A roof over their heads: a place for orphanage-leavers in Armenia
Children in orphanages in Armenia are required to leave them upon reaching 18 years of age. This causes multiple problems for those young people, foremost among them being the issue of a place to live. Over the years the government has set up various programmes to provide such adult orphans with lodging; however, many of them still end up on the streets.
This year, 300 orphanage-leavers in need of a home received a voucher for the purchase of a home from the government. Some of them have been waiting for their turn to receive a flat for up to 17 years. Some of them have started families in the meantime, with a few even already having grandchildren.
According to a new government ruling, every orphanage graduate receives a voucher worth 6.3 million dram (13 thousand dollars), which may only be used for the purchase of a home. It is not enough for a flat in the centre of Yerevan, but it suffices for a residence in the suburbs or in the regions. It may also be used as a down payment for a mortgage.
Here are all the details on where the money from the state budget went in the preceding years, and why the issue of residences for orphanage-leavers has still not been sorted.
One family’s history
Nelly and Arsen are two of the 300 orphans who received a voucher for the purchase of a home.
Both of them grew up in an orphanage, where they met each other and started a family. Nelly came to the orphanage at the age of seven along with her sister, while Arsen never had any other home.
“It’s been almost two months since we bought our home. We’re trying as hard as we can to fix it up and furnish it. Arsen is trying to do everything himself, basically, him and his friends. Now we have to deal with the roof. Right now my husband is really busy working in the ministry of emergency situations, helping people with coronavirus. As soon as he has some free time, he’ll fix up the roof”, says Nelly.
There are three rooms in the house, one of which is for their child. Nelly admits that she still can’t believe that they really have their own place.
“It’s every orphan’s dream. Me and Arsen were always renting after we got married. When you live in someone else’s flat, you can’t change anything in it, you can’t move stuff, you can’t renovate it. ‘Cause it’s not yours. Now we have our own place, I just can’t believe I can do whatever I want. I can change it, paint it, renovate it. This feeling of freedom makes me so happy”, says Nelly.
Why have some orphans not received homes?
“This programme covers all of the government’s responsibilities for orphanage graduates, going back to the day the country declared independence. When we started, we had a list of 218 people who had left orphanages from 1991 to 2013 and were still waiting their turn for a place to live.
With this programme we plan to give vouchers to them and also to this year’s graduates. So there will no longer be orphans without a place to live”, said Zaruhi Batoyan, minister of labour and social affairs.
This not the government of Armenia’s first attempt to provide orphanage graduates with places to live. Two similar programmes were “instituted” earlier, but the flats never reached their legal owners. Nobody is talking about why.
One of the programmes took place from 2003 to 2013. The project proposed that the government would provide those who had lived in orphanages a place to live in the multi-flat residences being constructed in the country.
В конце программы семь выпускников получили по однокомнатной квартире во втором по величине городе Армении – в Гюмри. At the end of the programme, seven graduates had each received a one-room flat in Gyumri, the second-largest city in Armenia.
From 2003 to 2008, the project was divided into large tranches and contracts were signed with three companies with no competition. According to their accounts, more than 1 billion 800 million dram (3.7 million dollars) was transferred to them in total. In comparison, this year’s vouchers for 300 graduates are worth nearly the same amount, 1 billion 900 million dram (3.9 million dollars).
The process for providing flats has been recorded in various ways in various official government documents.
One executive act on the budget of the ministry of labour and social affairs from 2006 states on one page that “56 beneficiaries have received assistance”, while another page says that “the flats have not been obtained, due to a lack of sufficient bids”.
According to the same document, a contract was concluded with the company Ariats Group in 2007 for 284 million dram (nearly 590 thousand dollars), but instead of the planned 45 flats, only 32 were obtained. However, the records of the audit chamber show that only 19 flats were obtained, none of which were liveable.
In the end, the government stopped the programme in 2008, on the basis of the audit chamber’s conclusions, which characterised the implementation of the programme as “awful”.
The majority of the 160 flats obtained were unliveable, being closets and basements which plumbing pipes ran through. In total, 1.5 million dram (more than 3 million dollars) were wasted.
A court case was brought; however, it never came to trial. And the 166 people who had been living in orphanages, now without a place to live, were sent to share living quarters. These residences, provided free by the government for 10 years, were not and could not be owned by the inhabitants, who simply had to leave them when the 10-year period had passed.
Another list of people waiting for residences was drawn up during that programme, this one containing only children without parental care who were living with relatives. Social organisations managed the programme over the years, receiving nearly 36 million dram (about 75 thousand dollars) from the government between 2011 and 2013. This amount provided homes for 40 people each year.
10 years later, in their own house
At the beginning of September, the government decided to give 164 families of orphanage graduates the shared living quarters they had been temporarily housed in from 2003 to 2015.
The contract for the 10-year-residences stated that upon reaching the end of the period, the flats may be privatised or put up for rent. Even so, the orphanage graduates’ applications had been ignored for nearly 16 years.
“When the programme for providing orphanage graduates with residences started, there was a condition that only those who had not been the beneficiaries of a similar government programme, who did not own property, and had not alienated any property within the previous five years could receive a voucher for the purchase of a home.
As such, other orphanage children, who had received share living quarters but had to rights to them, were left in an unfair situation. To remedy this unfairness, we decided to grant them to the citizens who were living in them”, said Zaruhi Batoyan.
Three other orphanage graduates, who received flats in buildings with high accident rates, also received vouchers for the purchase of a home, as exceptional cases.
One of them, Ana, says:
“I can’t even begin to express what this means for us! My kids can finally stop being afraid of sleeping in their run-down home. And we’ll have a bathroom! We never even once went to the government with these issues, but we knew there were people who were living in even worse situations, people who didn’t even have a roof over their heads. And now it turns out we get our own place”.