21 August 2019, Wednesday, 7:19
We are in the same boat

Lukashenka's Experiments May Cause Increase in Housing Prices

Lukashenka's Experiments May Cause Increase in Housing Prices

Belarusians are outraged by activities of the "housing and communal mafia".

Lukashenka instructed the "governor" of Brest region, Anatol Lis, to start building the so-called "housing with a limited profit of 5%" based on problematic Stroitrest No. 8 in Brest.

At the same time, the dictator couldn't resist and disclosed the "scheme" of construction of such apartments: it turned out that the profit would exceed the announced 5%, and the "square meter" ("square") for ordinary citizens wouldn't get cheaper.

The dictator referred to an example of experimental development in Minsk, in the area of Navinki: "This housing costs $500 per square meter in Minsk. Take it! Take it, Anatol Vasilievich Lis, and sell it at $1200, leave the margin in the budget".

It one builds, as described above, at a cost of $500 per "square", and then gives it to government agencies, which sells it at $1200 - what benefit do people have? The only difference is that 700 dollars for each "square" will remain at the budget of the regional executive committee, not at a developer.

Charter97.org asked Aliaksandr Kabanau, a well-known Brest activist, one of the leaders of protests against the battery plant, winner of the National Prize for Human Rights Protection for 2018, to comment on the situation.

- Let's start with Stroitrest No. 8. What are its problems?

- Trest No. 8 is known as a loss-making organization in Brest. It barely stays afloat. According to my information, it was both involved in construction of the Astravets NPP and the 1000th anniversary of Brest - to somehow provide people with work.

But the organization has too many debts, and a major part of its property is already distrained. That is, it's a rather troubled organization, which is subject to closure in a normal country.

- What's about the housing issue in Brest? Is it real for an ordinary young family to get their own apartment?

- The fact is that not everyone in our country has the same right to housing.

We still have aided people. These are mainly law enforcement agencies that receive preferential loans from the budget (as far as I know, under 1% for a period of 20 years). These people have practically no problems with housing, especially since they are all in "queues".

And a family of a doctor or a teacher can't afford it. It is no surprise that we have such problems with doctors in our country: people are just leaving.

And when a young specialist comes to a large city - he has no chance to buy an apartment.

- You've had to meet the "governor" Lis during the struggle with the battery plant. How do you assess him as the head of the region?

- The thing is, I did not meet him personally, I had only formal letters. For almost a year we reached out for a meeting with him, but failed.

But my work is to keep track of affairs of officials such as the chairman of the regional executive committee. Like any appointee, he is afraid of an initiative and acts strictly within decrees from above.

But in such a non-transparent system as in Belarus, we do not know what orders he gets.

If you watch our state media, they cover some petty, not corresponding to the head of the regional executive committee activity: the opening of a monument in the region, a trip to an enterprise, a meeting with a Chinese delegation...

Of course, he does not represent interests of residents of the Brest region and will not do it. He can only show his "energy" at the sowing season. When it comes to the development of the region, human rights, and business incentives, he disappears.

- This person will receive $700 per square meter in Brest according to Lukashenka's plan. What do you think it will lead to?

- The housing issue is still not very optimistic for the majority of Brest residents. And the initiative of Lukashenka will not improve it.

I think that on the contrary, Lukashenka's experiment with Lis will result in the rise in real estate prices. And the first in the queue for affordable apartments will be "their people," friends and relatives.

To show "care" of citizens they will use data on social housing, which is not owned by people. Families with many children will be given several rental apartments, while they build dozens of houses to sell at commercial price and repay the money spent on families with many children.

And as for young families and specialists, they will still have to rely only on themselves to solve the housing problem.

- How do you assess the idea of giving officials the income from the construction of apartments for citizens?

- Lukashenka's scheme is another reason for a surge of corruption. The ruler is simply "ploughing" the next corruption field.

According to his statements, Lukashenka is always "fighting" corruption with one hand and is planting it with another hand.

The scheme he offered Lis should have a lot of money. If officials spend $500 per square meter and sell at $1.200 per "square", they are already making super profits.

As soon as this super profit is taken to the balance of the regional executive committee, it will bear the widest corruption field. Again, at some point, there may be demonstrative detentions of officials. Or there may not, it depends on who is really involved in the scheme.

And housing issues of particular Brest families, I am sure, will not be solved.

It has been proved that when there is private construction with unrelated to the state firms that engage in subcontracting - prices for a "square meter" will fall and the quality of housing will improve. We now have a monopoly in this area, and only free competition can solve the issue of housing affordability.

Where does Lukashenka take these numbers from? 500, 1200 dollars per square meter... In general, these prices lie through teeth. The state structures do not have a clear estimated cost.

- Belarus once had a history of protesting woman on a crane because her house was demolished in Minsk. If your executive committee becomes a developer with super profits, can such cases happen in Brest?

- Anything can happen, people may be evicted for the benefit of a developer. As long as we do not have a law on private ownership of land, a person will be defenceless before the state. Currently, Lukashenka and Lis, as well as any other official can make any decision on the real estate of citizens.

In addition, property rights are heavily tied to the judicial system. If we have such courts as we have now, then a person can lose home at any time, allegedly "by law".

Finally, it's important to have a transparent budget and reporting by officials, otherwise development will remain the most attractive area for corrupt officials.

The safety of our houses and apartments depends not on certain officials, but on the political system in the country. Only the replacement of the system can protect oneself from taking away one's legal square meters.

- Do ordinary people you talk to as an activist understand the relevance of the issue?

- They do. They just don't know how to change it.

The Belarusian authorities have initiated a criminal case against me for helping people make activities of housing cooperatives more transparent.

Let me put it this way: almost everybody is fed up with activities of the "housing and communal mafia", which thrives in our country. Prices for housing and communal services and their non-transparency is one of the most acute issues.

Many people in the country are concerned about the constant allocation of money for, for example, items such as major repairs. A person pays for 20-40 years and sees no result. And if he refuses, he is intimidated.

Belarusians know how the housing and utility system works, what salaries bosses have, how they set up tariffs. And this is the most outrageous.