KYIV — Bed bugs are dining at "Khrushchyovkas," a cramped and grim low-cost apartment building named after the First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Nikita Khrushchev.
It's just another achievement for the Soviet goal of eliminating all excess in design and construction. These three- to five-storied buildings were assembled quickly and cheaply: The only thing required was that the size of the staircase and the radius of rotation on the steps allows the transport of a coffin. All other space was designed to be as limited as possible.
Nikita Khrushchev personally tested the toilet in such an apartment and delivered a verdict: "If I can do it, everyone can!" In response, a joke circulated about Khrushchev's apartments: He managed to combine the toilet and bathroom, but couldn't figure out how to combine the floor with the ceiling ...
Since 1957, entire neighborhoods have been built cheaply and quickly in Kyiv, with the current housing stock of the Ukrainian capital at 15% Khrushchevkas. It is no longer news that these old, low-quality buildings require major renovation. According to the preliminary general plan, about 3,055 Khrushchevkas, housing 200,000 families, have to be demolished.
Khrushchyovka on the big alley in Kyiv — Photo: Marjan Blan
The task is challenging but also gives an opportunity to rethink the infrastructure and living spaces of the city, as has been done for decades in urban areas of the U.S., Japan, China, Hong Kong, Great Britain and even Russia. City authorities either buy out apartments at the market price or provide new housing. In European countries and Israel, it is common to repair and renew buildings, adding more space, changing communications, improve energy efficiency, and adding a modern design for facades. Sometimes such works can even be carried out without resettling the residents.
In terms of financing, mass renovations of buildings in Germany, France, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have been carried out in recent years with state support, along with programs for subsidies and benefits for individuals affected.
Of course, it is almost impossible to garner 100% support for renovations among residents of the old buildings. Authorities must thus come up with measures to somehow "push" people out. In the UK, a "demolition payment" is introduced to compensate residents of dilapidated buildings. In France, if residents insist on remaining, they will have to pay for the maintenance of the whole building.
The government must ensure security.
But the most straightforward and secure renovation algorithm is applied in Istanbul. People are notified of the dates in which they must leave their apartments. Property owners choose the developer themselves. Houses are built at the expense of developers who can sell vacant apartments in a new house. Construction is carried out for a year and a half, during which time the state pays rent to temporarily evicted people. A cash payment of $20,000 is also possible. At the end of construction, people move into new homes at the same address.
Khrushchyovka in Kyiv. — Photo: Marjan Blan
Construction in Istanbul is carried out according to the strictest regulations. Upon delivery of objects, all technical specifications are carefully checked. Particular attention is paid to the protection of the structure from seismic risks. Modern houses are sometimes equipped with swimming pools, excellent infrastructure, and other amenities.
In Moscow, residents of old Khrushchevkas are offered a renovated apartment in a new house in the same area. Moreover, the number of rooms can't be fewer than in the old apartment, while the total area is larger due to more spacious common areas (kitchen, hallway, corridor, bathroom, toilet). If a resident is not ready to move to an equivalent apartment, he can receive monetary compensation.
At every stage, the government must ensure security. And for Ukraine, this is the most vulnerable spot. People are afraid of legal paradoxes and complicated relationships between the mayor's office, developers and citizens. Housing scams of recent years also ruined the reputation of construction companies, and people are afraid to be left on the street.
A system is needed to decide how and where to relocate all of those living in obsolete Soviet blocks, and Ukrainians need strong legislation. And it should start with the passage of a bill heading into Parliament, called: the Comprehensive Reconstruction of Microdistricts of Obsolete Housing.
*Sergiy Fotiev is an entrepreneur and owner of the construction company in Ukraine.
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