Rafoat Hoshimova and her family moved out of their house in the northern Tajik city of Khujand six years ago after it was announced their neighborhood would be demolished.
City officials and private Chinese investors had signed an agreement to build a massive residential and leisure complex called Chinatown in the neighborhood, replacing its one-story houses with modern apartment blocks and recreational facilities.
More than 30 houses were bulldozed in the picturesque area on the banks of the Syrdaryo River when the project officially kicked off in August 2015.
The excited residents were promised new homes in Chinatown's first buildings, which authorities said would be completed within one year.
The huge project would consist of 15 residential buildings with 1,200 apartment units, a four-story school, a car park, and a string of shops and restaurants.
The project, which also included recreational and leisure facilities, was supposed to be finished in 2020. It seemed too good to be true.
Six years later, more than 300 people are still waiting for their new apartments while being stranded in rented homes or living with relatives.
Khujand officials say the Chinese investors abandoned the project in 2018 after complaining the area wasn't suitable for a major construction project because of its proximity to the river.
It's unknown why such a key issue wasn't checked before construction, when the land was surveyed.
Officials at the Chinese company Husnoro-1, which was in charge of building the project, haven't commented publicly since they withdrew from the project.
"It was such a letdown for us," Hoshimova says. "We've been left in limbo. It's very painful."
Who's To Blame?
Hoshimova and her husband, Komil, say that "it all happened in a big rush" when city officials ordered the residents of Rahmon Nabiev Avenue to "quickly" vacate their houses.
Komil, a migrant worker who was in Russia at the time, had to return to Khujand to sign documents giving consent for the demolition of his home.
The couple shared a large house with their two sons, daughters-in-law, and several grandchildren.
The three families were placed in a single rented apartment, sharing a kitchen and single bathroom. Despite the inconveniences, the family reluctantly agreed, in the hope it was a temporary arrangement. Initially, their rent was paid by Husnoro-1.
But alarm bells began to ring when several months passed with no progress at the construction site.
Hoshimova, who frequently visited the site of her former family home, recalls: "The only work they did was to demolish the houses and dig holes in the land. Eventually, the holes filled with water."
That was the end of any work at the site. The worried residents approached city authorities to demand some clarification.
Several meetings were held with Khujand officials and Chinese investors in 2016 and 2018. Tajik authorities sought to appease people by saying the Chinatown project was still on track despite some unforeseen delays.
City authorities publicly acknowledged three years ago that the Chinese investors had abandoned the project. But officials didn't give a detailed explanation of what had happened or who was to blame.
They pledged to provide permanent homes for affected families and pay their rent until the new homes were ready.
Lives Put On Hold
In August 2020, the local government announced that new apartments were being completed in another part of the city to house the families who had lost their homes because of the project.
Hoshimova and others were told they would celebrate the New Year in their new apartments in Khujand's 18th District. But it didn't happen.
In February 2021, the mayor's office said the families would move into their new homes in a nine-story complex just before Norouz, the Persian New Year, marked on March 21.
That deadline passed as well, with Hoshimova and the others still without their new apartments.
City officials now accuse the families of being partially responsible for the delays.
"They don't want the apartments on the ground floor and they also don’t like the ones on the upper floors," city spokesman Maamur Yusufzod said on April 13.
Many people in Tajikistan avoid living on the upper floors of tall buildings because they often have extremely low water pressure and there are problems with the elevators. The ground floors are also unpopular in some neighborhoods due to security concerns.
Yusufzod said the authorities had now decided to distribute new apartments among the families by randomly selecting them in a lottery.
Hoshimova said she had gained two new grandchildren since the family moved out of their home, with the children being raised in the cramped rented home.
Several others say they have had to postpone weddings and other major life events as they put everything on hold.
Meanwhile, the construction site has since turned into a garbage dump and the Chinatown project is officially dead.
Khujand city authorities are now promising to build a new residential complex -- called Khujand City -- with local investors. It will be just 100 meters from the site of Khujand's ill-fated Chinatown.
RFE/RL’s Tajik Service contributed to this report
Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the region’s ongoing struggle with the coronavirus pandemic and its economic impact. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.