RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
In Russia, one of the most enduring legacies of Communist rule is a housing stock that was often hastily built, long-neglected and now falling into various stages of dilapidation. Earlier this year, Moscow's mayor, who's a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, announced an ambitious plan to knock down thousands of shabby apartment blocks and resettle up to a million people.
As NPR's Lucian Kim found out, not all Muscovites are welcoming the demolition plan which the city is euphemistically calling a renovation program.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Laughter).
LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: When Anna Sazonkina and her husband bought their apartment in north Moscow last August, they thought they'd finally found a home where they could raise their four boys, aged 4 months to 14 years.
ANNA SAZONKINA: We were so happy, really, and it was in a good - this flat is very - in a very good condition. We didn't need to reconstruct something. It looked like it was built especially for our family - very comfortable for all members of our family.
KIM: The modest three-bedroom apartment is on the third floor of a five-story brick building constructed in the 1960s, of which there are thousands in Moscow and across Russia. Sazonkina, a professional musician, loves her leafy courtyard, the nearby school and the fact her mother lives a 10-minute walk away.
But now her building is on a list of more than 4,000 buildings the city wants to tear down to make way for modern apartment towers. Sazonkina says most of her neighbors will vote for the resettlement in a survey taken by the city, yet she feels her constitutional rights as a property owner are being violated because she's not being given a real choice.
SAZONKINA: (Speaking Russian).
KIM: "I believe they'll make my life hell and squeeze us out eventually," Sazonkina says, "but my civic conscience won't allow me to vote for it." Sazonkina is not alone. Other homeowners are venting their anger in online groups and holding rallies against the planned demolitions.
They don't believe the mayor's promise they'll get to stay in their districts and receive apartments the same size as their old ones. And they doubt the quality of the new buildings and worry that Moscow will become a concrete jungle of 20-story high-rises. Most of all, they don't like being treated like sheep led to slaughter, as Sazonkina puts it.
KIM: Earlier this month, incensed homeowners gathered for a grassroots seminar on how to defend their rights. The organizer was Yuliya Galyamina, a linguist turned civic activist, who says the real reason for the mass resettlement program is to revive the Moscow real estate market which has been battered by Russia's economic downturn.
YULIYA GALYAMINA: (Speaking Russian).
KIM: Galyamina says, "President Vladimir Putin's friends came up with the demolition plan because they see their own people as a source of income." Sergei Zverev smiles when he hears Galyamina's accusations. He's the head of the construction committee in the city assembly and a member of Putin's party.
SERGEI ZVEREV: (Speaking Russian).
KIM: "Of course we can blame everything bad on our president," says Zverev, "but we should recognize that he supports our idea." Zverev says most Muscovites affected by the program prefer new housing. Many of the old buildings have wooden beams, ancient plumbing and tiny kitchens and bathrooms.
The city insists that nobody has to worry about being sent to another neighborhood and those who don't want new apartments will get financial compensation. Homeowners like Sazonkina don't believe it. Just by being on the list of condemned buildings, the value of her property has already dropped. The city begins pulling residents this week. And in July, the Russian Parliament is set to pass a bill enshrining Moscow's demolition program into law.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in Russian).
KIM: Sazonkina says she's never gone to a rally in her life, but yesterday, she joined thousands of Muscovites who packed a central thoroughfare chanting hands off Moscow. She says she was encouraged to see so many like-minded citizens and is ready to go back on the street to defend her home. Lucian Kim, NPR News, Moscow.
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