The Housing Crisis and the Rise of “Khrushchev’s Slums”

Depiction of “Khrushchev Slums” being erected.

The Sixties was a decade of change across the world. While students went on strike in Paris and people were protesting the Vietnam War in Chicago, Khrushchev was attempting to reform some of the old Stalinist ways of the Soviet Union while also keeping Soviet influence in the Eastern Bloc strong. One of the crises that plagued the Soviet Union in the sixties was the lack of sufficient housing in urban areas. As Lewis Siegelbaum points out in his essay on Seventeen Moments, by 1960 23.5 percent of total capital investment was being devoted to housing construction. This boost in investment came off of a series of Khrushchev’s Five-Year Plans. By the year 1965, more than 50 percent of urban dwellers lived in apartments that Khrushchev was so invested in.

Although Khrushchev’s apartment investments helped decrease the housing shortages in urban areas, they came with a cost. Since Khrushchev was focused on correcting the housing shortage quickly, the apartment in which he was investing sacrificed amenities and quality of construction. This led to the newly erected apartment buildings being less pleasant than many people would have wanted. On top of that, the apartments were small and closely packed together, in some cases multiple families had to share kitchen and bathrooms. The discomforts that these apartments brought to families earned them the name “Khrushchev Slums.” In some cases, they were referred to in Russian by their initials, “kaka,” which was suggestive of defecation due to their horrible conditions. Many of these slums were erected in Moscow, as well as other major cities throughout the U.S.S.R.

A cartoonist’s depiction of an apartment in the “Khrushchev Slums.”

Although the “Khrushchev Slums” were not as comfortable as some might had hoped, they did help eliminate the housing crisis in the urban areas of the Soviet Union. More people had placed to live, making people happier. On top of that, the increase in the housing market helped boost the economy, and with the housing crisis handled, Khrushchev was able to focus more politically on keeping influence on the Eastern bloc while loosening some of Stalin’s strict regulations.

3 Replies to “The Housing Crisis and the Rise of “Khrushchev’s Slums””

  1. Of course the irony of the Khrushchev “slums” is that they were not envisioned as slums at all. What evidence did you find to support your claims in the Current Digest? What did this research tell you about the role of the construction of apartments in the broader patterns of social change after Stalin’s death? How did the increased investment in housing boost the economy more broadly?

  2. Great post! It’s interesting that both the U.S. and the USSR invested in fairly misguided housing projects after the war. Khrushchev built the slums, and in the U.S., many infamous high rise projects were constructed. Neither development plan turned out very well.

  3. It is a sad legacy to have your name tied to a project referred to as a slum. Siegelbaum’s essay says the housing crisis was caused by waves of urbanization, what encouraged people to move to cities?

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