Here is an excerpt from my ongoing project of "INVADERS BIBLE TO MOSCOW"
1. This is not Europe (although they look like them)
6. Here, the houses (i mean, the communal spaces) are dirtier than your rubbish bin - and nobody cares.
(6.1. You pay an awful sum of money for those houses)
7. Never talk, help, pay attention, disturb or communicate with your neighbors (if you can see them)
(7.1. Your neighbors will never talk, help, pay attention or communicate with you; but they have the right to disturb you)
Unless you are a high-ranking expat, you will probably be astonished (and disgusted) by the flat that you can afford in Moscow (i mean the city of Moscow..you can also find some cheap ratholes through the oblast itself). The ones who trade in the comfort and security of housing to living standards will be first greeted by the World's fastest growing real estate market (a.k.a Moscow Inferno). On basic economic terms, as the demand increases against a static supply, the price increases sharply: that is the case in Moscow (and every other big city around the world.) But what makes Moscow that special?
Let's start from the beginning.
In the beginning there was socialism and it was good. The promise of equal labor, wages, housing, education and bla bla sounded fruitful to the proletariat of the galaxy. Everybody would have a house and since each house would be the same, no capitalist greed would incur in the soviet citizens ripe minds. (Individual housing wasn't permitted in cities until the perestroika) so the only politically and economically correct option to satisfy this demand was to build huge apartment complexes, so huge that it could house entire communities and would have their own social facilities (like communist party bureau, communist youth enrollment center, pravda and izvestiya newspaper stand...etc)...in the beginning it was good.
As one of my friends' father once said: "In USSR, they pretended to pay us and we pretended to work". This widespread soviet inefficiency also cast its longlasting shadow over the housing construction. No concern was shed over the aesthetics (what?), ergonomy (what??) and quality (whaat?!?) of the housing. I also heard from him that the state forgot to improve its water pumping technology but improved the quotas for housing: "So they built 13 floors of housing but the available water pumping technology could only deliver water to the 9th floor. So the owners of the 4 upper levels had to beg to a neighbor, a fellow engineer, to develop an interim waterpump and had to go down regularly to communal kitchens and bathrooms downstairs untill he fixed the machine from scratch. "
Another thing about the soviet production was the quota system. The quota was nothing more than a number: the number of cars (Ladas in particular), the tonnage of coal, the number of nuclear warheads...and the total m2 of living space built in a year. Nobody asked (or even cared) to evaluate the quality (what?) and the efficiency (What is this?) of the resulting products; so people had to pay noticable amount of rubles to upgrade their "brand new" flats to a living condition. "The first house delivered to us had no taps but two sinks" said the father, who had a mediocre position in the nomenklatura, he also added that "I had to trade the extra sink with a neighbor who had two extra taps installed in his bedroom". As a result, everybody had a flat...i mean four walls and a roof.
The question of how the citizens get their flats is a non-linear optimization problem that no soviet government has found a solution so far: They tried to distribute it to ardent members of the communist party, Heroes of the Soviet Union (Heroes ranged from brave fighters who destroyed german tanks with bare hands in WW2 to pioneering cosmonauts), Stakhanovites (workers who quadruple their quotas in one-fourth of the time allocated), Artists, Big families...and a lot of citizens were enlisted in long queues that would take up years to come. The solution of listing the propective tenants came with another problem. As the idiom says "it is not the flat but the neighbors", a normal soviet family could eventualy be neighbors with a rocket scientist, nuclear submarine sailor, KGB torturer and a criminal mastermind. Here is an account of my neighbors (whom I know): A WW2 veteran (not a Hero because he was a prisoner of war in germany, making bombs that would kill fellow comrades), A drunk and old woman who somehow perfectly spoke English and some Turkish, A young couple who always had some kind of party going on, A Georgian man who disappeared after the latest Georgian pogrom...
"We were on a list for an apartment for 4 years and when I checked on our position one day, I heard that the lists were to be erased and re-written according to the new 5-year-plan...so we waited for another 5 years and eventually got the flat with two sinks." continued the father who now enjoys a 4-room flat near Kitai-Gorod and a shiny Lexus SUV. He also added that he now rents that flat (which he waited for 9 years) to 2500$/month to an american expat. "This is the triumph of socialism! Kruschev would love to see us renting those s***holes to americans for that sum" he added with a grin.