Wednesday, June 29, 2011

In Russia, real estate experts, disabled people say Moscow lacks adapted apartments, housing programs and accessible infrastructure

From The Moscow News in Russia. In the picture, a fifth grader using a staircase hoist cart for wheelchairs at the Comprehensive Secondary School.

For five years Moscow City Hall has been trying to force construction companies and municipal departments to adapt homes for people with limited mobility.

Much as the city’s authorities wished to make Moscow more accessible, there are only slight changes so far to housing and infrastructure. Real estate experts and people with limited mobility say the capital lacks adapted apartments, housing programs and infrastructure.

“The department does its best to ensure that this category of Muscovites receives specially equipped apartments in time. The law says that apartments adapted for disabled people are provided under a contract of uncompensated use,” Nikita Kolesin, spokesman for City Hall’s housing department, told The Moscow News.

The department’s own figures show there are 429 families with one member in a wheelchair that need special housing in Moscow.

Between 2008 and 2010, 241 specially designed apartments for disabled people were built in the capital.

So far this year 10 families in Moscow have received such apartments, taking the total since 2005 to 529.

Moscow’s Soviet-era accommodations lack special infrastructure for disabled residents, which the newer business and luxury sector offers.

Real estate experts say Moscow would have to rebuild most of its housing, although construction firms now have to meet new regulations on building standards.

Anna Levitova, managing partner at Evans Property, told The Moscow News about an American family with children, one of whom was in a wheelchair, which was looking for a home.

“This was very embarrassing as it turned out that there were no apartment blocks where you can get to the elevator without climbing up the steps. There simply were no elevators where the width of the doors would allow entry in a wheelchair,” she said.

For comparison, the United States has since 1978 required public and state property to be adapted for the use of people with disabilities.

“For our American clients the experience with Moscow’s real estate market was shocking,” Levitova said.

Some real estate experts say it is rare that a disabled person tries to rent or buy an apartment in Moscow. They simply don’t come.

“Frankly, I cannot recall a single case of dealing with people with limited mobility. It is difficult to suppose that such a person in search of work would decide to move from another region to the capital,” Maria Zhukova, first deputy director at MIEL Arenda, told The Moscow News.

Many people with disabilities are jobless and have no means to rent or buy an apartment, so the real estate market in Moscow has very few suitable apartments for disabled people.

“Rental prices of housing do not change if a client is disabled, but as housing for this category of people imposes specific requirements, the cost may be somewhat higher than average,” Alexander Ziminsky, director of elite property department at Penny Lane Realty, told The Moscow News.

Maria Gendeleva, an expert on inclusive education from Perspektiva NGO and a wheelchair user, told The Moscow News that people with disabilities found it near-impossible to rent or buy suitable apartments in Moscow.

“First of all, it’s almost impossible to ask a landlord to adapt an apartment or the entrance to the apartment block for such people.

“Plus, the housing is very expensive and disabled people very often have no jobs, meaning that they can only rely on apartments that they can receive from the state,” Gendeleva said.

Gendeleva said that if construction companies built at least 10 specially designed apartments per building that would help many people with disabilities.

“There would be more chances for the disabled to receive an apartment,” she said.

The biggest problem with housing for people with disabilities, Gendeleva said, is the lack of infrastructure inside the building and outside of it.

“People with disabilities can’t even get out of their apartments, as the buildings are not equipped at all – no special lifts, no ramps. So, a person stays indoors and becomes very asocial.”

In Gendeleva’s case, she said it took three years to get a ramp built to the entrance of the building she was living in.

Among them:

-- 14,300 people are visually impaired or blind
-- 3,700 are deaf or hard of hearing
-- 20,300 have muscular and orthopedic disabilities
-- 1,700 have cerebral palsy

City Hall’s infrastructure statistics:

-- 54 per cent of public buildings are officially adapted for the disabled
Entrances to residential buildings have 1,221 lifting platforms
-- 500 are equipped with remote or extra visual controls
-- Another 138 lifting platforms will be installed in 2011
-- 27,000 ramps have been built around the city
-- Over 2,000 parking spaces for the disabled were allocated in 2010


-- 66 apartments for the disabled were built in residential blocks in 2010
-- 111 apartments are scheduled to be built in 2011
-- 740 apartments were adjusted for people with disabilities in 2010