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“We Wish We Could Forget These 30 Years”: Some Refugees will get Private Housing 

Refugees that were forced to migrate from Azerbaijan between 1988 and1992 and were living in temporary shelters, including hotels, communal apartments (communalkas), former schools will receive housing vouchers that will allow them to buy apartments.

At the cabinet meeting on November 15, 2019, the government unanimously approved the draft decree circulated by the Migration Service since August 2019. The decree envisages disbursement of 1,495 billion AMD from the Government’s Reserve Fund to provide 112 vouchers to 835 refugee households for the purpose of buying apartments. This is only the first phase of the government’s refugee housing policy.

“I want to highlight that the government embarked on this commitment a long time ago, but in fact did nothing for 10-11 years. I have met with these families myself, they indeed live in quite difficult conditions and I think we need to solve all these issues step by step and resolve all our “dues” to the people,” said Deputy Prime Minister, Tigran Avinyan at the cabinet meeting.

The housing program for persons forced to migrate from Azerbaijan adopted yet in 2009 has never received funding from the state budget. After ten years, this is the first step to resolve the 30-year-old housing issue of the refugees. 

According to updated lists as of 2019, there are 2589 refugee families in Armenia, of which 1070 families live in Yerevan and 1519 live in the regions of Armenia. The first batch of families to receive housing vouchers includes 895 families (641 in Yerevan and 254 in the marzes) who live in temporary private accommodations or communal buildings without basic amenities. This group is the priority group in need of housing. 

Given the large funding needed for the program, the housing issue of refugees will be resolved in separate instances through several phases and in accordance with priority groups.

The first priority group includes refugee families that live in the buildings of “Nairi” and “Sebastia” hotels (now privatized), the communal apartment building privatized by “InterRimini” LTD, refugees living on Tsarav Aghbyur street in temporary shelters. Bagrat Badalyan, a government official reporting to the cabinet, states that the priority criterion is based on the imminent threat of these families becoming homeless at any moment. If evicted by private owners of the temporary housing buildings, the state does not currently have and has never had effective legal mechanisms of protecting them.

The amount prescribed under each voucher will be determined in accordance with the average real estate prices for Avan District of Yerevan for the first half of 2019, as approved by the State Cadastre Committee. According to the government decree, if the household does not purchase an apartment within one year (no deferment allowed), then the voucher will be annulled and the household will be taken down the list.

Around 1,5 billion AMD to be disbursed for the refugee housing program by rough calculations means around 13.400 mln AMD (around 28.000 USD) for each family without taking into account the number of household members and apartment size. For 1-bedroom apartments, this amount will be much less and for multiple-bedroom apartments, naturally it will be higher.

Given the vast difference between cadastre prices and average market prices, this amount, in effect, may not be sufficient for buying apartments neither in Avan, nor in even more remote districts of Yerevan.

In order to mitigate this issue, at a meeting with refugee protesters on October 25, the officials of the State Migration Service promised to establish a working group that would help the refugees to find and select from housing options and also reassured that they would help in case the owners of the vouchers opt to use them as part of mortgage lending schemes.

The refugees gathered in front of the Government building would not believe that this decree was adopted. Once the news was received, they started congratulating each other saying that they are ready to forget the 30-year-long torture of lack of basic housing conditions and the cultural debasement. “Let’s live on to see the vouchers,” said one of the elderly women present.