Government officials promise to pass a new law, which will enable to solve a premature problem with obsolete and really dilapidated housing. However, experts warn, that now there are some provided rules, that will make this process impossible.

Last weekend a balcony on one of the buildings at Khreschatyk Street fell down on the eighth floor. Though people have not suffered – it is still a bad thing. Similar incidents occur regularly in many Ukrainian cities. In particular, in Odesa, Dnipro, Ivano-Frankivsk, and others. After all, a lot of outdated housing – due to a lack of full repairs is in an emergency state, and the “falling balcony” is not the only problem.

First of all, it refers to “Khrushchev-era buildings”, built in the middle of the last century. The first attempt to change the situation was dated from 2005 to 2006 when the law on the complex reconstruction of neighborhoods (districts) of an outdated housing stock was drafted and adopted, and it didn’t give the desired results. And now, taking into account the fact that the “youngest Khrushchev-era buildings” exploitation period runs to its end, they’ve begun to improve the legislation in order to solve this problem. However, the experts with whom Opinion discussed this issue have some doubts that this attempt will succeed.

According to the State Statistics Service, there are about 978 million square meters of housing in Ukraine. Almost 75 million of these, as experts say, are unsuitable for living. According to the Kyiv city state administration, in the capital, there are almost nine million square meters of such an outdated housing stock and this is the sixth part of Kiev’s housing. According to the press service, it is more than three thousand apartment blocks out of almost 212 thousand. And 90% of these houses are five-story “Khrushchev-era buildings”. They are in a state of disrepair all over the country, and they need, if not being knocked down, then a serious reconstruction.

They were built in 1957-1985 as a social housing for those, who needed a roof over their head, they were planned for 25-30 years. However, later, the useful lifetime was extended to 60 years if the major repairs were made. Since the repairs somehow hadn’t happened, now experts are arguing about how much time is enough to maintain the strength of structures. The survey was already conducted, the results are disappointing: the concrete has long lost its strength, and the fittings are also outdated. Not to mention that in such buildings there are constant problems with sewerage, plumbing, and heating pipes. The electrical wiring is not designed for modern loads, and as a result, the cause of fires – short circuits often occur there.

How long the promised will be expected

It’s clear that under such conditions the authorities’ desire to solve the problem seems logical. Those people, who are trained in the bitter experience of the previous attempt, don’t really believe that something can be done, especially in the shortest possible time. Ministry of Regional Development, however, promises to bring a new bill, which will determine the further fate of an outdated housing stock, by the end of this year.

Deputy Minister of Regional Development, Construction and Housing and Communal Services Lev Partskhaladze assures, that the draft law should be submitted to the Verkhovna Rada for consideration in 2019. He explains that the current law, which was adopted in 2006, couldn’t work, for at least several reasons. Firstly, it provides 100% consent of the inhabitants of the house for carrying out any actions (reconstruction, demolition, etc.). However, in real life, it is impossible to reach such an agreement. So the new law wants to set another norm – 75% of those who agreed. According to the expert in the field of urban planning Victor Gleba, the others are going to be exiled and they will be moved out through the court.

According to the Ministry of Regional Development, the second reason that did not make it possible is that the current law provides for: real estate developer must provide housing for the inhabitants of the unfit houses. At that place, the area should be no less than what they had in “Khrushchev-era buildings”. But the main thing is that at the rate of 21 square meters for each member of the family plus 10.5 square meters as a “common area”. You may recall how the most resourceful man then rushed to get all their relatives registered in their apartments to get cherished square meters. So, in the new law, they want to put another norm: to give free of charge as much as people have in their “Khrushchev-era” flats, and if they want more, they need to buy for their own money.

Now this bill, which should be considered as no more than just amendments to the current law, is developed by experts of the State Research Institute of Design of cities “Dipromisto”, and you can easily read it on their website. According to Mr. Partzhaladze, it is now “important to understand which way – reconstruction or demolition should we apply to each case, and these issues must be solved by the local authorities, depending on this, the financing options will be determined: this will be at the expense of investors or local budgets.”

The promises of officials are pleasant to those, who live in “Khrushchev-era buildings”: they say, everything is done for the sake of people, but there are still a number of problematic issues, that need to be clarified while the document is at the stage of the draft law. First and foremost, it should be the resettlement of people (then a flexible housing stock is needed) or construction (in this case it is a question of starting houses for which land plots are required), as well as the percentage of compensation for increasing the area of the new apartment. Experts also point out, that the form in which the bill now has advantageous norms, first and foremost, for developers, who, having exhausted opportunities for construction in large cities, are currently actively searching for plots for a new land.

The mechanism, which was appropriate 15 years ago, will no longer work

I asked the head of the Institute of Urban Studies, Alla Pleshkanovska, what mechanism is needed to make the renovation program of an outdated housing stock really work, because people who deal with falling balconies and, even, pieces of floors, consider it very important. According to the expert, the situation described in the current law is not suitable, because it is borrowed from experience more than 15 years ago. “Back then there were other economic conditions and everything could have worked, but now it won’t, because there is no so much money that was before the crisis of 2008,” explains Alla Pleshkanovska “, so there should be a completely new mechanism, that takes into account current realities. Once in Russia, they did so: in Moscow, in fact, all “Khrushchev-era buildings” were demolished and new homes were built instead of them. So, when the bill was drafted in 2005, their experience was borrowed. But nothing was done in time and then a crisis began. The same conditions that we have now don’t contribute to the fact, that developers are involved in the implementation of this program, because it is unprofitable.” So, if a new bill is put in the same mechanism of implementation – we shouldn’t expect the program to work.

