By Shakeh Avoyan
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced on Wednesday the start of the second, final stage of its large-scale housing program for northern Armenian regions still reeling from the devastating effects of the 1988 earthquake.
Under an agreement signed with the Armenian government, the USAID will underwrite purchase of apartments and houses by an additional 3,000 local families that had lost their homes as a result of the disaster.
The entire program was estimated to cost $15 million when it was launched last year. The U.S. Urban Institute, the main USAID contractor, has already distributed 2,400 housing certificates to families living in metal shacks and other temporary shelters. Half of them have already bought new homes.
The price of one such certificate varies from $2,000 to $3,500 in municipal areas. Village residents in the northern Lori and Shirak provinces wishing to build new houses may receive up to $5,000 each.
The first phase of the housing scheme has faced serious difficulties in Gyumri, the largest city in the earthquake zone. Many of its beneficiaries there complain that apartment prices have surged recently and now exceed the average value of a certificate.
Still, the overall implementation of the program was described as successful by U.S. and Armenian officials, including President Robert Kocharian, who attended the signing ceremony. “I would like to thank the U.S. Congress and government for their active participation in the rebuilding of the disaster zone,” Kocharian said.
Minister for Urban Development David Lokian, who signed the agreement on behalf of the Armenian government, said the second phase of the program will enable the authorities to complete the protracted reconstruction of the earthquake-hit areas by December 2003.
Lokian had earlier promised that the reconstruction process will be complete by the end of this year. Kocharian, for his part, had pledged to “eliminate the notion of disaster zone” by 2001 when he first ran for president in 1998.