Housing Need In Armenia

 

In Armenia, three events have shaped the current housing situation: economic and social transition including housing privatization; a massive earthquake in 1988; and a large influx of refugees. Ninety-six percent of the housing stock in Armenia is privately owned. The four percent of housing remaining in public rental is not targeted to low-income households. No national system of housing allowances exists yet. Although new construction in 2001 was at about one tenth of its 1990 level, Armenia has no country-wide housing shortage due to high levels of emigration. A significant part of the country’s housing stock is in “deplorable” condition, and continues to deteriorate. The drop in household income that accompanied economic transition limited investment in housing repairs and maintenance, as did a lack of household experience and information in regard to ownership responsibilities. Maintenance fees are too low to cover even current repair costs, and utility fees are also artificially low. As a result, building deterioration continues, and utilities are provided only at low levels. Although public responsibility for housing support has been somewhat decentralized to local governments, this has not been accompanied by the necessary transfer of resources. Local governments need financial support, training, and increased technical capacity to effectively administer their responsibilities over the housing sector. The 1988 Spitak earthquake destroyed or damaged much of the housing stock in the north of the country, mostly in Armenia‟s second and third largest cities (Vanadzor and Gumri). As a result, five percent of the population of Armenia continues to lack permanent shelter. About half of these people live in temporary shelter with inadequate technical standards and sanitation. These shelters include metal railroad cars, condemned or damaged buildings, and public structures such as museums, schools and hostels (USAID Europe and Eurasia: Armenia 2004:1). As donors have withdrawn support in the form of kerosene, some of these households have difficulty heating their shelters (Ibid.). Although the Soviet Union did provide for some alternative permanent housing for earthquake victims, it was mainly in the form of multi-storied cement block apartments outside of the traditional urban areas. Many of these units remain vacant, as families have chosen to live elsewhere due to problems accessing transportation, shopping, and services (Ibid.). Coping with damage to housing caused by the earthquake forced Armenia to divert public resources from other pressing housing needs around the country. The need to improve housing earthquake safety remains a major issue in Armenia . In 1996, eight years after the Spitak earthquake, all buildings were considered to fail the safety standards in place at the time. The worst safety conditions were found in concrete high rise buildings. Enforcing safety regulations has become increasingly difficult with the expansion of the informal housing sector (UNDP 1997: 70). In part because of the earthquake damage, a significant informal housing sector has developed in Armenia , composed of hundreds of thousands of dwellings built on urban fringes. These self-built houses have no property titles and are not registered. Via a law passed in 2003, the government is attempting to legalize over 300,000 of these dwellings, though high costs may prevent many households from taking advantage of this.

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