Coursemates Gevorg Avagyan, 31 and Kristina Gasparyan, 33, got married in 2012. Kristina, who used to live in capital Yerevan, was happy to leave the city and move to the village of Khoronk to live with her husband and his parents.
“Both my husband and I work in Yerevan. Every morning we go to Yerevan and every evening we travel back home. My five-year-old child attends the village kindergarten, and his grandmother takes care of him after school, we return home from work. It helps a lot to live with Gevorg’s parents. And I have never thought that it would create any problems,” Gasparyan says.
But this arrangement is not very convenient for many young couples who, despite tradition, want to live on their own — not with their parents. Living separately is expensive: young couples have to pay high rent prices or take out a bank mortgage.
Photographer Hrant Khachatryan, 32 and his wife, linguist Anna Balayan, 26, got married two months ago. Now they are renting an apartment in the center of Yerevan. They pay 150,000 Armenian drams (around $300) for a two-room apartment, which is a big burden on their budget.
“I have been renting an apartment with my grandmother for 15 years. After we got married, we moved into a larger, two-room apartment. I lived in the previous apartment for eight years. When I calculated how much I have paid in rent during these years, it is well over $20,000. It means that if I had taken out a bank loan and bought an apartment, I would have already paid back 30 percent of it. I also did another calculation: there was a bank that offered a seven-year loan. If I had bought an apartment for $60,000, my monthly payments today would be less than what I pay for rent,” Hrant says.
The biggest obstacle to buy an apartment is the down payment the banks require in order to qualify for a loan, Anna and Hrant say.
“Today I am the only one who works in our family. At the same time we pay rent. We can’t manage to save 10 percent for the down payment. We are already considering leaving Armenia. If we succeed, we will apply to buy an apartment and pay back the loan from the salaries we earn abroad,” Hrant says.
In 2010 the Armenian government adopted the “Affordable housing for young families” state project. Under the project, the state pays for 2 percent of the loan’s interest. In a separate project adopted by the government in 2017, eligible individuals can receive income tax deductions that are sufficient to cover the interest of his/her mortgage loan. This is an additional stimulus for young families to separate from their parents and buy their own home.
Social anthropologist Aghasi Tadevosyan believes that the growing desire for personal space is tied to the rising levels of education in the country.
“If we look at the beneficiaries of the state housing program, we can see that most of them are people with higher education. Some were even educated abroad. They have a strong sense of individualism and they reject the ‘dynasty’ model of family. They want to have their own space, first of all for their personal comfort, which is common in Western culture,” Aghasi says.
Husband and wife Sanasar Davtyan and Sona Arazyan qualified for the government affordable housing program. They lived with Sanasar’s parents for several years after they got married but then decided to buy their own place. Their new apartment, one of the many built as part of the Eraz residential district, is almost ready for them to move in.
“We lived with his parents in the same apartment. It was not big enough, there were not enough rooms. So we decided that it is better to apply to participate in this program. The competition was stiff: there were four to five applicants for every apartment. We were lucky we were selected in the raffle drawing,” Sanasar says.
“Both Sanasar and I work as financiers. I work at a bank and Sanasar works at a private foundation. We calculated the income tax accumulated from our salaries and realized that if we take a 20-year loan to buy this apartment, we would pay only around $125 from our own salaries for the first 10 years, the rest of the loan payment would be covered by the income tax on our salaries. The conditions were very attractive and we couldn't help taking out the loan,” Sona says.
The average age for marriage in the country has risen by four years for both sexes between 1990-2017, according to data provided by the Statistical Committee of the Republic of Armenia.
The committee believes that this trend is tied to people wanting to buy an apartment, which most people cannot afford until they are around 30 years old.
The banking sector in Armenia is also interested in encouraging people to take out mortgage loans, and growing interest in the government’s housing program has led to significant growth in the construction sector over the past year, according to economist Atom Margaryan.
“Young people’s financial position has improved. There is significant interest, especially in diverting income tax payments to cover the interest on a loan. Even that is not enough, though. I think that government and the banking system should think about finding and implementing new tools for subsidizing [mortgages]. Both the banking system and the construction sector will benefit from it,” he says.