How money allocated for orphan housing disappear?
In any country, at all times, orphans are the most vulnerable social group. Children left, due to various reasons, without parental care, need support more than anybody else. But authorities do not always serve their interests properly, especially when it comes to housing. Due to the callousness of corrupt officials, thousands of orphans have to wait for their apartments for years.
According to official data from the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation, at the end of 2015, there were some 482 thousand orphans and children left without parental care in our country. Taking that 83% of them are being raised in foster or custodial families, a simple calculation shows that over 81 thousand children live in orphan homes and boarding schools. After reaching the age of majority, they all will need a place to live.
What the law says
According to the Federal Law of December 21, 1996 № 159-FZ “Additional social support guarantees for orphan children and children left without parental care” (version of July 3, 2016), graduates of orphan homes and boarding schools are entitled to receive a livable residence.
Until 2015, orphans could receive rooms in multifamily units, but not anymore. According to the new regulations, the living space is provided on the basis of a 5-year special housing rent contract. After the 5 years, the apartment or home is transferred to the orphan for perpetual use on social renting conditions.
This precaution was included into the legislation to protect orphanage and boarding school graduates from fraudsters and allow them to adapt to independent adult life. Dishonest moneymakers used to exploit the naivety of orphans and purchased their apartments for next to nothing – or even defrauded them.
According to the law, young people aged 18–23, who do not have own residences, can address the trusteeship and guardianship service in the district administration at the place of their living. In addition to the application, they must submit documents proving the social status of the orphan. Municipal authorities must verify that there is no living space assigned to the applicant, and there is no possibility for him/her to live in existing residence(s) (e.g. his/her mother and father were deprived of parental rights, sold the apartment and disappeared; or the inherited housing is unsafe).
After confirming that all submitted documents meet the requirements, the district authorities place the orphan home graduate on a waiting list for subsidized housing. Each Russian region sets its own housing standards for orphans. Normally, they receive a living space of 22–33 square meters.
However, real life is different from the ideal situation described above. Normally, orphans have to wait for their residences for years. They have to camp out on the doorsteps of the district administration, reminding of their existence, and continuously follow-up on their position on the waiting list, which is moving very slowly. Orphan home graduates rarely have much money and, therefore, can not make arrangements with municipal officials. Neither can they defend their rights in court due to lack of knowledge of the legal system and its mechanisms.
Ten years of waiting
Svetlana Makeeva was raised in the orphan home № 2 in Astrakhan. She is a social orphan: her mother was deprived of parental rights, and she barely remembers her father. The parents divorced when the girl was 4 years old.
“May be, it was the separation from husband that affected her so much, or something else – but this woman succumbed to alcoholism,” – Svetlana speaks of her mother.
In her 28, she is still on the waiting list for social housing – although she already has three children herself. The initial period after the graduation from the orphan home was very difficult for her. Mother disappeared, and an aunt-cousin gave her only a temporary shelter; plus Svetlana felt herself uncomfortable living at the expense of relatives.
Still, she managed to establish herself: she became a hairdresser, started working. Currently Svetlana lives with her husband, two 6-year old twin daughters, and a 3-year old son in a rented apartment.
“Now I am entitled to social support not only as a child left without parental care, but also as a mother of large family,” – Svetlana Makeeva smiles.
She does not believe that social housing would be provided to her any time soon. For the last 10 years, district administration officials had never given her a single specific promise – only vague equivoques. To make sure that she is not removed from the waiting list by mistake, Svetlana follows-up with the municipality every six months.
“I always get formal responses. These fat aunties look at me as if I am begging. It is only because of the children that I continue coming to the administration again and again. But it is hopeless,” – Svetlana sighs.
According to her, none of her classmates from the orphan home received an apartment so far. Therefore, Makeeva considers optimistic media reports about orphans and children left without parental care, who have received housing, half-truth.
“Perhaps, someone was lucky. But this is a drop in the ocean – thousands of people, like me, are waiting for their apartments for years and years,” – she says.
They promised 900 apartments, but provided only 160
It might seem that the origin of all issues is insufficient budget funding. But this is incorrect. Funds are regularly assigned for this purpose – but then disappear instead of being transformed into living space.
For example, on July 31, 2015 the official web-site of the Irkutsk regional government announced: “This year, the total funding allocated to acquire accommodation for orphans is 784.8 million rubles, including 464.6 million rubles from the federal budget and 320.2 million rubles from the regional budget”.
More than 900 young men and women were supposed to receive residences in the framework of this budget-funded program. Furthermore, more than 1600 orphans have already received housing in the Irkutsk region since 2013.
So, everything seemed fine. But how many orphan home and boarding school graduates have moved into their new apartments in reality? The CrimeRussia journalist managed to locate this information – although in a veiled form – in another official announcement published on the web-site of the Irkutsk Regional Ministry of Property Relations on May 10, 2016. It says that more than 1760 orphan children have been provided with housing in the Irkutsk region since the same year of 2013 and up until now.
In other words, in the year of 2015, not 900 orphans have moved into new residences – as it was planned – but only 160. The math is simple: 1760 less 1600 (previous year data). It turns out that almost 785 million rubles of budget funds were spent to purchase 160 studio apartments or small homes in the Irkutsk region. Seems a little bit too expensive. And the question is: where is the rest of money?
By the way, according to Vladislav Sukhoruchenko, the Minister of Property Relations of the Irkutsk Region, 688.2 million rubles have been allocated for accommodation acquisition for orphan children in the year of 2016, including 386.6 million from the federal budget. The regional government plans purchasing residences for more than 600 orphan home and boarding school graduates. But how many young people will receive apartments by the end of this year in reality?
