Government-Subsidized Housing in Damascus Raises Concerns of Subscribers

Al-Abbaseen area in the north of the capital Damascus – 21 March 2017 (Reuters)

Al-Abbaseen area in the north of the capital Damascus – 21 March 2017 (Reuters)



At a time when buying the “apartment of a lifetime” became a dream for many young Syrians, it was common in recent decades for people to register for so-called “association houses” or “youth housing” through the Institute for Public Housing, and pay for the house through monthly installments with a symbolic initial deposit.

Despite the long period it takes to get the apartments (a minimum of 10 years), some Syrians see this as a way to be able to own a house that will guarantee them and their children residential, psychological and social stability and will guarantee greater marriage opportunities for young people.

What happened to subscribers before 2011?

After the recent security events witnessed in Syria and the economic regression after the revolution, subscribers have become more worried about association houses and receiving them on time in light of the economic deficit faced by the state and its institutions, including the Institute for Public Housing.

Enab Baladi contacted Mr. Ahmed al-Khawanji, one of the subscribers to one of these houses in Damascus in 2004, as part of a program the Institute for Public Housing launched in 2002 under the name “Youth Housing Project”.

Khawanji, 40, said he was supposed to get the house 12 years after registering for the program, which meant by 2016. However, after referring back to the Institute for Public Housing last year, he was told that the houses were not yet ready, that the organization bought the land in the area of al-Dimas in Rif Dimashq, and that the buildings were still under construction.

He added that one of the organization’s employees told him not to count the six years of the “crisis” because during this period, the work on the project had completely stopped, and that he had to calculate the years starting from 2004 up to 2010, and continue counting from 2017 until a deadline that the employee did not specify.

Concerning payment, al-Khawanji told Enab Baladi that he is still paying monthly installments to the Real Estate Bank in Damascus although he had lost all hope of getting the house at least five years ago. He added, “The country is still getting monthly installments from us because of the deficit it faces along with its departments and is using this money to pay for its employees’ salaries.”

However, according to al-Khawanji, the biggest concern lies in the “fictional” prices determined for the houses after the rise in prices in Syria and the devaluation of the lira. Prices have now exceeded their capacity and become very different from the actual value that they subscribed to, despite the fact that they made regular payments over the past years in line with the real value of the properties during the subscription and not as currently defined by the organization.

Al-Khawanji added that Syrians are now “most in need of houses as a result of migration and displacement, and the destruction the country has witnessed in recent years, which was followed by a sharp rise in the price of renting a house.” He urged the authorities to speed up the handover of the houses to subscribers.

Has the increase in the value of the dollar affected monthly installments?

Youth housing has gained much attention from the residents of Damascus due to the “symbolic” prices paid by subscribers, whether in terms of the initial deposit or the monthly installments.

Abu Mohammed, one of the subscribers to the second edition of the Youth Housing Program in 2004, says that he first registered to get a house for his youngest son after his marriage, who is now 27, in the hope that he would get the house by 2016.

He added that he had paid a sum that he considered small compared to the price of any house in Damascus at that time. The first installment did not exceed 60,000 Syrian Lira (equivalent to 1200 dollars when one dollar was worth 50 Syrian Lira), in addition to a monthly installment of 2000 Lira, which he is still paying till now.

Abu Mohammed, 58, pointed out that despite the difference in currencies and the rise in prices in Syria, the monthly installment he pays is still the same and has remained unchanged. He pointed out that the increase in monthly installments has affected specialized subscribers who had examined their houses before they got them. They are now paying 8,000 Lira.

However, the impact of the devaluation of the Syrian lira will become evident when the subscribers receive their houses. It is common that the house price is estimated at the time of handover, so that the subscriber pays off the rest of the value of the house in the form of monthly settlements as soon as he starts living in the house. As real estate prices rose significantly after 2011, subscribers will be forced to pay an amount of money that exceeds their financial capacity and exceeds the actual value that was agreed upon before that year.

