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Housing capital repair fee angers Russians, opposition takes advantage of protests

August 31, 2015, 19:04 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
© TASS/Sergei Fadeichev

MOSCOW, August 31. A mandatory fee for apartment blocks’ capital repairs imposed this year in Russia has further strained households’ budgets amid the crisis and caused certain social tension - a situation, which opposition forces are trying to exploit ahead of the parliamentary elections.

All understand that it is necessary to pay for repairs but the reform was implemented far from thoughtfully and, as it often happens, the population was poorly informed, experts say.

A fee for the future capital repairs of apartment blocks will be imposed on citizens in all the Russian regions, except Crimea, in 2015.

The new housing fee’s monthly rate differs considerably, from 18 rubles ($0.27) per square meter in Khanty-Mansiysk in West Siberia to 2 rubles ($0.03) in the Murmansk Region in northwest Russia. According to data of Russia’s State Statistics Service Rosstat, housing services in Moscow have soared by 40% due to capital repair costs. Citizens’ mass non-payments for housing services can be seen already now. In some Russian regions, less than 20% of residents pay for future capital repairs. Even before this fee was imposed, 12% of Russians were "chronic debtors" in housing and utility services payments.

A mini-rally against the capital repairs charge was held in Moscow on Sunday. In the opinion of the rally’s organizers, mass non-payments are the sole method to make the authorities cancel the unpopular fee. The rally’s speakers emphasized that the stated goal of apartment blocks’ capital repairs over the period of 30 years was too vague while the fee payment system was not transparent. The protesters believe that mass non-payments coupled with protests are the basic recipe of the struggle against the capital repair fee collection.

So far, only 100 persons came to the rally but it has to be borne in mind that the living standards in Moscow are noticeably higher than in many other regions. Earlier, the protests with the demand to cancel the new housing charge were held in Tyumen, Nizhny Novgorod, Birobidzhan and some other cities.

Over a million of Russian citizens have signed a petition to the government with a demand to stop the collection of capital repair charges. The petition was initiated by the opposition faction of the A Just Russia party in the Russian parliament. The party considers the collection of capital repair charges to be illegal. It argues that the state has not fulfilled its obligations and has not transferred the housing stock to owners in a proper condition.

Other opposition parties have also spoken for a change in the endorsed system of collecting capital repair charges. The Communists of Russia party has said it is going to initiate a referendum on the cancellation of the fee. The Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) is also seeking a reduction in the capital repair charge.

No one disputes the need of capital repairs. But legally-minded citizens are confused over contradictions with existing laws. It also turns out that the government has not yet even formulated transparency and controllability requirements for the administrators of collected fees. The issues of allowances for lone pensioners who won’t be able to see the results of future repairs have not been resolved either.

"The problem of capital repair fees is becoming an important political theme, which the opposition parties are exploiting. It will most likely be impossible to achieve the full cancelation of this fee. However, the opposition may gain additional support by seeking this," Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily quoted First Vice-President of the Center for Political Technologies Alexei Makarkin as saying.

The current situation is the result of a whole number of mistakes committed by the authorities since the New Housing Code was adopted, expert of the Higher School of Governance at the Russian Presidential Academy of the National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA) Igor Kokin told TASS.

The idea sealed in the Housing Code that owners maintain apartment blocks on their own has not received unambiguous financial support from the state. "Owners have been left with their housing one to one," the expert said.

"The system should have been thoroughly devised and a consensus should have been reached in society that the owner assumes responsibility for some share while the state guarantees its responsibility for some share as well," he added.

"The state has failed to say a simple thing so far: whether it will help owners with capital repairs. But this should have been done in the first place."

People need to receive explanations and people need to be informed, RANEPA Professor Alexander Shcherbakov told TASS.

"Money is collected now but it is promised that the service will be rendered afterwards. Moreover, this is done without providing any details. This issue has not been thoroughly elaborated. The population has been ill-informed. For example, how is the pay determined? Why does this fee in Moscow differ from the charge in other regions? There is a feeling that the authorities are offering people to buy a pig in a poke," the expert said.

In the expert’s opinion, the authorities in Moscow and other regions are already "making conclusions but inadequate so far."

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