The Soviet Era
In the Soviet era, all land and most buildings belonged to the state; in rural areas, private home ownership was permitted, but the law limited such houses to a floor space of forty square meters. The occupants of state-owned housing enjoyed the rights to lifetime occupancy and to bequeath their housing units to the next generation, as well as virtually complete protection against eviction. Rental rates remained at the same extremely low, universal level--0.132 ruble per square meter--from 1927 until 1992. Maintenance of existing buildings and construction of new housing were both financed from other parts of the state budget; only 3 percent of funds used for these purposes came from residents. State enterprises covered a significant share of housing expenses as part of their employees' benefits. The design and construction of new housing had no relation to aesthetics or even to cost; in cities the State Construction Committee (Gosstroy) simply erected monolithic high-rise buildings containing a given number of housing units, following the dictates of the five-year plan for that locality. In 1990 nearly 100 percent of the housing stock in Moscow and St. Petersburg was publicly owned, and more than one-quarter of Russia's total housing stock had been built before 1917.
As in other aspects of daily Soviet life, the elite were allotted the best and most spacious housing, and influential friends helped them avoid long waiting lists that sometimes lasted more than ten years for ordinary Russians. The average urban Russian family either occupied a very small single apartment or shared an apartment with one or more other families, with joint access to the bathroom and the kitchen. According to a 1980 Soviet estimate, 20 percent of urban families (and 53 percent in Leningrad) shared apartments; that percentage had dropped slightly by the end of the Soviet era. Young, unmarried Russians often found housing only in crowded hostels operated by their employer; young married couples frequently lived with one set of parents until they could locate an apartment. Housing in rural areas was more spacious, but it usually had few amenities--the traditional wooden farmhouse contained two rooms divided by a raised corridor, with living space for people on one side and for animals on the other. In 1990 the average floor area per person in Moscow was 17.8 square meters, and in Russia as a whole it was 16.4 square meters, compared with averages in Western countries of between thirty and forty-five square meters per person.