Five-storey houses renovation: the wolves will eat enough, but will the sheep be left alone?

Five-storey houses renovation: the wolves will eat enough, but will the sheep be left alone?
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The renovation in Moscow might be a formidable construction project or might become the scam of the century

The renovation of Moscow residential housing is expected to be the largest urban development project in the first half of the XXI century in Russia.  Despite being large-scale the idea is striking for its crudity and even adventurism. It all pays witness to a sharp fall in the quality of management, at least at the municipal level. Instead, shaky PR-technologies for the promotion of the program are used.

However, if it is realised in its original form, the capital will suffer irreparable losses.


Renovation all over the country 

Renovation is really needed, and not only in Moscow but rather, and even more so, all over the country. The housing problem remains very acute in Russia. The residential housing stock is rather low, with 22 sq. m per resident, including only 14 sq. m of upgraded housing. The remainder is whereby the living amenities are outside [?] — 40m people live in Russia in such poor conditions.  And there are no programs for their resettlement (or they are not fulfilled).

1.5 bln sq m of housing in Russia needs major repairs, which is about 30% of the total housing stock. The expenditures for this are assessed as being as much as 12 trn roubles ($210.5 bln). With the existing standards of major repairs’ allowance, and on condition of zero inflation, it will take a lifetime to transfer the money. And at the level of inflation of several percent, it will take several lifetimes.

The condition of the Moscow residential stock is not that bad, and there are financial opportunities for renovation, which cannot be said about the provinces. Furthermore, the regions do not understand why the capital should live according to different rules. This creates the disruption between Moscow and the rest of Russia deeper and wider. But the project initiators do not seem to worry much about it. They are preoccupied with attending to their local tasks.

Five-storey houses renovation: the wolves will eat enough, but will the sheep be left alone?


Who profits?

What are they? According to Elena Shuvalova, Deputy of the Moscow City Duma, who has been working for the financing of the resettlement from dilapidated housing for several years, only one refrain keeps being sounded:  there is no money for that. That is, until now, when the money has unexpectedly appeared, and a lot of it, for renovation.

This fact reveals the target of the program of renovation. Its main aim is neither to improve the condition of the residential stock in the capital or to help the Muskovites live more comfortably, but rather to support the construction complex of Moscow, which is has to survive troubled times due to the fall of demand. If the population of the city cannot or does not want to buy flats at their current prices, the city budget will do it for them.

Following the deputy’s statement, everybody understands very well the real target of the program but pretends they have lofty aims for the renewal of the city’s residential stock. What will come of it? Of course, the funding will be implemented, but the real questions whether or not there will be any actual real renovation.

The idea of renovation appeared due to our technologically lagging behind, and leads to a further bottleneck. Once, house building factories were created to fill the city with cheap although not very comfortable housing. They fulfilled their mission, and were to have been closed. We were then to have started building in another way. However, they did not and the house building factories stayed, thus requiring new space. And the Moscow authorities decided to meet their requirements. 

Deputy Secretary of the RF Public Council, Alexander Musykantskiy, shares this opinion.  According to the bill draft, a special foundation with sweeping powers will be created for the renovation. Actually, it will become a monopolist on the market. Thus, a competitive environment will be killed, and the advantages for some companies can easily be imagined.

— The success of such a large-scale program is based on people’s trust in the authorities, Alexander says. And if there’s no trust, then meaning is searched for in any decision. — Trust appears from openness and the reliability of information. Before starting such a project, some public atmosphere should be created in the city.

Five-storey houses renovation: the wolves will eat enough, but will the sheep be left alone?


Raze to the ground and then…

The renovation initiators see the only way of its realisation as quarterly housebreaking. This is understandable because large construction companies need space. But there are a lot of other opportunities for the reconstruction of buildings. 

There are 500 m sq. m of unacceptable and obsolete residential areas in Russia, which appeared in the 1960s. There are no garbage chutes or elevators, and the kitchens and WC facilities are tiny. However, these houses may stand for decades when major repairs are carried out every 25 years. 

Their bad condition is not caused by their design and structural features but by the absence of decent maintenance and repair. These houses are, however, quite suitable for renovation in the genuine understanding of the term.

Experts remark that reconstruction of the houses has some advantages when compared with their demolition. Firstly, it is 2—3 fold cheaper (the demolition of a house costs 15,000 roubles /≈ $265/ a square meter), plus there are the expenditures for the utilization of refuse.

Additionally, the reconstruction of houses has a great social and psychological effect that allows residents to stay living in the district they are accustomed to. Such renovation is profitable for investors as well, as they do not have to buy land plots for development.

There are several examples of successful renovation in Moscow: One of them is located in Khimkinsky boulevard. After the renovation the residential area of the house increased 2.2-fold, the work lasted only 9 months, the primary cost of a square metre was only 13,600 roubles ($400 in the prices of 2003), and energy consumption decreased by 30—40%. 

The renovation of houses is advantageous for investors, and they often appeal to the authorities, but a lot of red tape stops the implementation of projects.  For example, getting preliminary permission takes three-four years and results in expenses of 30—40% of the total construction cost.

What renovation might arrive with such conditions!

Five-storey houses renovation: the wolves will eat enough, but will the sheep be left alone?


What to do with refuse?

One of the most acute issues is the utilisation of a gigantic amount of refuse during the housebreaking process. Such a problem once arose in the city. During the previous program, when 7m sq. m were planned to be broken down, three variants of housebreaking technologies were proposed. However, each of them would have resulted in enormous dust pollution of the adjacent territories. So, they decided to demolish the houses instead.

Then another problem appeared concerning what to do with the fragments of a house? How many years will it take to reprocess the refuse? An adequate solution was not found, and that was one of the reasons why fewer houses were dismantled than had been planned initially.

Soviet specialists asked German ones to share the technology of refuse utilisation, which was known to work successfully in Germany. But it turned out they did not process the refuse of houses because they did not break them. And answering the question of our officials regarding what they process, they answered part of the Berlin wall. 

According to evaluations, if there are 20-storey buildings instead of 5-storey ones, the population of the capital will grow from 3 to 7 m people. Has anybody thought where all these people would work? The creation of a huge additional infrastructure will be needed. And a lot of objects will have to be built from the zero level: additional storeys are not allowed on schools and nursery schools.

Moscow might turn into a city with high density development. On the whole, the quality of the environment and life in the city will decrease.

The Moscow government’s innovation program is striking because of its dilettantism and lack of any analysis of the problems which it would give birth to. Moscow is ready to pay from its own pocket for the renovation implementation. But is the pocket really its own? Practically, 9 Muskovites will provide 1 citizen with new housing. Why should they? Somebody has decided so. But not everybody appears to agree with it.

Vladimir GURVICH