Give it to us, or we’ll grab it
There are people in Abkhazia, who earn enough to buy an apartment. But they constitute an undeniable minority; they are mostly either businessmen with Russian roots or the children thereof.
The rest of the people have to solve their problems themselves. And they do it as best as they can.
The problem sounds simple: they have nowhere to live
Esma and Astan got married just a year ago. They lived with Astan’s parents for 6 months. Astan has a big family, two brothers with their own families, and all of them sharing the same house. So, there was actually no room for a young family. Thus, Astan and Esma rented an apartment and moved there.
Esma doesn’t work, she studies at the medical college. As for Astan, he works at the grocery, where he is in charge of accepting goods, and his salary makes just RUB15,000 [about US$200]. The parents help the young family, because the aforesaid amount is hardly enough to pay a rental fee, to buy food and at least some clothes.
“The government seeks to improve the demographic situation in our country, but what does it do to assist young families? My husband and I can’t have a child right now, because we can’t provide for it, says Esma.
“Our parents aren’t that wealthy so as to buy an apartment for us. In Russia, young families are provided mortgages under normal interest rates. Whereas our government only demands something, but it is unwilling to help, says Astan
There are many such families in Sukhum, though there is no precise statistics on their number.
“Why should I buy an apartment? Let the government give it to me, says Dmitry, a 25-year-old resolute guy. It’s not that he just requests to be given an apartment, but he demands it from the government.
Dmitry got married a year ago and it’s a matter of principle for him and his wife to have their own house, rather than to live with parents. Therefore, in their words, they would go to any lengths to have it their way.
“My father was killed in the hostilities, they are obliged to give me an apartment. If they don’t do it in the near future, I will just go and occupy an abandoned one myself, says Dmitry.
Seizing apartments in Abkhazia – how it all happens
“I will go and occupy an abandoned apartment – that’s what Dmitry is going to do, which is a unique, but, at the same time, quite common phenomenon in Abkhazia. People, who see no prospects that they will ever be able to earn enough for buying an apartment, get united into raiding groups, they find abandoned apartments and start living there.
The year 2015 was particularly plentiful with such cases. For example, in May 2015, as many as 18 young families from Sukhum came to occupy the whole entrance in the abandoned high-rise residential building at #39 Gumista street, in the New District.
First of all, they brought and installed a new metal door at the entrance and then ‘distributed’ the apartments among each other.
According to the militia unit that arrived on the ground, the Abkhaz State Committee on Repatriation was reconstructing the building in order to transfer it afterwards to the repatriants’ families. However, the occupants showed aggression in response to militia’s demand to leave the building, claiming that they also had right to get apartments. About 30 people gathered then outside the building, ‘violating the public order’, reads the police report.
As a result, Arsen Lomia, a resident of Tkuarchal town, was detained and the metal door was dismantled.
The ‘Lost Generation’ and abandoned apartments for others
New District is a subject of particular temptation for such raids – the apartments in many houses there have been abandoned for years. There are many cases, when young people tried to open the apartments and live there, but the apartment owners showed up the next day.
The problem, that young people are trying to solve through such a radical way, is really a wide-scale one. There is a system of providing certain categories of the population with ‘social housing’ at the budget expense in Abkhazia, and over 2,000 people are waiting in line to get such apartments. Among them are only the disabled veterans of the Patriotic War of the People of Abkhazia (1990); the families of those killed and missing during the war, as well as the fire victims; the WWII veterans; the heroes of the Soviet Union; the heroes of Abkhazia and the repatriates.
Young families are not in that list. Neither is there any separate program for them.
Meanwhile, the young generation, the children born during or soon after the 1991 war, enter the life. Born in the era of changes, they couldn’t get high-quality education or breeding and nobody provided them with starting opportunities for independent living.
They have very low and non-systematic incomes. But now they have reached the age, when they start families and give birth to children. And they need to live somewhere.
On the other hand, there are a lot of abandoned houses in Abkhazia. For example, in that very New District, the youth could see the whole blocks of empty apartments. Those are the apartments, abandoned by the Georgian population during the war in the 90’s, as well as new houses, which the diaspora members and the businessmen not residing in Abkhazia have invested in ‘just in case.
In other words, from the theoretical perspective, the apartments are available. However, in practice, there was a mass seizure of housing some 20 years ago; people with money purchased what had been left and there is no more ownerless property left.
