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Housing for Persons with Disabilities in Kyrgyzstan: First on the Waiting List to Get What’s Not Available

Kyrgyzstan wants to create a special housing stock that would be providing housing to PWDs and orphaned children.

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According to the Ministry of Labour and Social Development, the number of persons with disabilities in Kyrgyzstan is rising every year. Currently, there are 181 thousand of them, or 3 per cent of the total population in the country. Since 2014, the number of persons with disabilities has become 16 per cent more.

According to the law, citizens have a right to receive only one type of benefits, even if they can qualify for a few. Among PWDs, only fifth part of them gets disability benefits – about 70 thousand people. The rest get welfare benefits as low-income citizens.

Asel Sultanalieva lives with her three children, one of whom needs special care, in one room of the dormitory of the former Lenin plant. After her husband’s death, the woman moved from Talas to Bishkek as the capital city has specialists and access to medicine, which are a must for her younger son Amantur. He already had one serious oesophagus surgery in Moscow in December 2018 and has a long rehabilitation period ahead.

Photo courtesy of Asel Sultanalieva

Moreover, Amantur also has Down syndrome, he doesn’t walk at his five years old. His mother carries him in her arms and grasps for any chance. This June she submitted documents to a district social protection department of Bishkek to get a house when she learned that according to the Housing Code PWDs have the priority right to get a house.

“I know you don’t build municipal housing now. But I still hope. I need housing very much,” she said hopefully.

Asel still wasn’t notified if her application was accepted or not, but she still has a remote chance.

The housing code of the Kyrgyz Republic guarantees housing to PWDs in priority to other categories, but few people know about it. Even fewer people could get their living spaces. 

Article 44. Privileged and priority provision of residential units

  1. Residential units shall be provided in priority to the following categories of persons:

5) persons with disabilities resulting from systemic disease, labour injury or occupational disease of 1st and 2nd groups and persons with disabilities of 1st and 2nd groups among military personnel;

“Not a life but survival”

Nurgul Sultanova is mother to a special-needs child. Her son Amirali is six years old, he was born with Down syndrome, and her husband left her with the sick child. She didn’t know how to live on, where to go and what to do with the child with special needs. It’s only her mother who helped her to get out of despair and depression she used to have.

Photo courtesy of Nurgul Sultanova with her son

Nurgul understood no one could help her but her. So, she started looking for ways and opportunities. Unfortunately, Kyrgyzstan does not have state programmes of early intervention and rehabilitation of children who have Down syndrome and other diseases. Even those rare programmes have random effect and waiting lists to such facilities are too long.

Over time Nurgul understood there were many women like her in Kyrgyzstan and they had no one to help them out. They existed in the information vacuum, and their children didn’t have any treatment and communication. Thus, she created her fund Nur Bulak.

“Mothers in our fund say that their husbands and all family members persuade them to leave their sick child. Sometimes, a woman gets beaten at home for not abandoning a child. We have many single mothers, divorced women, widows,” Nurgul Sultanova, the head of Nur Bulak, shared the problems.

It’s hard for women who have children that need special care and treatment to live in the regions – there are no doctors, no rehabilitation centres, no educational facilities. Moreover, the society exerts much pressure on them. The stigma “only alcoholics, drug abusers and prostitutes have children with disabilities” forces women to move to the capital.

“Of course, no one in Bishkek is waiting for them. They usually have no money. They live in horrible conditions. They rent rooms near Dordoi market, in residential communities. They can afford to pay for a room only 3-5 thousand soms (43-72 dollars). One apartment for rent in Bishkek will cost 15-20 thousand soms (215-287 dollars). This is not a life, but survival,” Sultanova said.

Nurgul lives in conditions that can hardly be called comfortable – in a small house built back in 1958, which her parents bought for her. Photo courtesy of Sultanova.

Without a city registration, women with sick children encounter the problem of getting access to social services and treatment. There’s only one way out – private clinics. It means that all the household budget of vulnerable families flows into businessmen’s pockets.

Other families, even if they have their own houses, cannot receive documents because their land status is not transformed. So, they go around in circles, from one agency to another.

Nurgul lives in conditions that can hardly be called comfortable – in a small house built back in 1958, which her parents bought for her. The roof is leaking, the house was not repaired for many years, her relatives helped her to replace the slate roof.

She spends all her money to pay for her son’s treatment and food. At least, she doesn’t have problems with the housing and city registration, which is a must to place a child to special educational facility and rehabilitation centre.

Since 2019, Nur Bulak started helping PWDs and families with children with disabilities to prepare documents that need to be submitted to sign up for the waiting list for municipal housing.

A must, but not an obligation

Everyone in Kyrgyzstan solves the housing problem on their own. The state is not involved in it. In 2016, the state established the State Mortgage Company (GIK) under the governmental programme “Affordable housing 2015-2022”, which started providing housing loans. However, the programme failed due to the lack of funding.

