“Ordinary people’s needs are not being met at all,” said Iva Cukic, co-founder of the Space Ministry’s NGO connecting activists, architects, artists, scholars and residents in initiatives contributing to the “democratic and equitable development” of cities. .
“They never talk about the needs of the citizens of the city, except during election campaigns,” she said. “They care about investors and tourists. And that’s the direction they’re taking us.
As Sapic takes over, BIRN has taken a closer look at some of the major issues it faces – property prices, pollution, traffic and utilities.
Prices above the means of average Serbs
In 2017, then-mayor of Belgrade, now Serbian finance minister Sinisa Mali, called the capital a “city of cranes” in reference to the ongoing construction boom.
Belgrade is certainly building, but few Belgraders can afford what is being built.
Serbia is one of the poorest countries in Europe, but if you compare real estate prices to average income, Belgrade is one of the least affordable cities on the continent – fourth behind Moscow, Paris and the Croatian coastal city of Split.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic at the beginning of 2020, the average price of a newly built apartment in Belgrade has increased by 17%, reaching around 2,150 euros per square meter, according to official statistics. Prices are even higher when it comes to new construction in the sought-after areas of Savski Venac, Stari Grad and Vracar as well as among the skyscrapers of New Belgrade across the Sava.
The average salary in the capital, however, is only 690 euros after tax, well below the average for the European Union, which Serbia hopes to one day join. Food prices, meanwhile, are the highest in the Balkans and barely below the EU average, according to Eurostat.
“The situation is alarming,” Cukic said. “Most people can’t afford to buy a house.”
She cited official data from the Geodetic Authority of the Republic indicating that only 5% of Belgraders buy apartments. Among the apartments that change hands, 84% are purchased in cash, the rest by bank loan.
“Housing is commodified and perceived like any other good,” Cukic told BIRN. “It’s treated as an investment and not as a way to have a roof over a family’s head. It’s a speculation bubble.
“There are also serious concerns about money laundering through construction.”
Nevertheless, the city is full of luxury condominiums, some of which are part of a controversial riverside development called Belgrade Waterfront. Backed by an investor from the United Arab Emirates, the project has been called elitist, lacking transparency and sensitivity to Belgrade’s eclectic architectural heritage. It is mainly funded, in fact, by the Serbian taxpayer, but with some apartments reaching 10,000 euros per square meter, they are well out of reach for most ordinary Serbs.