Empowering communities: Our happiness is in our own hands
For 10 years Oksana Shostak lived in an apartment with a ceiling which leaked every time it rained or snowed. The roof of her multi-apartment house had huge cracks and needed urgent repair.
For many years she made calls to her municipal management office demanding that these problems be fixed, only to receive the same response: “there are no funds available at the moment.” Over time Oksana realized that if she didn’t take matters into her own hands her family was destined to live in a mouldy apartment in an increasingly dilapidated building. It was high time to act.
- Local authorities are realizing that it is more efficient to fund repair projects when local communities are directly involved in all stages of project implementation;
- About 100 projects have been implemented in Rivne, improving the living conditions of 150,000 local residents without donor financing;
- According to numerous national surveys, the state of the housing and municipal sectors, as well as high utility costs, are among Ukrainians’ biggest concerns;
- House owners` associations have been established in 10% of multi-apartment buildings. However, 90 percent of the privately owned multi-apartment buildings are still managed by highly inefficient municipal management offices.
First, she talked to her neighbors, only to find that this issue was bothering everyone. The building residents got organized and established an apartment building co-owners association named “Gazda”, which means “good owner” in Ukrainian. “It took no more than ten minutes for everyone to agree that the leaking roof was everyone’s pet peeve” - Oksana recalled of their first meeting. “The water had been causing a lot of damage to the house, causing not only excessive humidity in the apartments but also the spread of mould, which posed a health hazard to residents. It was slowly destroying the building’s framework: constantly wet plaster started to crumble and metal parts were rapidly deteriorating because of rust.” Community activists were ready for action but lacked resources.
Luckily, Oksana learned from local project coordinator Petro Vakhnyuk about the UNDP Municipal Governance and Sustainable Development Programme and “Gazda” members were able to submit a project proposal for roof reconstruction. In less than a month they have received a positive answer and rolled up their sleeves. UNDP covered 45% of the roof reconstruction project costs, city council covered another 45%, and residents raised the remaining 10% themselves.
Today, 34 million Ukrainians - more than 80 percent of the country’s population - live in multi-apartment buildings . Most of them were constructed 20-30 years ago and the majority have not been repaired since. Hence, about one third of them have heating, water supply and sanitation pipes that are in urgent need of replacement. As a result, in many communities throughout Ukraine, residential buildings do not have reliable heating systems and inside temperatures in wintertime can be almost unbearable to live in. In many cases, these buildings are managed by the so called “ZHEKs” – municipal housing offices. A relic from the Soviet times, they can be inefficient and indifferent to people’s needs. To make matters worse, the government lacks the resources to properly maintain the buildings and make necessary repairs.
To address this issue, the UNDP Project "Municipal Governance and Sustainable Development Programme" (UNDP/MGSDP) helps local communities and authorities to listen to each other and become partners. Financed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, the Canadian International Development Agency and the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Ukraine, the UNDP/MGSDP successfully implements a community-based approach to local development and co-finances local community projects. Thanks to this approach, people have started to become empowered. They stop waiting for the authorities to fix problems, business-as-usual in Soviet times, and instead work together to bring about the change themselves.
The “Gazda” co-owners association is one of hundreds of community organizations from all over Ukraine that has received help from MGSDP. UNDP has supported 27 similar community projects in Rivne, which have benefited more than 35 thousand people in the region. Their success has prompted the City Council to approve a new municipal programme, which replicates the UNDP-developed mechanism of solving community problems through partnership between local authorities and residents’ associations. In the course of the municipal programme’s four years of operation, almost 100 projects were implemented, benefiting 150 thousand people, and this number is constantly growing. The distinctive feature of the new programme is that the community takes the lead at all stages of the project, starting from identification of priority problems to public audits and maintenance of the renovated facilities.
" I think this is the most successful programme implemented in the city because it allows active residents and local authorities to unite to improve their living environment and networks, as well as territories adjacent to the houses", commented Volodymyr Khomko, Rivne Mayor, about the Municipal Sustainable Development Programme.
Other partner municipalities of the Project have followed the example of Rivne. In Novograd-Volynskiy (47 thousand residents), local budget funds are allocated to community organizations based on the principle of co-financing with local communities. In Rubizhne (61 thousand residents), an annual competition is held to fund social projects where the costs are shared by community-based organizations and City Council. In Voznesensk (37 thousand residents), projects involving reconstruction of the roofs of multi-apartment houses and construction of street water supply systems are implemented through cooperation between the City Council and local communities. In Mykolayiv (496 thousand residents), local co-owners associations are implementing projects aimed at reconstruction of multi-apartment houses. In Kirovske (28 thousand residents), local development projects, including installation of gas in houses, are implemented based on cost-sharing principles, through the mechanism of the UNDP Project. These examples are brought to the attention of national policymakers through UNDP-organised public events.
According to Anatoliy Blyzhiuk, the Minister of Regional Development, Construction, Housing and Municipal Economy, almost USD 90 billion is needed to modernize the housing system and municipal sector in Ukraine. However, the national budget funds cannot provide even 1% of this sum, according to the Minister. Therefore the experience of Rivne and other municipalities in involving local residents, authorities, and other stakeholders for reform at the local level is valuable and very relevant.