Moscow, Russia

by Alexey Krasheninnokov


Since 1924, five-year plans provided national economic and urban development that was aimed at providing equal services for all. Muscovites primarily live in flats in multistorey buildings. Moscow’s population has tripled during the last 70 years and, in spite of massive municipal housing construction, there are still some people who live in shared flats, or in outdated or dilapidated buildings.

Shared flats with communal cervices, built between 1920 and 1955, were designed to house the needy on the basis of one family per room. Despite enormous efforts – more than 80 per cent of Moscow’s housing was buil tduring the past 30 to 40 years – about 15 per cent of the registered population still live in shared flats.

Dilapidated buildings are generally five-storey high blocks of apartments, built from pre-fabricated concrete panels during the mid 1950s. That first generation of industrial housing was followed by improved second (mid 1960s) and, still better, third generation (1980s) of mass type housing. Due to poor maintenance and shortage of living space, about 36 per cent of Moscow’s housing stock is physically or otherwise ‘out of date’.

Squatter flats resulted from illegal subleasing of municipal or private housing. The post-1994 easing of the ‘urban employment access to housing requirement’ made Moscow the number one migration destination, including a considerable percentage of refugees.

No formal definition of slum is given, as it is generally considered that the city does not have slums, but has communal (shared) flats, dilapidated buildings and deteriorated houses.

Several types of accommodation in Moscow do not meet contemporary standards for housing:

Communal flats (communalky): these are apartments that are used by two or more families who share the kitchen and other facilities (including hostels, dormitories and hotels).

Outdated and dilapidated buildings (vethi and avariyni): this typically comprises the first generation of mass housing, now outdated in terms of quality of construction and facilities. Residents are entitled to housing improvement or free alternative accommodation, but queues are long and move slowly according to availability of municipal housing stock.

Deteriorated houses: these are primarily post-World War II structures that are recognized as damaged or otherwise unsuitable for constant habitation.

Before 1992, almost all houses in Moscow were state owned, municipal or corporate. There were practically no private houses in Moscow for 70 years. In ten years, two thirds of the housing stock became private through privatization and new construction. Poor people generally stay in state-owned flats that they rent or lease.

‘Low-income citizens’ are defined through the criterion of ‘cost of living’, representing a minimum basket of consumption materials and services ‘necessary for preservation of health and maintenance of ability to live of the people’ – this is estimated as 2900 rubles (about US$90) per person (during the year 2002). Moscow provides financial assistance to families with actual per person income lower than the cost of living in the city, and to families with minor children, students and youth, veterans of the Great Patriotic war, older citizens and invalids (handicapped).

‘Needy for dwelling’ people have the right to apply for housing improvement at the expense of the city. In Moscow, a family is considered in need for housing if there are less than 9 square metres of floor area per person.

Moscow’s poor population is also made up of illegal immigrants, refugees and seasonal workers. As the collection basin is, in principle, the entire territory of the former USSR, little specific socio-political characteristics can be attributed to this wide array of people.

The main purpose of the federal programme Dwellings for 2002–2010 is transition to sustainable development in the housing sphere, ensuring availability of housing accommodation to the citizens, as well as a safe and comfortable urban environment. This housing reform programme comprises modernizing municipal housing and resettling citizens from shabby and dilapidated housing stock. The reforms are aimed at:

implementing a transition to sustainable development in the housing sphere, ensuring availability of housing accommodation to the citizens and a safe and comfortable urban environment;

undertaking the necessary legal, taxation, privatization, housing finance and registration changes.

With accumulated public- and private-sector resources and according to the Law on Moscow Master Plan, the following changes in housing reconstruction and development are envisaged for the following 20 years:

liquidation of shared flats and existing dilapidated housing stock by 2010;

increase of housing stock from 176 up to 220 million–230 million square metres;

decrease and stabilization of the total share of physically amortized and of out-of-date residential stock from 36 to 15 per cent through substitution of apartments of the first generation and by increase of annual of reconstruction;

improvement of maintenance and operating performances of residential buildings (at the expense of increase of high-quality housing stock and a decrease of low-quality residential stock);

improvement of the urban environment, and of sociopsychological and ecological comfort; and

increase in the efficiency of urban territories through mixed-use development, and increase of residential and mixed residential densities.

Much of Moscow’s current housing crisis is inherited from the past, exacerbated by problems inherent to the current politico-philosophical shifts of the transitional period. In both cases, the housing sector did not receive sufficient resources. Largely dependent on subsidies and unsatisfactory financing, expensive maintenance and an environment with a general absence of economic incentives or market competition, the housing crisis does not come as a surprise. In order to work itself out of these problems, considerable institutional and social reorganizations may be required. Necessary new directions include, but are not limited to:

finding a new balance between private and municipal roles;

better access to housing finance;

privatization of housing to pave the way for more owner/tenant rights in order to ease the burden on the state;

an overhaul of municipal finance;

the creation of more public–private partnerships;

the establishment of resident community-based organizations to improve public control over the maintenance and effective use of government subsidies;

subsidies going directly to recipients rather than to agencies in order to stimulate competition for maintenance services; and

municipal support for NGO interventions.

This summary has been extracted from:

UN-Habitat (2003) Global Report on Human Settlements 2003, The Challenge of Slums, Earthscan, London; Part IV: 'Summary of City Case Studies', pp195-228.

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2003 Development Planning Unit | Anna Soave | Khanh Tran-Thanh