Staunton, July 21 – The Moscow city government has announced that it plans to discuss in October steps that would finally allow the nearly 300,000 Muscovites still living in some 70,000 communal apartments – the notorious “kommunalkas” of Soviet times – to move into separate ones by 2016 under an “optimistic” scenario and by 2020 in a more “realistic” one.
Such housing arrangements were the product of the rapid urbanization of the Russian population during Soviet times and the inability and unwillingness of the Soviet powers that be to provide adequate housing for people moving from the often devastated villages to industrial centers in the city.
While “kommunalkas” represented a step forward from the barracks in which many Russians were initially confined in the course of this urbanization, they were, because people had to share kitchens and bathrooms, often the breeding grounds of all kinds of social pathologies, as Regis Wargnier brilliantly showed in his 1999 film “East-West.”
According to official statistics, in Moscow at the present time, there are 141,894 families with some 295,744 members living in 71,433 communal apartments at the present time, despite the economic growth that the Russian powers that be constantly celebrate and that Western observers focus on (www.annews.ru/news/detail.php?ID=230938).
But quite obviously, the rising tide in Russia has not lifted all boats, and Moscow city officials are currently focusing on what might be done to help those who remain in “kommunalkas.” “We expect,” one city housing official said, “that a program will be considered in the first half of October.”
Moscow officials say that “according to an ‘optimistic’ scenario,” kommunalkas will be eliminated in the Russian capital by 2016. But for the achievement of that goal, the city will have to add 656,000 square meters of housing for those living in the communal apartments, something that would cost 34.25 billion rubles (1.1 billion US dollars).
A more “realistic” projection, officials say, would have the current residents of “kommunalkas” moving into private apartments only by 2020, something that would require the construction of 754,000 square meters of housing at a cost of 25.4 billion rubles (800 million US dollars).
Given the track record of the Moscow city government and the Russian powers that be, even that “realistic” view is likely to prove overly “optimistic,” and consequently a kind of second class housing situation is likely to remain the fate of many Muscovites, even as the city’s average income continues to rise.