On June 1st, 2013 Presidential Decree No 246 came to effect, which changed the terms of government support to housing construction.
Substantial state support to housing construction industry resulted in the newly built housing used as additional income source. With the new regulation the state is trying to limit the support only to those really in need to improve their living conditions. The remaining population is offered to engage in lease housing construction instead of private housing, which is the ultimate goal of the housing industry reform.
In 2013, in accordance with the approved plans for the housing construction, Belarus plans to build 6,500 thousand square meters of housing, including 2,500 square meters to be built with state support. BYR 10 trillion was allocated in the state budget for concessional loans. Housing construction for the needy in Belarus has become a kind of business for savvy citizens.
These apartments were used in two ways: they were leased off (state loan interest rates were low while proceeds from renting covered the loan payments and provided additional incomes) or sold, thereby deliberately deteriorating the living conditions and acquiring the right for another soft loan for the housing construction. Alternatively, families could go through fictitious divorces to gain the right for soft housing construction loan for a spouse.
Recent amendments restrict these apartments’ sales: there is a five-year ban on sale of an apartment built with a soft loan from the government and residents who have already built apartments using soft loans as well as their family members lose the right for the second loan. The time will show whether the new regulations will be effective. Regarding lease rules for these apartments, the changes will not have drastic effect. Residents might chose living in the newly built, using government soft loans, apartment and lease out their old apartment to which the terms do not apply. However that might increase rental costs.
The changes envisage on the one hand reducing fraud with housing built on favorable terms and on the other hand to limit the number of potential beneficiaries in the future. In the long term, it is anticipated that the volume of housing built with state support will reduce and mass construction of rental housing will develop. With the development of rental housing the state gets fairly stable and secure proceeds from rental housing, and will achieve redistribution of valuable specialists and labor resources in various locations. Housing free of charge would only be available to large families and power structures representatives. The government will stop funding the massive concessional housing construction for a large share of the population.
Thus, the state is gradually reducing social benefits for the population. The number of potential beneficiaries from the real estate market will be reduced substantially. Simultaneously, by closing the opportunity to build own housing, the “anchor” holding the labor force in the country may be lost, forcing people to look for other opportunities in other countries.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.