The Impossible Dream of Housing in Damascus

Owning a home in Damascus was once an achievable goal for many Syrian, but inflation has crushed these aspiration writes Salon Syria

Before the war, owning a home in Damascus and its countryside was a dream for limited and middle income earners that could be achieved after years of hard work. Now it has become an elusive, if not impossible, dream. This is due to the incredible rise in the price of real estate and the destruction of millions of homes, as well as the displacement of more than a quarter of the country’s population.

Before the war, the price of a 100 square meter home in Damascus had been between four and five million Syrian pounds (at the time one dollar had been equal to about 50 pounds), while in the informal areas surrounding the city, it had cost between a million and a half and two million pounds — that is, equivalent to about six years of wages of a Syrian employee (about 30,000 pounds per month).

A number of limited income people at that time had spent about 15 to 20 years living a life of austerity and basic subsistence in order to purchase one of these homes in the informal areas around the capital, known as the poverty belt.

However the war and the destruction it has inflicted on homes and the limited number of safe areas has increased prices and led to inflation, and created a huge disparity between demand and income.

With the widespread destruction of homes, Syria has witnessed major waves of displacement. A study said that about seven million people have been affected by the destruction and that three million people have been forced to leave their homes and that a million citizens have lost their homes entirely. There are predictions that these numbers will increase with the continued fighting.

Displaced people have flooded into regime-controlled areas because they enjoy relative security compared to areas under opposition control. This has led to a gradual increase in real estate prices, especially in Damascus, where the number of residents has increase to about eight million people. Before the war, the population had been about four million people.

Today, the price of a 100 square meter home in areas in the center of Damascus, such as Abou Ramana and Al-Maliki are between 400 and 500 million pounds. Before the conflict, prices had been about 50 million pounds. In Al-Mezzeh, west of the capital, they have risen from 20 to 25 million pounds before the war to anywhere up to 150 million pounds now. In the Al-Zahara area south of the capital they are about 50 million pounds, where as you could have perviously bought a house for about five million.

Local real estate pages on social media which lists apartments for sale in various parts of the capital are today considered the main indicator of real estate prices in Damascus and its environs.

Some of the ads on these pages drive Syrians crazy, as the price of an apartment for sale in the Al-Maliki area reaches 990 million Syrian pounds and another in the Damar project can cost up to 500 million pounds.

Real estate experts speaking to Salon Syria attributed the cause of the rises in real estate prices to the “severe lack of supply” and “the major decline in the value of the Syrian pound when compared with foreign currencies.” Before the war, you could get a dollar for 50 pounds, where as today, the dollar is about 450 pounds.

Experts say that inflation has affected all aspects of life, including building materials, which has led to an astronomical increase in the cost of homes. They said that the cost of a 100 square meter apartment on average is more than seven million pounds.

One father of three in his fifties, who works at a private company, lost his house in the countryside during a bombarment. He was displaced to Damascus city and currently lives with one of his relatives. He says that owning a home in the years before the war was a dream, although it could be achieved after years of work. “But now it has become an unobtainable dream, given the prices. An employee’s salary for a lifetime is not enough to pay for a house at today’s prices. Owning is no longer for us, but for them,” he said, in a reference to the many people who have exploited the ongoing war in the country to illegally make large amounts of money through theft, looting and kidnapping.

Despite the major decline of the Syrian pound against foreign currencies, employees’ salaries have remained the same, and do not exceed more than 40,000 pounds a month at the first level (less than 100 dollars).

The unprecedented rise in real estate prices in the capital’s central districts has led displaced people to head to informal areas surrounding the capital, such as Nahr Aisha, al-Dahadeel, Def al-Shouk, al-Tadamon and al-Qazaz, where prices have increased exponentially, with the price of a 100 square meter home reaching more than 20 million pounds, which is almost 20 times more than the pre-war cost.

This situation has been a major cause of the flourishing number of informal areas, which have seen a steady increase in construction activity in recent years despite there not being sufficient health conditions and basic facilities.

Over the last seven years, official Syrian reports have talked about the increase of cases of building violations in all informal areas of Damascus, which is due to the increasing building prices and rents which have swelled dozens of times.

Sources in the government’s International Cooperation and Planning Authority, according to local media, estimate that there is about a million violating residential units that have been built over the last seven years.

These units lack the most basic levels of safety and security, because they were built quickly with the intention of selling them amid the chaos and security breakdown, which the capital has witnessed in the absence of the rule of law. This has allowed property owners to build homes or new additional floors.

It does not appear that the Syrian government has any plan to absorb the hundreds of thousands of displaced people heading to the capital from afflicted areas across the country, or to lighten the pace of the increasing prices. The informal districts which have few natural or health living conditions or basic facilities remain the only haven for those who have been deprived of their livelihood and have been unable to secure appropriate housing in the capital’s official districts.

 

This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.

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