In the most extensive Russian resettlement project in half a century, a full 10% of Moscow’s housing is set to be torn down

... and 1.6 million people moved as the city’s ‘Khrushchevka’ flats are destroyed. But residents won’t go easily.

An apartment building in Moscow are constructed in 1961 using pre-fabricated panels.
An apartment building in Moscow are constructed in 1961 using pre-fabricated panels. © SVF2/UIG via Getty Images

....Moscow is reportedly not up to the difficulty and cost of such a task. Earlier this month, the respected business newspaper Vedomosti quoted an unnamed official as saying the city had decided that building new housing would be cheaper than renovating. According to official statistics, half of the residential buildings in Moscow are in need of major structural repairs, and only a few dozen have been redone.

Another reason may be political, as Sobyanin and Putin are both likely to run for reelection in 2018. Political analyst Dmitry Orlov estimated that as long as residents aren’t moved too far away and small business owners are fairly compensated, the new programme could boost electoral support in Moscow by 15% for the mayor and 7% for the president. He based this on how a smaller resettlement programme under previous mayor Yury Luzhkov had “changed public opinion (and) allowed him to preserve a high level of trust over the years”, he said.

Activists’ main complaint is that the programme is mostly about money, and both developers and the city stand to make a handy profit. They point to a recent example of a partially completed programme started in 1999 to replace 1,722 five-storey buildings. For that scheme, the city contracted private developers, who built new tower blocks, set aside 30% of the apartments to resettle residents of the old buildings, and sold the rest. Vedomosti quoted a source in the mayor’s office as saying the new programme will free up a large number of land plots that will be sold to investors at auction.

The devil will be in the detail, and specifically in what kind of housing is built and where; new residential towers in Moscow are often as tall as 25 storeys, leading to less personable neighbourhoods and more traffic congestion. Already, Moscow traffic jams are among the worst in the world. Housing density will almost certainly increase, given that that five-storey buildings now occupy 8,000-10,000 sq metres per hectare, while city norms allow for up to 25,000 sq metres per hectare.

“They haven’t told us what technologies will be used in the new buildings, how they will look, and the quality of modern construction in Russia is not that high,” Kazakova said.

According to Maxim Trudolyubov, editor-at-large of Vedomosti, the programme’s results will depend largely on whether private firms or a state construction company build the new housing. “Private companies will need to sharply increase the amount of square metres that exist in Moscow, “which will choke the city for good with torrents of people and transport,” he wrote in a recent column.