“We have had no other choice; no one was willing to help us, says Amra Kvitsinia, a co-organizer of the thwarted settling in the New District.
“We don’t want our children to suffer without housing like we did, explains Lavrentiy Fet-ogly, another participant in the apartment seizure.
Lavrentiy told the reason, why they had chosen that very house. “It was the oldest one and we were ready to repair it. We would have spent on that the money we are wasting now on payment of rental fees.
To a greater extent, there is no point calling on those people to observe the law. Firstly, this is a generation that grew up beyond the legal culture. Secondly, in the opinion of the younger generation, a post-war redistribution of property is illegitimate. They didn’t take part in it for obvious reasons. Now, they suggest making yet another redistribution of property, and they can’t understand, why they aren’t allowed to do what the older generation was allowed to do.
It’s senseless to tell those young people that they have hands and feet, so they can earn for their own home. First of all, it’s not true – there is nowhere they could earn money, since labor market in Abkhazia is minimal. Secondly, in this case the government can’t demand life success from the young people, because it hasn’t actually provided them with anything- either education or opportunities for development. It’s that very ‘lost generation’ and someone should pay the price for it.
Why it happened so
A fundamentally new situation was formed in the post-war Abkhazia as early as in the 2000s. Many abandoned, but, at the same time, ‘occupied’ houses and apartments (not all of them have been even officially registered until present), have become a certain currency, kept in reserve in the hope of its exchange rate growth. Even at a glance, the number of real estate sale ads in Abkhazia almost by 100 times exceeds that of the purchase bids.
The situation is really amazing. For example, similar housing crisis in Moscow in the 1930s was related to housing deficit, whereas the present-day Abkhazia, on the contrary, suffers from its surplus.
What should be done?
After that wide-scale seizure of apartments in 2015, the Abkhaz government started thinking of the need to provide free housing not only to repatriants and separate individuals, but also to the ordinary homeless citizens.
The first, though small, result is as follows: the Cabinet of Ministers ordered to allocate the apartments at 92a Krasnomayakskaya street, in Sukhum, to 10 young families. The apartments were allotted from the state housing stock, intended for the repatriants.
Sergey Matosyan, the head of Sukhum housing department, says, there is still no special program to provide young families with the so-called ‘social housing’.
“I’m happy for the guys, who were allotted those 10 apartments, but all that raises too many questions. If we consider it from the legal perspective, there certainly was a gross violation. On the other hand, those guys have been driven to despair. On the side note, many of them don’t even have Sukhum residence registration, says Sergey Matosyan.
In Matosyan’s words, after those 10 families had been provided the apartment, for quite long there were lengthy queues of those, willing to be included in those lucky people’s list, outside his office. “There was such a mess there, that I simply didn’t want to go to work.
“Social housing is still provided to those, whose houses have become unfit for human habitation as a result of hostilities or natural disasters, says Matosyan.
“Of course, it’s time to shift onto the world’s approved system, where people themselves are responsible for buying apartments. However, it will become possible only in case of solving the whole set of other problems. That’s, first of all, the problem with small salaries and lack of mortgage lending. Nobody knows, when this situation is going to change, said Matosyan.
In the developed countries, there is a clear-cut division of housing stock into the private and social sectors. It is strategically important for formation of a housing policy, since there are different priorities, mechanisms and rules in each of the sectors.
Each government seeks to reduce budget expenditures, aims at creating appropriate conditions for increasing the private sector and reducing the social one, which, in its essence, is subsidized.
For example, in Great Britain, the private sector makes 69% of the overall housing stock; development of private households is the priority of the government’s economic policy. The private sector in the USA is even more large-scale – 92%.
For example, in due time, houses were also privatized in Great Britain, like in Russia. 1,3million Brits became the property owners. This housing, that has been bought out from state at a substantial discount, is still managed by social homeowners and is considered as social housing, though it is privately owned by its new owners.
“We aren’t building any new social housing, since there are no such funds in the budget, while the RF’s investment program doesn’t provide for such financial assistance. Thus, the forecast is rather worrying. The government hasn’t built a single meter of social housing over the past 23 years. We continue accepting people’s applications, but so far there is nothing we could do to help them, said Sergey Matosyan.
The opinions expressed in the article convey the author’s terminology and views and do not necessarily reflect the position of the editorial staff.