Paying My Mortgage is My Future

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Economically, Russia's new middle class is both freer and more burdened - privileged and squeezed - than their parents. 

Just 20 years ago, most Russians owned their apartments, even if it was the size of a postage stamp, and had no mortgage, a legacy of communism. Their money was kept under the mattress. 

Today, there is a middle class with new potential, and bigger burdens. They have more opportunities for ownership and they are beginning to experience the pressures that large debts bring - a pressure that has reached a boiling point in the United States.

Vladimir Frolov, 28, and his wife Nastya, 22, are both natives of villages located near Tomsk, and they have a young son, Sergei. 

Vladimir's starting salary at the Tomsk Electromechanical Plant was roughly $400 a month, which was not much, even for Tomsk. But in addition to the salary, the company offered the promising young engineer a company loan with no interest for 25 years, which he used to purchase a one-bedroom apartment in a building on the river. But there is a catch-22: If Vladimir is fired or quits, his interest would be due immediately, which is typically in the double digits in Russia. 

Vladimir is literally bound to the company for 25 years, and his family's future seems predetermined. 

Vladimir, however, said he finds the conditions fair: "It makes sense from the perspective of my employer. Otherwise, lots of people would try to get their hands on inexpensive loans through the company. Maybe we are dependent. But that's a small price to pay for our own apartment." 

After paying the mortgage each month, the Frolovs have roughly $670 to spend. Vladimir is the sole earner, because Nastya has started classes for a second degree and also takes care of Sergei. Food costs are somewhere around $200 a month.

"Everything else has to be split between child, clothes, culture and everything else," Vladimir said. 

He does not sound overly confident when it comes to his future. The Tomsk Electromechanical Plant makes, among other things, giant turbines that siphon smoke from subways. Six of these turbines are currently in use in the Moscow Metro. 

"Theoretically, the contracts in the plant could be reduced or disappear at any time. If the higher-ups start making some kind of rubbish, then there are immediate consequences for our working conditions and our wages," Vladimir said.

To have any sense of security, Vladimir thinks he needs at least $1,300 a month, but to receive higher wages, productivity must increase, which in turn can only happen if the equipment in Vladimir's plant is modernized. "If there was a switch to industry produced by locals, that would be half the battle."

Vladimir wants to help the plant produce innovative, Russian products. If the plant is successful, it will help Vladimir achieve his other dreams - a house and two more children. 

Nastya hopes for a second child, but she is more pragmatic about the realities. The government may be pushing its ongoing campaign to raise the birthrate, but there is no infrastructure to support more children. Many preschool buildings from the Soviet era have been leased as office space, and strict regulations for registering child-care facilities prevent the creation of private kindergartens. 

When Sergei is finally in preschool, Nastya would like to get a job in social services. She would like to earn $650 a month, but would settle for $490. 

Nastya dreams of a vacation in Sevastopol, where she has relatives. She said she would like to travel more outside of Russia to a place like Egypt.

What would happen if Vladimir had an accident at the plant? Would the loan be payable? "We do not have to worry about that," he said. "If something happened, the insurance company would pay my loan. To be perfectly honest, I am incredibly lucky. Millions of Russians are probably jealous of me." 
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