Sunday, 23 September

Gyumri’s Homeless Offered Substandard Housing

Will the government ever decide to correct practices of Glendale Hills and other developers?

On December 23, President Serzh Sargsyan visited the neighborhood of Moush in Gyumri, Armenia’s second largest city. It was only after his visit that the government decided that the housing units built for those who had been homeless as a result of the 1988 earthquake were sub-standard and couldn’t be handed over in their present state.

One can take some solace in the fact that Glendale Hills, CJSC, the construction firm involved, wasn’t able to pull the wool over the eyes of unsuspecting families queuing up for permanent housing. But a halt to the fraud only took place with the personal directive of the president himself. Tragically, this means that there is no other government agency in Armenia that had the power to intervene and compel Glendale Hills to construct housing that met even the minimum building codes. After President Sargsyan expressed his displeasure, Vardan Vardanyan, the Minister of Urban Development got into the act as well and talked about the sub-standard state of the buildings. But all his words ring hollow since before this he never had anything to say about the quality of the homes being constructed by Glendale Hills with government financing. Those who were present at the special advisory session called by the president, which took place at the Shirak Regional Governor’s Office, say that one of the owners of Glendale Hills, a diaspora Armenian named Vahe Yaghoubian, tried to save face and justify the company’s actions. But Mr. Yaghoubian’s hollow attempts to save face were a disgrace when compared to the plight of the homeless in the area who miraculously survived the ’88 earthquake. In the middle of the winter, these unfortunate souls are being herded into housing that is sub-standard. It’s impossible to survive in such conditions. President Sargsyan only saw what was visible to the naked eye. But what about everything that went before, during the actual construction of these buildings. If the exterior of these buildings have been considered sub-standard one can only guess what building codes were violated structurally. It’s not a question of adding a few coats of plaster and paint. Perhaps the walls need to be torn down to inspect the structural integrity of the buildings. I believe an overall inspection is called for. Then too, we must ask what is the actual work being done by the Ministry of Urban Development? They weren’t even aware of this biggest allocation of state funds for a construction project. Is there a need for such a massive state bureaucracy in general? Millions of dollars are funneled into the Ministry of Development via the national budget. Can you imagine how many housing units could be built in the earthquake disaster-zone with these resources?

As if the Ministry of Urban Development wasn’t enough, another state agency was created, the National Urban Development Inspectorate. It is said that this new bureaucracy is actually monitoring the Gyumri and other such projects. I leave it to the reader if such claims are believable or not. I would urge the staff of this “Inspectorate” to take a stroll through Yerevan’s Green Ring and take a close look at the new high-rise buildings sprouting up where grass and trees once stood. None of these massive structures are being according to previously accepted blueprints. Don’t these state employees now what is going on? Do they actually care? Of course they know, but why should they care?

They’ve already pocketed their “cut” and have made sure all the paperwork and documentation is in order and squeaky-clean. If the Ministry of Urban Development can’t carry out one of its primary functions, that of oversight, that perhaps it’s time to scrap it as a useless bureaucratic appendage. Glendale Hills and the names of other companies operated by its owners have appeared in various government decisions starting back in 2004.

One must look to these records to find the underlying reason for the shoddy construction work they do. In the final analysis, the buck stops with President Sargsyan. It seems he’s the only one capable of changing this sorry state of affairs. No one else seems to have the will or power to do so. A straight forward directive to change things must come from the very top. Will the government have the guts to issue such a directive?

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