another, leaving behind many unfinished buildings. These scandals affected some 200,000 people across the country. Co-investors began to organize to defend their rights, by holding frequent hunger strikes in front of the Russian White House and seizing nearly complete buildings. In 2006, at the end of a hunger strike held at an abandoned construction site, the movement finally obtained recognition of the state’s political responsibility, in the form of an official declaration by Vladimir Putin. Several commissions were formed, which have had regrettably little impact. Activism was reborn in 2007, with new hunger strikes. To date, it has had little measurable effect.
An example: This is a video (in Russian) of a case in 2010: though the housing units have been completely paid for, the building is incomplete and the authorities refuse to budge. The “misled co-investors” organized a demonstration in front of the unfinished building. See the video.
In 2011, a study by the University of Lund showed the extent to which homelessness has evolved in Saint-Petersburg. In the 1990s, rampant poverty led to the emergence of many run-down and abandoned spaces where the homeless could survive. However, by reconfiguring these spaces, urban renewal has left the homeless with no place for them to exist.
In Moscow, a fraudulent system of housing registration documents led to a rise in homelessness from 6 to 14%! Source: The Moscow News.
Since the Second World War, most Russian companies and institutions tried to create community gardens for their workers and employees. The land given by authorities was divided into parcels, which was equipped with running water and electricity. In these community gardens, the parcels’ proprietors built dachas (a sort of secondary home), which were often very simple, without heating or running water. They are used primarily when the weather is good. They allow city dwellers who own them to leave their often tiny apartments and get some fresh air. Dachas are also used for cultivating bits of land, which often play a not negligible role in household diets.
During the wave of housing privatizations in 1991, many neighborhood committees were founded and developed. In 1992, Moscow authorities organized a large gathering of residents’ associations, which gave birth in 1994 to the Moscow-based “Public Committee for Housing Policy,” the first committee of this kind in Russia. For two hours each week, it brought together the leaders of Muscovite residents’ organizations. It continued to meet as late as 2002, discussing proposed legislation and offering comments and recommendations to members of the Duma. It thus provides an excellent example of citizens’ participation—even if Elena Shomina “observes a tendency on the part of committee members to concern themselves more with their relationships with politics leaders than to connect with residents or members of their associations. The fact remains that the committee has now existed for eight years, and the influence of its lobbying of Muscovite political authorities is undeniable.”
REAL ESTATE SPECULATION
Russia is an economically developed country, with a relatively high GDP. Indeed, economic liberalization accentuated this trend, which had previously been offset by the socialist regime. Wealth is quite concentrated in privileged regions: the cities of Moscow and Saint-Petersburg as well as the Siberian regions where hydrocarbon drillings and several industrial regions are located. Moscow alone accounts for 22% of the Russian GDP.
Since 2005, cities have begun working with real estate companies by confiscating land, demolishing buildings, and building in violation of existing norms. In fact, current urban policy reflects the interests of major real estate corporations, which are tied to local government and ignorant of social needs, as well as health and ecological norms. An emerging resistance movement has protested these so-called “savage” constructions (concentrated sites of new buildings located near existing buildings and violating ecological norms), as well as the demolition of buildings that have been officially declared “dilapidated,” but which in reality are simply hindrances to real estate speculation.
During the Soviet Union, housing fees were approximately 5% of their actual cost. In 1994, President Yeltsin launched a reform to make residents pay 100% of the real value of communal and housing costs.
Let us note the mobilization of ecological associations, which for once are largely supported by the public, for “preserving Lake Baikal” and preventing the construction of pipelines in the region.
Bibliography & Sitography
From de Moscow Dormitories Movement :
- We are outraged by the fact that instead of evacuating the tenants from the corridor plan dormitories, the Housing Policy Department simply renews the tenants’ status, declaring that they are tenants of communal apartments with s (with dimensions of those apartments ranging from a floor to a house), increasing the metric space by adding the common corridors space and thus increasing the utilities bills to be paid.
- We are indignant that despite the fact that privatization of residential housing by legal entities is illegal (Article 18 of the Law “On Privatization of the Housing Stock in the Russian Federation “, Order issued by President of the Russian Federation from January, 10, 1993, N 8), a lot of houses are owned privately now. The tenants of these dormitories privatized in illegal ways are forced to resist the lawlessness of the newly emerged owners, who are making every effort to drive people out of their homes, resorting to various gimmicks – disconnecting power and water supply and harassing people by hiring thugs (mobsters, court marshals and others).
“Stop terrorizing social activists!”
Recently, leaders of unions and social movements have been the victims of increasingly frequent acts of aggression. Some of the most noteworthy recent examples include attacks on Carine Clément, one of the leaders of the Union of Russian Coordination Soviets; Alexei Etmanov, the president of the Ford union committee; Alexei Etmanov, a leader of the movement to preserve the Khimki forest; and Sergei Fedotov, the leader of the movement of small defrauded landowners. Moreover, activists protesting the speculative real estate construction in major cities have also been frequently attacked, as well as many “inconvenient” union activists. There have been instances of assassination, notably against anti-fascist activists.
From de Moscow Dormitories Movement :
- We demand that the Housing Policy Department of the City Government, ROSSIMUSCHESTVO (Russian State Property Agency), city authorities, Prosecutor’s Office and other state agencies stop the owners from harassing the tenants.
- We also demand that the houses be withdrawn from illegal ownership schemes and be transferred to the municipal housing stock.
- We demand that harassment against medical doctors and teachers be stopped. They were accommodated earlier (8 and more years ago) in the apartments as they were required in Moscow hospitals, clinics, schools and kindergartens. They all had been promised housing as compensation for their decent work.
Civil Society Actors
MOVEMENT OF RESIDENTS OF SOVIET WORKER RESIDENCIES = The Moscow Branch: Moscow Residencies Movement (Helena Bergalieva, chairperson)
MOVEMENT OF MISLED CO-INVESTORS
INSTITUTE FOR COLLECTIVE ACTIONS – IKD = groups together activists of various organizations—leftists, unions, environmentalists, youth—who work for economic development in the interest of the public as a whole, political participation, and social and labor rights. Chairperson Carine Clément Website – Contact them.
MOVEMENT OF ACTIVE RUSSIAN CITIZENS – TIGR
MOVEMENT FOR THE DEFENSE OF KHIMKI FOREST (in Moscow’s suburbs) = The movement’s leader, Evgenia Tchirikova, is a rising start of the new social movements and is an emblematic figure of demonstrations in the capital.
“HOUSING SOLIDARITY” MOVEMENT
COUNCIL FOR THE INITIATIVE OF ANTI-DEMOLITION AND ANTI-“ILLEGAL” HOUSING GROUPS
UNION OF RUSSIAN COORDINATION SOVIETS – SKS = A network created in 2005 during the Russian Social Forum which campaigns for the self-organization of residents and the defense of their rights in the face of management companies and local and federal authorities. It has also expanded its sphere of intervention well beyond the sole issue of “social advantages,” acting henceforth in the realms of labor rights, housings, ecology, local elections, and so on.
HABITAT FOR HUMANITY/RUSSIAN FEDERATION = A not-for-profit humanitarian association that seeks to eradicate poverty as it relates to housing, as well as homelessness. To do so, it builds and refurbishes housing throughout the world, offering micro-credit and loans, helping to make housing safe and healthy, and advocating affordable housing for all. In Russia, the association primarily finances work to improve energy efficiency and insulation in buildings in areas with the harshest winters. Website – Contact them.
COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT CENTER CITIZEN FOUNDATION = Website
RUSSIAN HOUSING FEDERATION