According to the head of the Institute of Urban Studies, proposals for amendments to the current law, which were supposed to launch a program for the modernization of outdated and dilapidated housing by specialists of the Institute, were filed in 2007. However, it still was just a conversation. “The main thing that prevented the start was the need to have all the consent of all residents of the house, but there were a lot of people, who manipulated it by not giving a consensus. Therefore, to get one hundred percent consent is unreal,” explains the expert. “This requirement is corrected in the new version of the law ‘On the complex reconstruction of neighborhoods (districts) of an outdated housing stock’. But, of course, this is not the only ”

“I’ve been engaged in complex reconstruction for a long time, so I have certain considerations about how this mechanism should look like. But to say something definitely, you need to do a lot of work, do a research that will allow you to get answers to a whole range of related issues. But everything needs to be checked out, calculated and substantiated. An application for such work has already been submitted, moreover, it had already been done this year, but until now it isn’t approved. One thing I can say right now is that you really need to start with a change in the legal framework, otherwise they won’t even move. However, in this legislation, realistic mechanisms must be written. Solving the problem only by correcting the old law will not succeed.”

In 2008, specialists of the Urban Institute developed a city program of comprehensive reconstruction in Kiev, but it has never been approved, so it just did not come to the realization. “It’s a shame, but today you will not be able to use these developments because they were developed taking into account the pre-crisis economic conditions in the country,” Alla Pleshkanovska says. “I explain. The current law states, that people must move within the same district where they live. Is it? Of course, they should be given free accommodation. And not with a factor of one and a half, which is sometimes said, but it is clearly written in the law: with a coefficient of up to one and a half. That is not less than that, but not more than one and a half. If the area of the old apartment is 30 square meters, then under this law a new one must be given not less than 30 but not more than 45 squares. Given that the developer must build and provide this housing for free, and then somehow justify his costs, you need to carefully calculate with the investor who gives the money. And one more thing. No matter how annoying it could be, solving this problem at the expense of the investor and at the same time maintaining the surface of the building of the old (five floors)  is impossible. This should be realized. Unfortunately, there are no budget funds to replace an outdated housing stock.”

The conflict between laws will not give an opportunity to move forward

Instead, human rights activists, who analyzed the innovations proposed by the bill, have a completely different view on the norm of reducing the share of consenters. If the legislator adopts a norm about, let’s say, 75% agreed on the reconstruction/demolition of houses (the figure may be whatever you like, it does not matter), we will immediately have the conflict of laws. As noted in the commentary for Opinion by lawyer Vita Strukova, the Constitution of Ukraine clearly states, that no one who owns a property can be deprived of this property in an illegal manner. Forced alienation of property is also regulated by the current legislation and has well-defined grounds for which the alienation of a plot under the “Khrushchev-era building” for the further construction of a new one and for making a profit by the developer is by no means possible.

“Having adopted at that time the law on the peculiarities of realization of the right of ownership in apartment blocks,” the human rights activist clarifies, “the legislators in advance made it impossible to reduce any limit of consent. That is, only the consent of all residents of Khrushchev-era building is needed, otherwise no reconstruction program can start, and the intention to evict can be appealed in court because in this case, it is about depriving a person of his property. Ownership is like a child: it was born, already, and the fact of this birth cannot be canceled only because someone wants it. That is, in terms of the purity of the legal scheme, if a child was born, then it already exists. If I have a right to ownership, I take up the Constitution and say that no one can unlawfully deprive me of property rights. Therefore, I doubt that this amendment can be delayed during voting in the Verkhovna Rada: people’s deputies are unlikely to support the expansion of the list of grounds for the forced seizure of property”.

So now it is clear that the norm, which is laid down in the law on the reconstruction of “Khrushchev-era buildings” in 2006, will, in any case, be the stumbling block, which won’t allow the case to move forward. On the one hand, everyone understands that something needs to be done. But except for the “Khrushchev-era buildings”, there are still 2-3-storeyed barracks built by  German prisoners of Second World War. In Kyiv, for example, there is an entire massif in the area of metro “Svyatoshyn”. People have no central heating, no hot water or other conditions, not to mention the state of the buildings themselves.

On the other hand, no one can deprive people of their own apartments, if they don’t agree with the proposals that will be provided most likely by the developer. There is a well-known story that the developer offered new apartments to people who are just living in barracks: without sewage, water, and heat. And if someone agreed, then some of them refused: they say, give us a big financial compensation, or we won’t move from our place. The developer scratched his head and the citizens ended up with nothing. The go on living without sewage, water and heat.

Vita Strukova said that such situations can be very widespread, and any program for upgrading an outdated housing stock may only work if people that are living in these homes are understood and supported. In addition, skeptics who doubt the good intentions of the authorities believe that this initiative is not about taking care of people who have falling balconies or roofs at the entrances. It’s rather about the desire to give free hands to developers, who have long lacked free land for new high-rise buildings. So, before accepting the bill proposed by the government, as people say, it’s worth to measure twice and then not to kick yourself.

By Larysa Vyshynska

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