Currently, according to GIK, loans are not granted temporarily – too many people on the waiting list and no money. Nevertheless, the mortgage interest under this programme could be cut for public servants down to 7-9 per cent. As to PWDs, this category of citizens was not even taken into account.

“Currently, we are granting mortgage loans only to public servants. This year, we have launched “Affordable mortgage” (14% per annum) and “Individual housing construction” (a land plot must be in possession) programmes. PWDs, low-income and other social groups are not taken into account so far,” Nurida Imaralieva, the specialist of the PR department of the State Mortgage Company, said.

Despite the Housing Code, Kyrgyzstan does not work to provide housing to persons with disabilities, said Dastan Bekeshev, the deputy of Zhogorku Kenesh of the Kyrgyz Republic. There was an attempt back in 2011, but it failed.

“In 2011, I helped PWDs to get flats that were built in Bishkek, Osh and Dzhalal-Abad under the “Affordable housing” programme. However, they were distributed unfairly, as I learned later. I didn’t take part in the distribution, but people started talking bad things about me. So, to tell the truth, I stopped dealing with such issues,” Bekeshev explained.

The trial regarding the return of several dozens of apartments, which were allocated back in 2011, to the government balance is still on-going. The housing code guarantees housing for the disabled people of 1st and 2nd groups, in fact, people with no disability occupy the residential units. Now the apartments are under distraint, if they are allocated to the Ministry of Labour and Social Development, then dozens of families with PWDs might get their long-awaited housing.

For comparison:

According to official data, in 1991 the housing per capita in Kyrgyzstan was 12.2 square metres, in 2019 this indicator remains the same. The maximum housing per capita in the country in the last 25 years was 15.7 square metres – in 2010. This figure is provided in the governmental programme “Affordable housing 2015-2020”.

In other countries:

In 2012, in the Republic of Belarus, the housing per capita was 25.4 square metres, in Russia – 23.4 square metres, in Kazakhstan – 19.6 square metres, in China – 27 square metres.

In western countries, these figures are much higher. In Norway – 74 square metres (2006), in the USA – 69.7 square metres (2010), in Denmark – 50.6 square metres (2003).

In order to reach the housing level of neighbouring countries (18 square metres per capita), the Kyrgyz Republic should build 30.25 million square metres of housing (about 7,446 large-panel apartment blocks). The housing stock depreciation is now 40 per cent.

Any decision?

On March 14, 2019, Kyrgyzstan finally ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which the country signed back in 2011. The main reason for late ratification was the lack of money in the budget.

Now, for three years, Kyrgyzstan has to demonstrate first results. It also has to create conditions for respectable living of PWDs, which is set forth in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities:

Article 28. Adequate standard of living and social protection

  1. States Parties recognise the right of persons with disabilities to social protection and to the enjoyment of that right without discrimination on the basis of disability, and shall take appropriate steps to safeguard and promote the realisation of this right, including measures:
  2. d) To ensure access by persons with disabilities to public housing programmes;

Kyrgyzstan does not have any public housing programmes for PWDs. However, according to vice prime minister Altynai Omurbekova, who chairs the interagency working group to implement the provisions of the Convention, the government has a few options of providing housing to the persons with disabilities.

“On September 4, 2019, the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection brought up for public discussion the draft decree on the creation of special housing stock for PWDs and orphaned children,” Omurbekova said.

This special housing stock will be filled with seized property based on court judgements, donations of individuals and legal entities, international financial institutions, and other donors, as well as living spaces transferred under public private partnership.

The second option announced by Altynai Omurbekova is quotas for PWDs during construction of housing subsidized by the national budget. 10-15 per cent of total built housing will be allocated to PWDs. Currently, houses for the military, law enforcement officers, public prosecution officers, etc. are under construction.

There is a third option available, the simplest and logical, yet impractical. It is the construction of houses for PWDs. The state will come to this option one day, Omurbekova said, but not now – the national budget cannot afford this option so far.

Therefore, the emphasis will be first put on the first option – special housing stock. However, the mechanisms of this system are not yet elaborated.

The head of Nur Bulak, Nurgul Sultanova, thinks this direction is favourable given the existing situation. She hopes the special housing stock will be functioning and the families in need will be able to get their housing. However, there is a risk that these premises won’t fit the needs of persons with disabilities.

“What if such premises don’t have wheelchair ramps, or doorways won’t fit the size of wheelchairs, or there will be no audible signals for visually impaired persons? In this case, it would be a challenge to live in such premises. When allocating housing to PWDs, we need to take into account such factors are utility systems, availability of public transport and educational institutions,” Sultanova said.

So far, Kyrgyzstanis with disabilities and families with special-needs children can count on themselves only. After all, they have no other opportunities to buy own apartment or even a land plot.

Even the draft resolution of the government on the establishment of a special housing stock reads:

“Despite the residential real estate market fundamentals created in the Kyrgyz Republic, only a limited group of citizens with a relatively high income level can afford to buy a house.”

This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project.

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