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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

City Has Grand Plans for 'Khrushchev Slums'

MTLuzhkov said it would cost less to renovate the dilapidated five-story buildings than to demolish them and resettle the residents.
Mayor Yury Luzhkov is stepping away from his campaign to demolish the slap-dash housing of the Khrushchev era that still dominates much of the capital's landscape.

Instead of razing the dilapidated five-story apartment buildings, the mayor said on one of his regular Saturday tours of construction sites that it would be cheaper to reconstruct them.

The mayor said the city could save 21 million rubles (about $650,000) by converting some types of five-story buildings into nine-story blocks. If the reconstruction were done to whole neighborhoods, then economies of scale would lead to savings of another 10 percent.

But real estate players questioned whether the buildings -- dubbed khrushchyoby, a play on Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's name and the word for slum -- deserve to be saved.

Khrushchev began mass producing low-quality, five-story housing from prefabricated concrete panels. The apartments have low ceilings, tiny kitchens, no elevators and worn-out utilities.

City Hall began demolishing older khrushchyoby in the last decade and resettling residents, often in new apartments that the city receives in return for supplying land to developers.

One such developer, Kvartal, is transforming the 32nd and 33rd districts of the city beside Leninsky Prospekt and has already demolished nine five-story apartment blocks.

Kvartal marketing director Alexei Rekout said it would be difficult to say how much demolitions cost in general.

"It all depends what you mean by demolition," he said. "To simply level a building and take away the rubble is only part of this work; you have to seal off the utilities and resettle the residents in new apartments.

"To do that you have to build new apartments, shift residents' possessions and landscape the site on which the five-story apartment stood. All this is the responsibility of the contractor."

Residents are resettled in apartments designed for the middle classes. The commercial value of a Kvartal apartment, for example, starts at $1,480 per square meter. Luxury construction costs start at $2,500 per square meter.

Alexei Vvedensky, a spokesman for the city's department of architecture, construction, renovation and development, said more than 2 million square meters of the capital's stock of 190 million square meters of residential space has been demolished since 1994.

He said the city still has some 34 million square meters of khrushchyoby -- 11 million square meters of which, built from the mid-1960s, would be suitable for reconstruction.

The only reconstruction under way to date is experimental. One variant is to expand khrushchyoby into nine-story buildings, resettle neighboring residents into the top floors and then reconstruct the vacated buildings.

Real estate players said they doubted khrushchyoby could be transformed into commercially competitive housing.

Darren Gorodkin, head of the Moscow office of Irish-based architectural firm Murray O'Laoire, said there are several things that could be done to the khrushchyoby that could make them more pleasant to live in, but little to make them top-end residences.

Referring to one experiment described in Izvestia newspaper, which assessed the cost of revamping at $150 per square, he said the proposal would not be sufficient to provide khrushchyoby with modern building standards.

Another experiment described in the newspaper quoted a price of $800 to $1,090 per square meter, a price that Gorodkin said is similar to new construction. "I don't see the point of spending that much money to be left with an old khrushchoby inside," he said.

The basic infrastructure of the five-story buildings does not lend them to upgrades; the supports would not allow rooms to be easily enlarged, he said.

However, low-income people could benefit from improving the energy efficiency of the buildings; such work could extend the life of the five-story buildings, make them more comfortable to live in and could be done while residents remained in their homes, he said.

"You can't make a khrushchyoby into an elite home," said Olga Bogoroditskaya, a consultant with Kirsanova Realty, an affiliate of Sotheby's International Realty. They have low ceilings and outdated utilities, she said.

City Hall's Vvedensky said one of the reasons for reconstructing the existing buildings rather than demolishing them is that the existing mechanism of resettling residents takes up more vacant land than the city has to spare.

According to city statistics, the average occupant of a five-story building has just 16 square meters while when they move they obtain 26 square meters, or 55 percent more, Vvedensky wrote in an article published in the Stil Stolichny journal in December.

For every 100,000 square meters demolished, another 155,000 square meters has to be built and yet another 350,000 square meters of commercial apartment space has to be built to pay for the new space. This means that five times as much must be built as is demolished.

Vvedensky said demolishing all the five-story blocks that have been deemed unsuitable would require turning over more than twice the city's land reserves for residential construction.