The Foundation for Assistance to the Reform of the Housing and Utilities Sector has revoked about 400 mln rubles ($5,465,360) from the Republic of Karelia, a region in northwest Russia, bordering Finland. The monies were intended for resettlement of people living in substandard housing. However, the authorities of the republic said that the program for the time period from 2019 to 2025 is being implemented ahead of schedule and will be completed by 2023.
As a result of operations under the program for resettlement of residents from dilapidated dwellings in the Republic of Karelia in 2019, the Foundation for Assistance to the Reform of the Housing and Utilities Sector withdrew almost 400 mln rubles ($5,465,360.) The move was caused by the actual failure of the program last year. According to the Foundation, as of December 31, 2019, agreements were signed for resettlement only from 46.89% of dilapidated houses, while the financial allocations should have covered 90% of such housing.
As previously reported, the resettlement program for the years 2014 to 2017 was also practically disrupted. The regional prosecutor's office made a statement then saying that inaction of executive authorities of the Republic of Karelia and the capital construction department had led to that. In the time period from 2008 to 2012, the same program was implemented by only 63%. For the whole year of 2013, the Republic of Karelia was deprived of federal funding and actually excluded from the program. The government of the republic has changed, but problems with the resettlement of people, who currently live in dilapidates houses, still remain acute.
At the same time, the local officials object to the accusations of this kind. In particular, they have published a release titled ‘The program of resettlement from substandard housing in Karelia is implemented according to schedule.’ It follows from the document that implementation of the program is on track. Since it covers a two-year period, about a half of the dwellers were resettled during the first year. As they commented on the withdrawal of federal funding, the officials said that the budget of Karelia has enough funds to continue to fulfill the program.
However, complaints about resettlement of the dwellers of dilapidated housing continue coming.
After a report on Channel One Russia, the Investigative Committee got interested in the story of a disabled girl from Pudozh, a town in Karelia. Since 2002, Olesya Yuntilla, 30, disabled since the age of 10, has been living with her relatives in an uninhabitable house with broken floors and a leaking roof. The house was declared dilapidated six years ago, but its residents have been never resettled. Although officials had already promised Yuntilla a new apartment, after the visit of the TV reporters they said that she was not entitled to it. At present, investigators are working on the case.
In Svyatozero a similar situation has taken place -- Nadezhda Shpakova, 24-year-old girl disabled from childhood and her mother are the only two people living in an eight-apartment barracks. The house has no water or sewerage. The women built a stove on their own with the help of the instructions from the Internet. Nadezhda Shpakova can not go out without any assistance because of the absence of a ramp. Resettlement from the house was planned for 2019, but then it suddenly disappeared from the list. The tenants filed a lawsuit and even won it. However, the resettlement has been postponed to 2026. The other tenants either moved out themselves or died. Only Nadezhda and her mother are left to wait for a new apartment.
We tried to find out what turns into an obstacle to the implementation of the program. First of all, we found out that the new program, which began in 2019, offers that replacements for dilapidated houses cannot only be built, but can also be purchased on the secondary market. However, most of the announced auctions for the purchase of housing of this kind simply do not get any applications.
For example, in November and December 2019, only 9 of the 32 contests were held in the Kem district. The administration of Kem explained it by the fact that apartments in old houses are very small.
Although the price per square meter corresponds to the market prices, the sums are small because of the miniscule area of the apartments. For realtors it is not profitable to participate in the auctions for apartments with the floor space of 13 to 17 square meters. It is also unprofitable to build them because in this case it will be necessary to build apartments with the area not exceeding 27 to 29 square meters.
The terms are another problem with the resettlement. In Kondopoga contests are announced to be held in September and in Kem – in August. Officials complain that it is unprofitable to build new housing. For example, the budget is 40,000 rubles ($546.54) per square meter, while the average price in the market starts from 44,000 rubles ($601.19.)
