Russia's ambitious housing resettlement plan stirs discontent among some


MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia proposes resettling millions of citizens from decrepit Soviet-era apartment blocks into modern high-rise flats, but concerns about quality, a lack of services and infrastructure could upset voters ahead of a presidential election in 2018.

In the 1950s, the Soviet Union began mass-producing cheap, prefabricated housing to accommodate the millions of people sharing overcrowded communal flats and even cellars and dugouts dating from World War Two.

The then-Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, promised the apartments, with low ceilings and tiny kitchens and popularly dubbed "khrushevki" after him, would be lived in for no more than half a century. Most are still occupied.

In Moscow alone, some 1.6 million people live in the mostly five-storey peeling apartment blocks which face demolition if the Russian parliament approves a draft law on urban renovation and resettlement. It has already passed a first hearing.

Thousands of dwellings in the capital have already been torn down.

"There are positives, of course. We got a new apartment which is bigger then our last one," one resident who identified himself as Lyubov and lives in a new block told Reuters Television.

"But there are negatives too. There are problems with the apartment block, it stinks, something is rotting in the entrance hall. There is one cleaner for the whole house."

President Vladimir Putin, in power since 2000 and widely expected to seek another term next March, urged Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin to resettle residents "in a way that satisfies everyone".

One protest group called "Muscovites Against Demolition" has already gathered 18,000 signatures on social media. Critics of the resettlement law plan to hold a protest rally on May 14.

Vladimir Makhov, 53, and his ex-wife Valentina still live in their old five-storey block. With the building marked for demolition, nearly all their neighbors have moved out.

The couple - who share a poky flat with their pregnant daughter and her husband - say that what they have been offered is inferior to their existing home. But they lost their case in court and have been ordered to move.

"The majority of our neighbors just did not fight, they did not know how to do it," Makhov said.

He complained the flat they have been allocated is too small and too far from the nearest metro station.

"Some fought but they gave up. We are the only ones who will stay until the very end."