City Housing Services Can Make You See Red

I have decided, after a long period of deliberation that has pitted me against family, friends and most of the population of the planet, to apply for membership in the Communist Party of the Russian Federation.

The conclusive factor came during the communist rally last weekend on St. Petersburg's Palace Square organized to bolster opposition to the doubling of apartment tariffs in the city. I found myself agreeing with the fiery broadsides of the speakers. Yes, the city administration is entirely made up of inept bunglers. Yes, we should organize some form of boycott. It was all I could do to stop myself bursting forth into the opening strains of the "Internationale."

Now, I must admit that I had never even heard of this governmental ground-rent until fairly recently when the organization from which I rent my apartment suddenly presented me with a mountain of little red and orange bills stretching back two years, which they had neglected to mention before. Even when I had forked out the money, which amounted to around $340, there was more to come. A couple of weeks later I was hit with penalties of $300 for late payment. This was a large enough sum to make me wonder what I was getting for my money.

First of all, my current monthly charge covers heat and gas. Then there is water, a service which can be turned off any time of the day or night without notice and includes my apartment's particular specialty: brown, slightly malodorous hot water. The sum also includes the supposed upkeep of our filthy, shameful stairwell and the crumbling neo-classical facade of our building. Then there is the elevator which doesn't stop on our floor. And, finally, there is a curious charge for piped radio.

All in all, the majority of the services covered are substandard, nonexistent or redundant. And despite recent price hikes, the state of the buildings under the city's care continues to deteriorate rapidly. Take, for example, the case of one of the photographers with The St. Petersburg Times, who woke last weekend at 5 a.m. to discover boiling water flooding through his apartment after high pressure pipes in the attic, which were held together by tape, had burst. In addition to losing his possessions, his hands were also badly scalded while bailing out the hot water through his fifth-floor window during the two hours it took for the emergency help to arrive.

All of this has driven me directly into the arms of the Communists. It seems, back when they were in control, the streets were clean, the buildings sparkled and public transportation was free of the scourge of crowded carriages. This is the kind of St. Petersburg I want to live in. So, comrades, where do I sign up? Is there a special desk for foreigners?