Homelessness in Russia

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Homeless shack in Ivanovo

Homelessness in Russia has been observed since the end of the 19th century. After the abolition of serfdom in Russia in 1861, major cities experienced a large influx of former peasants who sought jobs as industrial workers in rapidly developing Russian industry. These people often lived in harsh conditions, sometimes renting a room, shared between several families. There also was a large number of shelterless homeless. Immediately after the October Revolution a special program of "compression" ("уплотнение") was enabled: people who had no shelter were settled in flats of those who had large (4, 5 or 6 room) flats with only one room left to previous owners. The flat was declared state property. This led to a large number of shared flats where several families lived simultaneously. Nevertheless, the problem of complete homelessness was mostly solved as anybody could apply for a room or a place in dormitory (the number of shared flats steadily decreased after large-scale residential building program was implemented starting in the 1960s).

By 1922 there were at least 7 million homeless children in Russia as a result of nearly a decade of devastation from World War I and the Russian Civil War.[1] This led to the creation of a large number of orphanages. By the 1930s the USSR declared the abolition of homelessness and any citizen was obliged to have a propiska – a place of permanent residency. Nobody could be stripped of propiska without substitution or refuse it without a confirmed permission (called "order") to register in another place. If someone wanted to move to another city or expand their living area, he had to find a partner who wanted to mutually exchange the flats. The right for shelter was secured in the Soviet constitution. Not having permanent residency was legally considered a crime. There were also virtually no empty and unused apartments in the cities: any flat where nobody was registered was immediately lent by the state at a symbolic price to others who needed better living conditions. If a person who had permanent registration could not pay for shelter, nobody had right to evict them, only to demand money through a court.

After the breakup of the USSR and adopting capitalism, the problem of homelessness sharpened dramatically, partially because of the legal vacuum of the early 1990s with some laws contradicting each other and partially because of a high rate of frauds in the realty market. In 1991 articles 198 and 209 of Russian criminal code which instituted a criminal penalty for not having permanent residence were abolished. Because most flats had been privatized and many people sold their last shelter without successfully buying another, there was a sharp increase of homeless. Renting apartments from a private owner became widespread (which usually only gives temporary registration and the apartment owner could evict the lessee after the contract is over, or if the rent was unpaid). In Moscow, the first overnight shelter for homeless was opened in 1992.[2] In the late 1990s certain amendments in law were implemented to reduce the rise in homelessness, such as the prohibition of selling last flat with registered children.

Nevertheless, the state is still obliged to give permanent shelter for free to anybody who needs better living conditions or has no permanent registration, because the right to shelter is still included in the constitution. This may take many years, though. Nobody still has the right to strip a person of permanent residency without their will, even the owner of the apartment. This creates problems for banks because mortgage loans became increasingly popular. Banks are obliged to provide a new, cheaper flat for a person instead of the old one if the person fails to repay the loan, or wait until all people who live in the flat are dead. Several projects of special cheap 'social' flats for those who failed to repay mortgages were proposed to facilitate mortgage market.[3]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "And Now My Soul Is Hardened: Abandoned Children in Soviet Russia, 1918–1930". Retrieved 17 September 2014.
  2. ^ "Бездомность вчера, сегодня... Завтра?".
  3. ^ "Höjdestrand, Tova: The Soviet-Russian production of homelessness: propiska, housing, privatisation".