A new report titled “Housing Complexes in Northwestern Syria”, published by the Assistance Coordination Unit (ACU), studies the growing number of housing complexes in Northwestern Syria, especially in the governorates of Idlib and Aleppo.
Since the start of the decade-long conflict, many internally displaced people (IDPs) have sought to improve their situation by converting their tents into cement rooms, while some aid organizations and donors have built several housing complexes. In both cases, these complexes developed into new towns and villages.
The number of individuals living in the housing estates covered by the ACU study is 171,407, constituting 32,062 families, including 141,939 individuals in Idlib Governorate and 29,525 in Aleppo Governorate. Of the residential population, 54% (76 complexes) of the housing complexes were all displaced persons.
In February 2022, the number of displaced people in camps in northwestern Syria reached 1,705,299, constituting 321,840 displaced households. Of the total, only about 10% of camp residents have been moved to decent housing.
The recent ACU report seeks to clarify the nature of these complexes in terms of construction, location and services, legal agreements. Here is a summary of the report.
ACU defines housing complexes as new concrete buildings that have emerged in displacement sites or on the outskirts of cities and towns in organized and unorganized ways. The study was limited to complexes in which the number of cement houses exceeds forty.
According to the report, 117 new housing complexes exist in northwestern Syria, with 79% (93 complexes) in Idlib governorate and 21% (24 complexes) in Aleppo governorate. ACU findings show that 67% (78 complexes) of housing complexes were planned prior to inception (with construction plans), while 33% (39 complexes) were not planned prior to construction, making them random buildings.
Housing complexes differ significantly in size. The study revealed that the number of buildings in 35% (41 complexes) of the housing complexes does not exceed more than 107 buildings. Meanwhile, 25 percent (29 complexes) have 108 to 207 buildings; 14% (16 complexes) have 208 to 307 buildings; and 9% (10 complexes) have between 308 and 407 buildings. The majority have only one-story buildings (94% or 97 complexes) and two-room houses (61% or 52 complexes).
The housing complexes were financed in different ways, either at the expense of the residents, or by donations, or by contractors.
The ACU states that 30% (35 complexes) of housing complexes were built at residents’ expense; according to the report, these complexes were probably camps that the inhabitants transformed into rooms or cement houses. Meanwhile, international organizations created 21% (31 complexes), donation funds created 9% (11 complexes) and entrepreneurs created 7% (8 complexes).
Location and services
According to the report, 46% (54 complexes) of the housing complexes were public land owned by the government before the housing complexes were established on it; 42 percent (49 complexes) on private agricultural land; 7 percent (8 complexes) on government-owned agricultural land; and 4 percent (5 complexes) on unowned forested and treed land.
The location of housing complexes largely determines the employment opportunities and services offered to residents.
Of the 117 complexes, 99 complexes are more than 1 km from the nearest town or city and 79% (92 complexes) are located far from main roads, making it difficult for service vehicles to access residents , such as tank trucks, water transport vehicles, ambulances when patients need urgent help and civil protection in the event of a disaster.
Meanwhile, 9 percent (14 complexes) of the complexes have no roads; 8% (12 complexes) have dirt roads; and 51% (80 complexes) were paved only with gravel.
The ACU also indicates that 48% (41 sets) of housing estates have regular networks of drinking water and water for daily use, compared to 59% (69 sets) which do not have water networks and depend on water from reservoirs.
According to the report, 74% (87 complexes) of housing complexes have sewage systems, while 26% (30 complexes) rely on irregular cesspools for sewage disposal. These cesspools are not equipped with layers of stones and sand to filter the sewage before reaching the groundwater, which makes the sewage a threat to the groundwater and soils of these complexes.
Finally, nearly 51% (60 sets) of housing estates do not have schools or informal education centres. On the other hand, schools are available in 46% (54 complexes) of the housing complexes. Informal education centers are available in 3 housing complexes.
The report showed that only 11% (13 complexes) of housing complexes have no authority responsible for the management of the complex. In 38 percent (45 complexes) of the housing complexes, a civil administration has been appointed by a specific entity. Meanwhile, 21 percent (25 complexes) of the housing complexes are managed by a civil administration elected by the population; 15% (17 complexes) by local humanitarian organizations and 7% (8 complexes) by the local councils responsible for managing the complex area. International humanitarian organizations manage only 6% (7 complexes) of housing complexes.
In 45 percent (51 complexes) of the housing complexes, residents have no residence status document. In 16% (18 complexes), residents have title deeds (sale and purchase contracts) registered with the local authorities. According to the report, these houses are often found in the complexes established by the contractors. In complexes established by international or local humanitarian organizations, residents have a document from the organization proving that the accommodation has been temporarily or permanently handed over to them.
The real estate complexes were sold according to various mechanisms.
In the case of 34 percent (43 complexes) of housing complexes, residents were required to request a document from the local council or other official body proving that certain criteria had been met, for example that the beneficiary family residing in the complex is displaced, one of the family members is disabled or one of the family members has died during the war. Meanwhile, 33% (42 complexes) had to undertake not to sell the apartment. This promise includes a condition requiring the beneficiary family to hand over the apartment to another displaced family or to the town hall or local authorities, who will oversee the transfer process to another family meeting certain criteria. Only 17% (22 complexes) were not required to provide documents.
Finally, it was also found that residents of 87% (102 complexes) of the housing complexes live in the complexes free of charge, while 13% (15 complexes) of the housing complexes are rentals.
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