March 23, 2009

Housing Problems

So, after 3 months of PST and 4 months at site living with a host family we are allowed to move out into our own place or negotiate our own host family arrangements. I must find my own place. I've lived on my own for over 10 years and find living with other people extremely grating. Living with a roommate is one thing but living in another persons house, not as an equal but as a guest(or worse "as part of the family") is horribly oppressive.

PC Azerbaijan currently provides every Volunteer with 80AZN(about $100USD) per month for housing. I won't go into great detail now about what problems I've had in the search but instead will simply attach the report I wrote to PC about it.

See below-

Quba City, Quba Rayon
Chris Polen, CED

Housing Report

As of April 11th the host family agreement made between PC and the Kerimov family will expire. While the majority of the family is tolerant of my staying for the foreseeable future REDACTED/REDACTED/REDACTED.

I have spoken with my assigned counterpart & host family, all members of my organization, members of various community organizations and with nearly every community member I meet about housing. While everyone has promised to help in this search these community members have also said that the provided 80AZN is laughably insufficient.

I have been to inspect 3 possible housing options. All cost more than the housing allowance, none meet all of PCs housing guidelines.

1.The Mold Dungeon

A local hotel/business merkezi owner showed me around his hotel. In one section of his hotel he was able to offer me a 10ft x 10ft room with no windows attached to a similarly sized kitchen. The kitchen is accessed by a hotel corridor which also accesses 2 other dormitory style hotel rooms which would continue to be available to other lodgers. Also accessible by this shared corridor is a shared toilet and shower room.

The Bad:
-Rent: 80AZN + 15% hotel tax + utilities(it was not explained how/if my utilities could be distinguished from the other hotel rooms)
-The bedroom has no windows or ventilation in a room with a gas peç. When I went to inspect it in January the rooms walls were covered in mold and the smell was intolerable. After 15mn in the hotel I left with congestion due to the mold/smell.
-The kitchen door which accesses the shared corridor is made of flimsy plastic with a simple, small lock.
-The landlord has a bad reputation with my counterpart and struck myself and the other 2 PCVs in Quba as less than admirable.

The Good:
-Living in this setting I would be able to IRB with travelers & entrepreneurs on a daily basis.
-Located only 5mn walk from my host organization and Azerbaijani language tutor.
-Contains a bed, table, 2 chairs, peç, sink, and broken gas burner.
-I could rent the entire floor for 200AZN or less. The other 2 rooms on this floor did not have a mold problem and the entrance door to the corridor is quite secure.

2.The Sick-House Hovel

Last weekend my site-mate and I went for a walk around the 5-story apartment buildings in Quba looking for open apartments. During this walk we met a large group of approximately 15children and gained their assistance in asking all of their neighbors in the surrounding apartment buildings. Though many 10s of residents were asked only one apartment could be found. It was a very run-down one bedroom apartment on the top floor of one of the apartment buildings. The current owner/resident will soon be leaving for an extended stay in the hospital for a very bad cough with bloody expectorant.

The Bad:
-Rent: 150AZN + utilities
-The owners sickness appears to be very severe and of unknown contagiousness.
-The owner hopes to only be away until August before returning. We did not talk about the living arrangement once he returned(nor did we discuss what would happen if he died.....).
-In the bathroom one can see outside the building through the cracks in the wall.
-Unfurnished except for a peç, hotplate and the sickman's bed.

The Good:
-.....maybe he won't die if he receives rent money and can afford a better doctor.....this is not a good place but its better than being homeless.

3.The Free Meat Shack

My appointed counterpart/host-brother hired the local real estate agency recently to help us find a rental property. The agency could only offer one property that was within sight of my stated budget.

The Bad:
-Rent 120AZN + utilities
-Doorways are very low. The mantles are even with my brow.
-On the second floor(a small loft) there is a 7ft long area where one can reach ones arm outside the house between the roof and the wall. This may be a benefit as I could reach out and grab pigeons to get free meat.
-While there is a water pump in the house there are no water lines running to the bathroom or sink. If I lived here I would need to run water hoses and install my own water heater to live at a standard even modestly similar to my counterparts.

The Good:
-In a good neighborhood less than 3mn walk from my host organization.
-Fully furnished with a secure door and bars on the windows.
-The best of what Ive been shown on the budget available.

Local Factors

Rental property is scarce in Quba and what is available for a variety of reasons including:

-President Ilham Aliyev owns a home on the outskirts of town.
-Quba is a day-trip from Baku.
-Quba is surrounded by many resorts & guest houses popular with tourists and Baki's rich & famous for winter skiing, natural beauty and places to escape from the summer heat.
-Much of the new housing is owned by Baku's rich & powerful as second homes, raising land values and prices throughout the area.
-Quba is home to an university and a very reputable but expensive Turkish private school. Locals prefer to rent what rooms are available to Azerbaijani youth than to foreigners.
-Further, the Turks who teach at the private high school are willing and able to pay significant rents.

Finally, the people of Quba simply don't care for unmarried (foreign) men. When originally assigning me to this site my host organization was unable to find any host family that would take in a male. Only when PC staff searched through its records for previous host families in the area was one family finally found. Nearly everyone I have met has been informed of my situation but none have offered to take me in.

Housing History

My work counterpart is also my host brother. This has certain advantages but it is also very trying to be with the same person all of the time. Whats more his fluent English has been a detriment to my learning Azerbaijani and hence full integration into the community.

My current host family hosted a volunteer for his entire service previously. He reportedly spent a good deal of his own money on food, travel and other “perks”, well beyond what PC provides. And, as mentioned above, the lady of the house has expressed her wish that I move out.

The current AZ5 PCV in Quba has had a number of housing issues and problems with host families. She has had to change host families 4 times during her service. Her current shared housing costs 100AZN/month + utilities + food. It has unreliable gas(normal in parts of Quba this year) and no water for more than a month(not normal). This instability has interfered with her efficient service & emotional well-being.

Community Attitudes

-Every community member I have spoken to has said it will be extremely difficult if not impossible to find a host family willing to take in a male.
-Similarly community member have said that a rental for 80AZN is impossible. When told that this is my organization's limit most simply stop thinking about the subject(why worry about the impossible, qizmət).
- Community members all say that 120AZN would be the minimum for something acceptable though not comfortable. But that 150 would be needed to for something almost at the level of my counterparts.
-Many community members have said that a small 2-3 bedroom house with secure compound could be found for 175-300AZN. These community members have suggested that Quba's volunteers simply rent a house together. They've said this type of arrangement is not uncommon for the Azerbaijani migrant workers who go to Russia & Turkey and is widely known to be normal for Russians and Americans.

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