New programs while old programs are still not completed

Given the increasing concerns on the part of subscribers after the Institute for Public Housing failed to hand over their houses, the Institute announced, in early July, the opening of subscriptions for savings houses in their allocated part of the Al-Fayhaa Residential Suburb project in the area of Al-Bejaa in Rif Dimashq. The number of housing units announced is 1150 apartments and applications for these apartments are open until August 13.

The Al-Fayhaa Residential Suburb project is divided between the Institute for Public Housing and the private sector. The Institute obtained its share of the plots on an area of 1500 dunums, equivalent to 10 percent of the total area of the project, which amounts to a total of 150 hectares. On this area, 1150 residential apartments will be built out of a total of 11,000 units.

According to the announcement by the Institute, the houses will be divided into three categories. Class A includes 312 housing units measuring 125 to 130 square meters with an estimated average value of 18.3 million Syrian Lira. The initial deposit for these is three million Syrian Lira, with a monthly installment of 40,000 Lira.

Class B includes 338 housing units measuring 110 to 120 square meters, with an estimated average value of 16.2 million Syrian Lira. The deposit for each is 2.7 million Lira and the monthly installment is 35,000 Lira.

Class C includes 500 housing units measuring 100 to 110 square meters, with an average estimated value of 14.8 million Lira. The deposit is 2.5 million Lira and the monthly installment is 30,000 Lira.

The Institute allocated 50 percent of these apartments for the families of so-called “martyrs”. Those born in Damascus and its countryside or who have been resident for at least five years or who are employed in the public sector in Damascus and its countryside can subscribe to get these apartments, on the condition of providing a document to prove their eligibility.

Trading in and “buying houses”

Since the waiting period for these houses is long and because some of the subscribers find themselves in need of money, the idea of selling the houses emerged, based on the seller’s need for money and the huge benefits the buyer gains after handover of the property.

The Institute for Public Housing allows subscribers to sell their property conditional on the consent of both parties. It does not interfere in determining the agreed price, according to information provided to Enab Baladi by a Damascus-based lawyer. The sale is often discussed at one of the organization’s offices, which is currently located in the al-Mezzeh highway in Damascus. The office then refers the request for sale to the Institute, following which the property is transferred to the new owner, who in turn finishes paying off the remaining installments.

However, the situation has changed after 2011 as a result of emigration abroad by many young subscribers and the activities of brokers who sell youth housing. Syrians abroad were forced to sell their houses at low prices according to the installments they paid before the devaluation of the Syrian lira, which are minuscules compared to current house prices in Damascus.

According to Ahmed al-Khawanji, real estate offices have recently appeared in Damascus specializing in buying youth housing from subscribers. He noted that the prices range from one million and one and a half million Syrian Lira for one property, while the estimated value of the house after sale reaches 35 million Lira.

What is the Institute for Public Housing?

The Institute for Public Housing was established by Presidential Decree No. 683 of 1961, after Legislative Decree No. 94 of 1953 allowed municipalities in major Syrian cities to construct public housing in suburbs to accommodate specific groups of people (employees, users, workers) and to sell these housing units for cash or interest-free installments over a period of 7 years.

As of 1975, the organization has been subject to the Law on Public Institutions of an Economic Nature and it now contributes 11% of total housing in Syria. However, the organization is widely accused of giving its profits to a number of powerful officials in the Syrian regime.

In view of the rise in demand in the housing sector in Syria after 2000, the program launched by the Institute for Public Housing in 2002 was met with great interest among young people, with more than 120,000 subscribers, according to the organization’s statistics. All of these subscription requests were accepted.

The Youth Housing Program in Damascus was divided over different periods for handover of the housing units, ranging from five to seven years, and between 10 to 12 years, according to the date of subscription. The first period of registration was announced in 2002, followed by others in 2004 and 2005, with the latest announced in 2007.

The program is based on paying an initial deposit, which is around 50 and 70 thousand Lira depending on the location of the house, in addition to a monthly installment of 2000 Lira. When the house is handed over to the subscriber, its price is valued and the subscriber finishes paying off the rest of its value while living in it. A condition to subscribing for a house in the housing program is that the subscriber must not be registered as the owner of a house in the national land registry.

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