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Europe’s ‘housing time bomb’ keeps ticking




A woman washes the dishes in the common bathroom of her derelict building in Ulan-Ude, Russia.




Roza Ivanova stands proudly by her new window. The improved insulation will help her save on heating bills..




Neighbours chat during the renovation of their building.

“During winter it’s really cold in here, and if the fire goes out during the night, we risk freezing. The window is broken and the wind gets through easily and if it rains heavily, it penetrates through into our home,” says Iuliu Keri, now a Habitat homeowner.

His family had lived in a one-room flat of an old, rundown apartment block in Beius, Romania for many years. Fifty people shared six decrepit toilets on each floor and the roof leaked all the way down to the second floor.

That is the face of urban poverty all across the former Soviet bloc. Most of the buildings constructed in the 1960s were made of low-quality, pre-fabricated materials and have not been maintained since completion.

Urban poverty: facts
The World Bank estimates that this housing stock was not meant to last for more than 25 years so most of it is already at the end of its effective life. A high percentage of this housing is now in the process of rapid deterioration and is considered the region’s “housing time bomb.”

In Poland, about 1.5 million homes do not meet basic standards but families living there can’t afford anything better. In Romania, it is estimated that almost 40% of all housing stock needs urgent repair. People living there might own their apartments but they are too poor to invest in repairs and state subsidies are no longer available. Millions of families across the region are thus trapped in deplorable conditions.

Habitat battles poverty housing in the cities

Many Habitat affiliates in Eastern Europe and Central Asia target urban communities in need of decent shelter. Because the cost of new construction is often prohibitive and there is enough housing available, Habitat works mostly by renovating existing apartments.

In Beius, Romania, Habitat volunteers and families removed 300 tons of insulation materials from the old roof of a deteriorating apartment block to make space for a new floor and a better quality, durable roof.

In the same building, Habitat cleaned the basement in which the foul-smelling, waste-deep sewage had been stagnating for years and installed a new plumbing system throughout the building—for the benefit of all tenants, not just Habitat homeowners.

In neighbouring Bulgaria, Habitat has recently embarked on its first renovation project in the capital city of Sofia. In partnership with a local NGO, Habitat is targeting women-led households—a group particularly vulnerable to poverty. Renovation works include changing windows, which immediately improves insulation and decreases the heating bills; flooring and re-plastering; and often renovating bathrooms.

The local Habitat organization in Warsaw, Poland has also kicked off a pilot renovation program a few months ago. For a start, volunteers and families renovated the staircase and replaced windows in the building on Kazimierska Street. The project will continue in the spring when the roof will be repaired and proper heating installed.

This apartment block was built after WWII and has not been repaired since. The roof is full of holes and old windows are leaking. The twenty-three families living there fix what they can, but the little they can afford for maintenance is not enough to solve these major problems. By partnering with Habitat they will turn their dilapidated building and apartments into real, decent homes.

To learn more about urban poverty in Europe/Central Asia, click here to download “From Budapest to Bishkek: Mapping the Roots of Poverty Housing” as a pdf file.

To support Habitat, click here.