The officials we have interviewed say that in order to effectively implement the resettlement program, it is necessary to change the mechanism as such. Firstly, there is simply not enough housing in the secondary market. Secondly, it makes no sense for average people to participate in the procedures as complex as auctions, or to deal with the state in general.
Arthur Parfenchikov, head of the Republic of Karelia, has already stated that the funds that were not used in national projects in 2019 will be redistributed for the construction of houses as part of resettlement. This refers to 14% of the allocated funds, or more than 900 mln rubles ($12,297,060.) Parfenchikov also said the fact that the money was not used will not directly affect the achievement of targets of national projects in Karelia.
In addition, the governor promises that the program of resettlement from dilapidated housing which was supposed to be completed until 2025, will be over in 2023. He also promises to find money for the demolition of the houses vacated by former residents.
Artyom Leonov, a Karelian blogger and administrator of the Lahdenpohja Forever public page, writes that in 2019 “another five-year cycle of the federal program started. The authorities of Karelia’s municipalities are responsible for its launch. However, the residents must prepare the initial documents themselves and organize reviews at their own expense. It leads to another difficulty: people have no money for this purpose. Besides, many of them do not understand why they should do it. They believe that the authorities should do it for free for them. Thus, first of all, the program gets stuck at the very start -- at the phase of initial preparations.
Additionally, the final decision to include houses in the resettlement program is made in Moscow. It is the federal authorities who will have to finally approve who will get a chance for new housing from the state, and who will not in the next five years.”
According to Leonov, “not Petrozavodsk but the town of Suoyarvi became an absolute leader in the program of resettlement of dilapidated housing in Karelia.” There the documents were prepared for resettling 2,232 residents form the housing with the floor space of 40,400 square meters. According to open sources, as of January 1, 2018, a total of 8,920 residents were registered in Suoyarvi. That is, one in four residents was enrolled by the local authorities in the resettlement program. In fact, judging from the list of the program, Suoyarvi authorities have declared that almost entire streets would be under resettlement, including Victory Street, one of the central streets in the city.
Even in Petrozavodsk, the regional capital, the situation looks less optimistic – the program there covers 29,300 square meters of housing where 1,942 inhabitants are constantly registered.” Referring to the experts he interviewed, Leonov also notes that “in general, Karelia’s leaders of local governance are afraid to make decisions for the long term. So far many of them are not confident that the program will be continued in the future.
After all, when declaring a house dilapidated, any local administration assumes an obligation to organize the resettlement of residents to new housing. If there are failures in implementation of the program, court rulings may totally devour budgets of the settlements and lead the city halls to bankruptcy, and their chief executives, to resignation.
On the other hand, a federal program for local territories is an opportunity to attract additional funds that are large or even huge by local standards in terms of addressing the housing problem of ordinary residents. Certainly, the majority of towns are unable to do this on their own without the help of the federal centre. Moreover, the majority of Karelia’s towns will not have enough budgets for a new construction project without the help of the federal centre.
Against this background, the situation where the program does not list a single house in the entire Lahdenpohja district, except for urban areas, looks frustrating. Is there really no one to be resettled? Are all the houses compliant with standards, for example, in Kurkijoki or Khiytola? Do they not fall into the category of substandard dwellings?
Answering the question which houses will be settled in the first place, Leonov notes: “Experts who are familiar with the results of the program at the previous stages say that previously the design of each house was done individually to suit the needs of resettling residents. This was justified by the requirement of the legislation, which established the principle of invariability of the area of the old housing and the new one. That is, without special approval, local authorities could not give the resettled people a smaller apartment than the one they had. However, each time works on an individual project required large expenses both for the design itself and for the subsequent checks. At present, they have decided to take a few standard designs that had already been developed and approved. At first, they are going to implement them and then will think about how to deal with specialized housing. Therefore, first of all, the residents of standard houses should prepare for resettlement in new housing in the coming years. Their apartments are likely to be built in the first place.”