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Poland's housing lists are long, and so are lines for furnishings

By Eric BourneSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / January 16, 1984


The young man had just gotten a key to a flat in a newly built apartment unit. He was fairly pleased . . . he had waited only eight years.

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He, his wife, a child, and later a second child had been living in a poky two-room flat in one of the rundown housing estates built in the first years after World War II.

Last summer, he drew a winning number in one of the housing lotteries open to applicants whose names have been on the housing list so many years. Many others less fortunate must reconcile themselves to waiting a ''normal'' 10 to 12 years. With the way the backlog is growing, they may wait even longer.

Last year some 100,000 flats were finished for occupation, a smaller number than in 1982. A recent government report estimated that at present 1.7 million Poles are waiting for an apartment.

But getting the new flat is by no means the end of a Pole's homemaking problems.

''Now,'' the young man mentioned above, ''our troubles begin all over again . . . furnishing it.''

Furniture is just one of the household snags Poles face after the long decline in the economy. There are the same long lines for basics like tables and chairs, beds and bedding, as there are at butcher shops whenever higher quality meat is available.

The weekly Polityka recently interviewed a score of tenants in a new block on Warsaw's Hawajska Street (Hawaii Street). The name has an incongruous ring in the setting Polityka described - uncleared building debris and mud.

The area probably will stay that way a long time. Poles have yet to develop a do-it-yourself attitude toward such tidying-up projects. And who can blame them when so much effort and time are spent in after-work queueing for the most modest and normal items of everyday life?

But the longing and the will to make a comfortable home and a certain life style persists, and Polityka gave a revealing account of how ordinary people go about accomplishing this.

It seems that one of the first things a tenant does on moving into a newly built apartment is to shift the heating around. Several Hawajska Street tenants told of moving radiators to ''more logical'' places: away from dangerous spots close to bathtubs, for example, or into the kitchen - where much of family life is spent - where none had been installed.

Next, they start hunting for attractive wall units - preferably brightly painted ones - to offset the drab walls themselves and the standard gray floor covering.

But that means standing in line oulside a furnishing store overnight to have any chance in the morning. Or, as Mrs. C., a schoolteacher and mother of two told Polityka, you can ''buy privately.'' She spotted a newspaper advertisement for just what she wanted - for 100,000 zlotys (about $1,000).

Mrs. C. earns about 19,000 zlotys a month - 5,000 above the national average - because she works at school, teaches privately, and for 10 years has forgone vacations to work at summer camps. So she had some money saved. The rest she borrowed from friends, which will mean working more summers to repay them.