Peat town Seda starts offering apartments to revive population

Auctions of vacant apartments have begun in Valmiera municipality's town of Seda. In this small town, over time, almost 100 municipally owned apartments have emptied. Through these auctions, the municipality hopes to revive the town and tackle the housing issue in nearby Valmiera, Latvian Radio reported on January 18.

Seda is undeniably one of the most unique settlements in Latvia. It was built rapidly during the 1950s and 1960s during the Soviet occupation as a place for workers in the peat extraction industry which continues on a smaller scale to this day in adjacent Seda swamp.

Its architecture remains predominantly Stalinist with a large, empty central square, a star-shaped street layout and apartments in the barracks and high-rise styles of the Soviet era.

Some consider it an eyesore or an odd, isolated outpost in the swamp, but others say its well-preserved buildings have historic and cultural value even though the population has dwindled since its heyday to little more than 1,000. 

Jānis Pētersons, head of the regional association management, said that apartments have become vacant over time due to population decline: “First of all, the old people are leaving on their way, the young are not coming so fast. The town is in the middle of a once-created forest, with maximum access to peat, well, and now it's all transforming, but gradually the other process begins, the population stabilizes and something new comes along.”

Lest the apartments stand empty and the buildings are further damaged, it is decided to put these apartments to auction. The first nine apartments are currently being auctioned.

The buildings belonging to the municipality of Seda are managed by the LLC “Valmieras namsaimnieks”. Andris Kabraks, chairman of the company's board of directors, said that new owners will also have to invest in apartment repairs.

“If you can get a similar-sized apartment in Seda now more than ten times cheaper than in Valmiera, then probably the repairs will pay off. [..] I personally like these so called Stalin houses, which are 50s to 60s buildings. They are of higher quality, with thick, solid walls,” Kabraks said.

In order to help with apartment repairs, Valmiera High School of Design and Art has also been involved, students of which are developing interior projects, which will be free of charge for new apartment owners, said Ilze Melnalksne-Puriņa, Head of Interior Division:

“Everyone will get a full interior project with all the drawings, with descriptions, with color codes. [..] Each customer is offered a professionally designed interior design, which is such a cool benefit that is free, it is a gift to new apartment owners. ”

For Seda to get new residents, you also need to think about how to tidy up the buildings themselves. Kabraks, head of “the mastermind of Valmiera,” assessed that there are positive trends in this regard:

“We're seeing people's thinking change. If there were still a string of residents two years ago who felt they were owed everything for free, that the municipality would provide them with everything, then its thinking has changed, and there are already nine homes at the moment who have expressed a desire that they want to do something about getting their house in order. They have even decided to raise management fees to build up provisions for future spending of this kind.”

The auction of the first nine apartments will close on February 5. Other apartments will then be offered again at auction. More information about auctions can be found on the website of Valmiera municipality.

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