Calling the Olympic Village Home


The Stamford Advocate
Sept 3, 2006

Staff Writer Vesna Jaksic traveled to Greece in June as part of Internews organization’s 2006 Greek Cultural Fellowship, which allowed 12 U.S. journalists to spend a week in Athens to study post-Olympics Greece.

By Vesna Jaksic

ATHENS — Maria Stoubanou, 24, recently got her own room for the first time. Her mother now also has a separate bedroom and the two share a spacious living room and a balcony.

Their address? The Olympic Village.

Stoubanou and her mother, Fegeneina, were among several thousand low-income Greek families who won a lottery to purchase apartments that housed some of the world’s best athletes during the 2004 Summer Olympic Games. The Olympic Village has slowly been transformed into a working-class city, complete with schools, its own pharmacy and a fire station.

Until they moved into their new home, Stoubanou and her mother shared a room in a small, fifth-floor apartment in Athens’ crowded center.

“There is no comparison,” Stoubanou says. “This is like country, with flowers and peace.”

By the end of August, all of the approximately 10,000 residents were expected to move into their new homes. The Olympic Village has about 2,300 one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. Some of the bedrooms that once accommodated Olympians have been turned into modern kitchens. The underground medical stations are now used for residents’ parking.

“We had to construct a town from scratch and make it ready for people to live,” says Alice Sotiropoulou, a spokeswoman for the village. “It was a completely new town.”

The streets, which originally just had numbers, will be named after Olympic athletes, such as Pyros Dimas, the Greek athlete who is the first weightlifter to win four medals in Olympic competitions. Olympic Village residents can use the same facilities the athletes used for practice, such as tennis courts and a swimming pool.

The lottery winners were announced in December 2004 during a live, televised ceremony from Athens’ Peace and Friendship Stadium, which hosted indoor volleyball during the Olympics just four months earlier.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Stoubanou says about winning the lottery. “I hadn’t the word to describe it. … I cried.”

The families will pay one-third of the apartments’ actual price and have interest-free loans with no payments for the first six months. The Greek government is subsidizing their long-term mortgages, a program comparable to some of the federal housing programs in the United States.

“It gives security,” Maria Liamos, 28, who moved to a two-bedroom with her husband and sons Gerasimos, 1, and Tasos, 4, says about owning a home for the first time. “You don’t wonder what’s going to happen in the future.”

But two years after Athens hosted the 2004 Olympics, there is still a lot of work to be done in the Olympic Village. The grocery store and shops were not open in early June and the bus service was limited near the village, which is about a 40-minute drive from Athens’ center. Officials were still working out the details of services such as garbage pickup.

“I hope it changes for the better when more people come,” says Maria Economou, 33, who was moving in with her husband and their 9-year-old girl and 5-year-old boy. “When we come here, we will see the problems because we think there might be some.”

When all work is done, the Olympic Village will include 27 shops, a hospital, a high school, four kindergartens, four nurseries and a church. It will also house two organizations, the Ministry of Employment & Social Protection, and the Institute of Geology & Mineral Exploration.

Economou acknowledges her first few months in the village may have their inconveniences. Still, she is the first in her family to own a home. She and her husband no longer have to sleep in the kitchen so their children can have a bedroom, like they did in their old apartment. Economou says the new three-bedroom home has plenty of space.

“Now,” she says, “it’s like we are the Olympic winners.”