What the housing relocation programme is and why Moscow needs it

What the housing relocation programme is and why Moscow needs it
New laws, voting and record-high participation – this is not about an election but about the Moscow housing relocation programme. Moscow’s Khrushchev-era ramshackle apartment blocks will be replaced by comfortable residential areas with modern buildings, parks, playgrounds and sports grounds.

The housing relocation programme involves the demolition of dilapidated five-storey blocks of flats and the relocation of their residents to modern housing. The project’s aim is to prevent five-storey blocks of flats from turning into hazardous housing unfit for living. The programme stipulates providing the residents of buildings put on the demolition list with equivalent living space with amenities in new buildings in their district.

A new law “On additional guarantees of housing and property rights for private individuals and legal entities during the implementation of the housing relocation programme in Moscow” was adopted to protect tenants’ interests. The law enshrines such important things as, for example, voluntary involvement. The programme will cover only those buildings in which at least two-thirds of the tenants vote for it. New flats must be equivalent to the old ones: the living space and the number of rooms must be at least the same as in the old flat and the general floor space must be larger due to more spacious kitchens, entrance halls, passages and bathrooms. People can also choose monetary compensation amounting to the market value of the flat. Probably, the most important thing is that Muscovites have a guarantee that the new flat will be in the same district as the demolished house.

Guarantees for programme participants will be enshrined in law on both the municipal and national levels. In June the State Duma adopted a law on the housing relocation programme in Moscow. The federal and municipal laws came into force on 1 July.

What Khrushchev-era five-storey blocks buidings are and why they are out of date

The programme covers five-storey buildings of the first period of prefab construction dating back to 1957-1975. People usually refer to these buildings as Khrushchev-era blocks of flats because they were constructed on a mass scale at the time when Nikita Khrushchev held the post of the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. As a rule, they are five-storey panel buildings, very austere both inside and outside. Why only five storeys? Because this is the maximum number of storeys requiring no lifts.

At that time, Khrushchev slums were a godsend for hundreds of thousands of Muscovites. State- funded rapidly erected housing solved the housing problem for those who lived in communal flats and also for settlers from villages. They were necessary for urban expansion. The flip side of the coin is the low quality of buildings. Khrushchev-era panel buildings have poor sound and thermal insulation. Comforts were also kept to a minimum: small rooms and tiny kitchens, no lifts and in many cases a combination bathroom. And the fight against architectural extravagances (the decree on eliminating extravagance in design and construction) furnished five-storey blocks of flats with cheap bituminous-coating of roofs.

However, Khrushchev-era blocks were built as temporary housing. They were meant to be used for 25-50 years. The city also has five-storey buildings of an earlier period and two- or four-storey blocks of flats with technical standards similar to Khrushchev slums. All this must be taken care of. Back in 1988, the authorities launched a relocation programme for the so-called demolition series. Over 160,000 families received new flats under that programme.

In addition, many buildings of non-demolition series are in a poor state. Their living conditions do not meet modern requirements for safety and comfort. The new stage of the housing relocation programme must improve the Moscow housing stock without waiting for five-storey buildings to irreparably turn into substandard housing. Muscovites living in those buildings will be given contemporary housing.

The voice of Moscow

Voting on the housing relocation programme came to an end on 15 June. Residents of blocks of flats that were included in preliminary lists voted for or against including their building in the programme. Voter participation far surpassed expectations. All in all, owners and tenants of over 240,000 flats from 4,500 blocks expressed their opinions, which is over 70 percent of the total number of flats included in the voting lists.

Residents of over 4,000 blocks voted for including their building in the relocation programme, which is about 90 percent.

What to expect in their place

Ramshackle five-storey buildings will be replaced by new-generation monolith and modern panel buildings. It will be high-quality housing built according to contemporary designs, using new energy efficient technology. The new buildings will have comfortable lobbies, low thresholds and lifts coming down to the entrance lobby level, so that there is no need to go up the steps to the lift.

Courtyards and land around new buildings will be made according to new standards: there will be small parks, bicycle tracks, sports grounds and playgrounds, and other recreation facilities. New districts will have lit-up promenade areas with flower beds and benches.

International practices are welcome

When implementing the programme, Moscow will take other cities’ experience into consideration. The seventh Moscow Urban Forum was a good opportunity to discuss housing relocation projects with foreign colleagues. There are very few cities in the world that carried out or are carrying out housing relocation on a scale comparable with Moscow’s. However, Istanbul, Seoul and Beijing are implementing similar programmes of developing built-up areas. Beijing’s experience is particularly interesting to Moscow because Beijing’s layout concepts were proposed by Soviet designers and it looks very much like the Russian capital. French colleagues also have ideas to share, as they have relocated about 500 districts of dilapidated housing, replacing them with modern energy efficient housing.

However, Moscow does not intend to confine itself to taking advice. It engages the best Russian and foreign architects in designing new neighbourhoods. For example, Norman Foster’s architecture firm and many well-known architects from other companies were invited. At present, cooperation prospects are being discussed with Herzog & de Meuron and Foster + Partners.

Foster + Partners’ experience is interesting to Moscow because that company makes active use of the BIM (Building Information Modelling) technology when designing buildings. The firm has also implemented successful projects in planning the urban environment in restrained conditions. For example, it extended an embankment, laid out a park and upgraded roads and pedestrian areas in Hong Kong.