By the late 1960s, most policy makers and social observers had come to be-lieve that the self-built housing program was a failure from an urban planning perspective, as well as an ineffective tool against rogue construction. None-theless, one consequence of this experiment was that modernist functionalist urbanism was displaced as the hegemonic approach to urban development in Belgrade. It was no longer deemed the “only way” to provide quality housing for low-income families.
Belgrade’s population increased dramatically between 1956 and 1964, its yearly increase doubling from approximately 12, 000 to 24, 000 new inhabitants, not including those who settled outside of its city limits. An estimated 220, 000 lived in Belgrade’s peripheral districts in 1961, compared to a population of 619, 000 within the city limits. 2 The flood of newcomers to the city strained existing infrastructure, which had not been much improved or increased since the end of the war, and exacerbated the housing shortage.
The Yugoslav state’s insistence on preserving its monopoly on the produc-tion of housing limited the city’s ability to deal with this massive population influx. Newcomers to the city could sublet rooms or apartments. They could also try to obtain housing in apartment buildings erected by the social sector. The most usual access to such housing was through one’s employer. It was also possible for several individuals to join together and form a housing collective (stambena zadruga), but such collectives remained a marginal phenomenon. Finally, as a last resort, a household could build its own house, but there were very limited numbers of parcels available for single-family housing.
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Unfortunately, the socially controlled construction sector, plagued by shortages and unable to invest in modern technologies, was highly inefficient, never meeting production quotas and taking up to three years to complete an apartment building. Newspapers regularly reported that apartments were not being built on schedule. 3 The result of this was that apartments were costly, and there were not enough to meet the constant demand. Belgrade’s charismatic mayor from 1964 to 1974, Branko Pesic, complained that municipal au-thorities were constantly struggling to catch up to yesterday’s needs.
Due to this shortage and the high cost of housing that resulted from such serious inefficiencies, few firms were able to provide all their employees with housing. Although company housing boards were supposed to distribute housing to their employees on the basis of seniority and need, firms tended to reserve what apartments they had for managers and technical specialists such as engineers, or “cadres, ” as a means of competing for people with this skill set. 4 Furthermore, the ability of a state-owned firm to purchase from this limited supply of housing depended upon its profit margin. Firms with low revenues thus had difficulty purchasing any housing whatsoever. As a result, a great number of unskilled and semiskilled workers were left to fend for them-selves. In Belgrade, namely, many of those who would resort to building a house illegally were employed by the municipal transportation authority or by construction firms. 5
Belgrade was not the only Yugoslav city to face such overcrowding; the capitals of the other Republics and some secondary urban centers also experienced a shortage of housing and infrastructure. But nowhere did the crisis seem quite as dire as in Belgrade. This was partly because the city had been devastated during the war but also because Belgrade was the seat of the fed-eral and republican governments. As such it had to welcome administrators, officials, military officers, and cadres of other kinds from all over the country. These newcomers put pressure on an already overburdened housing supply. Finally, unskilled migrants came from all over Yugoslavia, but particularly from economically poor central and southern Serbia, fleeing diminishing op-portunities in the countryside and seeking to make their fortunes in the city.