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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Residents Fight Uphill Battle to Save Homes

MTKhrameshina, left, Lukonina, center, and Vasilyev standing in their large courtyard on 1st Khoroshyovsky Proyezd.
For the residents of three condemned apartment buildings on 1st Khoroshyovsky Proyezd, Thursday brings one more battle in a long campaign to save their homes.

The city plans to raze 10 buildings on this northern Moscow street to make way for a new school and kindergarten. But the residents contend that the demolition order, which declares the buildings to be dilapidated, is ­inaccurate and illegal.

"In the Soviet era, the government tore down truly dilapidated buildings, whose residents would pray for their homes to be condemned," said lawyer Natalya Belyayeva, who represents the residents in their petition against the city. "The Soviet government improved living conditions, but the current government just makes things worse."

Belyayeva will make the residents' case Thursday afternoon at Savyolovsky District Court. Her chief argument is that the city itself has declared the buildings fit for habitation.

Natalya Khrameshina, head of the housing committee at 14 1st Khoroshyovsky Proyezd, Building 2, said she had received an official letter from the office of the prefect for the Northern Administrative District stating that the condition of the buildings, built from 1949 to 1952, was "satisfactory."

The letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Moscow Times, cites an inspection of the buildings in early 2005.

City inspectors returned in late October 2006 and confirmed the satisfactory condition of the buildings, said ­Yelena Lukonina, head of a residents' organization at 16 1st Khoroshyovsky Proyezd, Building 1.

The letter indicated that the prefect's office intended simply to remove the word "dilapidated" from the original demolition order, issued May 2, 2006, and to leave the order in force.

This response frustrated the buildings' residents, many of whom have lived here for decades.

"Why tear these buildings down if they're in good shape? I personally saw a document that said they were ­designed to last for 150 years," said Alexander Drozdov, 89.

Vladimir Filonov / MT
10 buildings have been slated for demolition, but residents are fighting back.
Drozdov, a retired Air Force major general who has lived at 10 1st Khoroshyovsky Proyezd, Building 1 for 57 years, said the buildings once belonged to the Soviet Defense Ministry and housed top military personnel.

The residents are pressing their case in three district courts: Savyolovsky, Tverskoi and Cheryomushkinsky. To date, they have had little luck, mostly because hearings are routinely postponed without warning.

Natalya Starodubtseva, 44, whose husband Yury Balabai filed a complaint with the Tverskoi District Court, said the judge in the case was warned in advance that the city's representative would not be attending, but failed to let the residents know.

"The judge is acting," Starodubtseva said. "Old people with canes and hearing aids travel by metro and get mocked like that."

Residents are also concerned about what sort of accommodation the city would provide them if their current homes were demolished. The government routinely relocates residents of central Moscow to new suburbs on the outskirts.

Viktor Vasilyev, 63, a leading environmental scientist with the Russian Academy of Sciences, has lived for 30 years at 16 1st Khoroshyovsky Proyezd, Building 1. He says that if the city would make the residents a decent offer, many would happily give up their current apartments for larger ones elsewhere.

Vasilyev said he would agree to move to the outskirts if he were given more living space for his wife and three adult children.

"But no one wants to talk to us," Vasilyev said. "They're just making up pretexts to confiscate our property."

Lukonina said the residents wanted to form a homeowners organization in order to register the land beneath their buildings as private property.

The Land Code states that if ownership of property has been registered, the government must pay owners market value for their property when it exercises its right of eminent domain.

"It would be unprofitable for the government to demolish the buildings if it has to pay those kind of prices," Lukonina said.

But there is no point in trying to register ownership of the property before the demolition order is rescinded, Lukonina said.

"Our homes will be torn down before we can form a homeowners partnership, she said.

1st Khoroshyovsky Proyezd is just one of many neighborhoods in Moscow where buildings are being cleared to make way for new construction under the city's General Plan for development, which runs through 2020.

Critics charge that the General Plan is little more than an excuse for the city to seize and parcel out prime real estate to developers.

Eminent domain is regulated by a number of federal and city laws. The Land Code sets out the basic grounds for the taking of private property. City laws add several additional grounds for invoking eminent domain. The law on relocation and eviction of homeowners, for example, allows the city to take private property for "construction."

The Moscow City Duma is currently considering a bill on land use and development that sets out new grounds for the taking of private property within the city, among them construction of apartment buildings.

The residents of 1st Khoroshyovsky Proyezd have little hope that their various petitions will succeed -- in this country, at least.

They are eager to file a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights. Before they can do so, however, they must exhaust their legal options here at home, and that means going all the way to the Supreme Court.

As they face a long legal road ahead, the house-proud residents of 1st Khoroshyovsky Proyezd are certain that this is a neighborhood worth saving.

"Compared with the new apartment buildings, ours are solid. They're close to the metro, they're warm and clean and our courtyard is kept tidy. We have no trouble with hooliganism. All the neighbors know one another. In the summer, people from other buildings come to relax in our courtyard because we have a lot of greenery," Starodubtseva said.

"It's not fair for the city to treat people who have lived her for so many years like this."