The situation, when funds assigned for social housing for orphans disappear, is typical not only for the Irkutsk region. Throughout the country, thousands of orphan home graduates either get nothing, or have to move into unsafe shacks unsuitable for living.
A high-profile corruption scandal occurred recently in the Tomsk region. According to the Prosecutor Generals’ Office of the Russian Federation, a criminal case was submitted to the court in July 2016 in relation to a larceny of budget funds allocated for social housing for orphans. Vitaly Shvetsov, the former Deputy Head of Administration of Asinovskoe Townhip; Maksim Pikin, the former Head of the Department for Property and Lands Management of this municipality; and their common acquaintance Viktor Chebotarev have been charged under part 4 of Article 159 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (Swindling committed by an organized group by previous concert).
According to the investigation, Shvetsov and Pikin were able to find some people willing to sell their residences at prices much lower than amounts allocated in the regional budget for acquisition of an apartment. The officials have purchased real estate for orphans for the total amount of 2.732 million rubles – and deducted 4.437 million rubles from the budget. The balance of 1.7 million rubles remaining after the deal closure was appropriated and divided between them.
As a result, the social groups entitled to subsidized housing received much cheaper – i.e. of poorer quality – accommodation.
From one waiting list to another
Mikhail Gorbunov became an orphan when he was seven. His parents died in house fire; their home burnt to the ground. The boy survived because on that terrible day he ran away to the river with friends.
“My childhood has ended with this fire. In the Astrakhan boarding school № 3 I had to learn to live on my own because no one would take care of me. Various things happened there; we were even fighting till it bleeds with other boys for toys,” – Mikhail remembers.
Two years ago, in the age of 27, the orphan finally received housing he was entitled to. But his joy has not lasted for long: he got a very messy 600 square meters piece of land with a dilapidated house with no amenities.
“No hydro, no water, no gas. The house stayed vacant for a long time, and local homeless people used it as a shelter. Empty bottles were everywhere, as well as construction debris, and other rubbish. The house was like a collapsing shed. Cracks in the floor, holes in walls and ceiling,” – Gorbunov describes the residence provided by the government.
He was frustrated and even attempted to decline such a treasure, but officials in the district administration threatened that should he continue his complaints, we won’t get anything at all. Then the officials offered to put Mikhail on another waiting list – this time, in the framework of the rehousing program for citizens living in dilapidated and unsafe residences.
“I have no idea what games are they playing in the administration and what shady schemes plotting. But I have no choice. And I have to wait again. In the meanwhile, me and my girlfriend are renting living space from some people,” – the orphan tells bitterly.
Seeking justice in court
Vitaly Petrankin, a graduate from Zarechnaya boarding school in Ryazan, managed to obtain justice. The Zheleznodorozhny District Court has ruled that the hostel rooms provided to him are unsuitable for living and the local administration must annul its statement that the young man is not eligible for the social housing program. Now Vitaly is qualified to receive a residence with amenities – which he is legally entitled to.
According to the Center of Hygiene and Epidemiology of the Ryazan Region Federal State Unitary Enterprise, the rooms provided to Vitaly were lacking a sanitary-amenity space and kitchen, there was no cold or hot water and no heating. In addition, wooden window frames were rotten, while the condition of ceilings, walls, and floor was unsatisfactory.
The court agreed with the expert opinion that it is impossible to live in such conditions. But no one can say when the former boarding school student gets a suitable apartment. Apparently, he has to wait for a while. Still, this case is important – it shows that other young people can also defend their housing rights, despite rejections and indifference from officials.
Authorities either decline or do nothing
There are many examples throughout Russia, when orphans had to address law enforcement authorities to make municipal governments provide them with housing they are legally entitled to.
Yuri Chaika, the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation, told in his recent interview to Rossiiskaya Gazeta that after the intervention of law enforcement authorities, the Astrakhan regional government found additional 330 million rubles in the budget to provide accommodation to orphans. Also, more than 600 orphan home graduates received apartments and homes in the Sverdlovsk region in 2015 after a prosecutor’s office intervention.
Yuri Chaika admitted that, despite all efforts, the issue is being resolved very slowly. The majority of regions do now comply with the legal requirement to provide housing to orphans upon the attainment of the age of 18.
For example, in Kostroma, a housing request from brother and sister, whose mother died and father is unknown, was declined by local authorities only because their female relative had a residence. However, as it became known, the woman has got this living space because of her employment in a farming cooperative, and the orphans had no right to live there. In other words, they had no place to live. To help the siblings, the prosecutor had to submit two claims to the court.
Such cases are pretty common. Officials do their best to find grounds to reject orphans’ housing applications.
In the Republic of Khakassia, a local resident has been waiting for his apartment since 2001. The man, a former orphan child, has complained to the prosecutor’s office that the Abakan City Administration had done nothing to ensure his housing rights. After his application to the law enforcement authorities, the issue has been resolved. But who knows, how long the former orphan child would have to wait without the prosecutor’s intervention?
The current situation with provision of suitable housing for orphans and children left without parental care is really distressful. Local authorities do not care much of orphans’ legal rights, not to say of the moral aspect of the issue. The scale and cynicism of machinations with funds allocated for orphan housing are astonishing.
Something has to be done as soon as possible. Governmental and law enforcement authorities must tighten control over the spending of budget funds allocated for orphan housing.
Perhaps, a federal agency should be established to supervise the issue at the national level and control the implementation of this important task by local authorities.
On October 15, the Russian branch of Amnesty International reported on the abduction of its employee Oleg Kozlovsky by unknown persons during the monitoring of protests in Magas against the agreement on borders with Chechnya.