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Debunking myths: Did the USSR provide everyone with free housing?


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Debunking myths: Did the USSR provide everyone with free housing?

Nowadays, people nostalgic about life in the USSR miss their youth rather than living standards. Soviet propaganda kept the people behind “the iron curtain” and convinced them that they lived better than everyone else.

That explains the origin of the myths about the best healthcare, education, free housing, and other pleasant privileges for the common folk. But was everything really as rosy as it seemed? 

Today, we begin our new special project, in which we will debunk the myths about the benefits of the Soviet Union. 

The Soviet Union apologists often like to recall the free apartments that were apparently given out just like that. Albeit, not everyone lived long enough to receive one.

In addition to the infamous never-ending housing waiting lists, there were other adverse aspects.

Choosing a building, district, or floor was nearly impossible. When an ordinary family with multiple children wanted to move into a larger apartment, it had to use personal connections, pester, and grease palms. 

The bribe in these cases usually consisted of good quality imported cognac and candy since, due to scarcity, such common goods were a luxury much more valuable than money.

Not everyone had access to such ways of obtaining an apartment. Most citizens had to make do with what they got.

Once a person eventually managed to obtain a “free” apartment, they did not become its full owner since the apartment belonged to the company that provided it.

After all, the apartments were only given to citizens who tirelessly worked for the state’s sake. People could not do as they pleased with their housing, e.g., sell it.

People could not become full-fledged owners of their apartments until after the collapse of the USSR.

“Stalinka” was the most elite building type in which one could get an apartment. Only citizens “close” to the government – military officers, ruling elites, and other state officials – could get a separate apartment inside a “stalinka”.

An ordinary worker could only receive a separate apartment if he had “served” the country particularly well.

Otherwise, single rooms were ordinarily given to entire families. That is how the so-called “communal apartments” appeared. Hence, a family of four could only receive one room from the state. The restroom, corridor, and kitchen would then have to be shared with the neighbors.

After World War II, construction of “krushchevka” buildings began, which allowed to move families from communal apartments to five-story buildings, with each family having their own apartment, kitchen, and bathroom. The motto of the change was “An apartment for each family; a small one, but their own”.

The houses were built with cheap materials, repetitive layouts and no elevator.

Regardless, large families with children and elders were still housed in tiny apartments.

Throughout the 70s and the 80s, low-quality panel buildings replaced the “khrushchevkas” in the USSR. With high population density came the need to build higher houses, normally nine-story blocs. Construction workers poured concrete over large swathes of land and quickly erected entire monotonous neighborhoods. That is why, to this day, we have the same-looking drab neighborhoods with identical courtyards and blocks across different countries and cities.

With these buildings, families that had children of different sexes could receive separate rooms per child. Such housing was much more spacious and comfortable.

Still, moving into such an apartment was an arduous process involving, once again, never-ending waiting lists, pestering, and palm greasing. 

The Soviet communist machine sought to create an illusion of equality and care for its citizens. In reality, however, the people lived with pervasive scarcity, unable to buy a pack of butter in the evening. No one stood out; everyone was in similarly poor living conditions and saw no alternatives nor any ways out.

Receiving “free” housing gave people the false sense of being taken care of by their country. The citizens of the USSR had no idea how people lived in the developed countries. That is how the regime controlled the people. It led people to believe they were nothing without the state.


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