The Kurdish Globe
By Sleman Tashan
Climbing on the stairway of a three-story building had exhausted Fatima Hussein, 60, who was visiting the Leaseholders, Rights Protection Union.
Hussein had heard that the government is distributing apartments to poor and leaseholder families.
"My husband died out of poverty and disease two years ago," explained Hussein, who has two sons and a daughter, to the Kurdish Globe. "One of my sons is now 40 years old, but I have not yet been able to marry him off. In addition, I also raise two children of my daughter who is divorced from her husband."
The only thing that Hussein has inherited from her husband is his Leaseholders, Rights Protection Union membership card, and she is now living in a leased house in a very bad condition in the Dirkawa/Hawkari Quarter southeast of Erbil. Her sons are working as laborers and hardly earn the money required to pay their rent and afford a very minimum standard of living for their family.
According to statistics available at the Information Directorate of the Kurdistan Region Board of Investment, the total projects licensed by the Board from August 1, 2006 till May 31, 2012 is 462, which occupy 10,844.5 hectares of land. The total investment for all these projects is USD 21,657,913,727.
Housing Sector Share
Out of these projects, 162 projects are housing and residential projects with a total capital of USD 11,423,016,000 i.e. more than 52% of the total invested capital and also more than 50% of the total allocated lands are used for housing projects, equal to all the lands allocated to all other sectors such as tourism, industry, agricultural, commercial, sports, health, banking and communication.
By the beginning of last year, 84,345 residential units were built through 110 projects, out of which 20,495 were partially funded by the housing fund and 63,850 units without any funding facility.
Resorting to the private sector for housing issue
The Investment Board had been established during the fifth cabinet, and before that the Ministry of Reconstruction and Housing had built some 25 thousand residential units all around the region, but later, and for the purpose of using the budget in other sectors, the government chose to let private sector companies do the work on their behalf and construct residential units.
If the 66 projects of last year and the first half of this year result in the construction of another 60 thousand units then the total number of units constructed by the private sector though the investment board would reach 200 thousand. After constructing all these units, not only has it not been able to solve the housing problem in Kurdistan, but it has also pushed real estate prices up to a degree that one cannot buy a suitable house for USD 50,000 in an outskirt of Erbil.
The new housing policy and lack of government control and monitoring over the sales process of residential units by private companies, has increased the prices of the deserted and empty lands around Erbil to a level that one can buy a villa in the capitals of the developed countries.
The price of some villas in the region pass USD 1 million, while the price of a 200 square meter house in Bakhtiary Quarter is around USD 0.5 million.
Every day, no less than 40 people register their names with the Erbil branch of the Leaseholder's, Rights Protection Union. According to Mahmoud Ismael, 50,000 leaseholders have officially registered with them in all their branches across the region, out of which 12,250 are in Erbil alone.
Ismael, however, says that the majority of the leaseholders have not registered with them and he expects that the actual total number is about 50,000 in Erbil and 200,000 across the whole Region.
He argues that the investment projects have helped some mid-income families own their homes, but the misuse of the opportunity by the wealthy people and the process of buying and reselling several times increased the prices to an extent that low income people could no longer afford them.
Return to the old policy
The high number of leaseholders pushed the government to work out a solution through the Ministry of Reconstruction and Housing without depending on the investment board alone.
The government has a plan to build 5000 residential units all over Kurdistan over the course of this year.
Farhang Sabir, Ministry's spokesperson, says that the project takes 2 years to complete.
"Besides there are 1,200 residential units are under construction, through the IQD 49 billion budget of which was allocated last year.
Although, there is no accurate statistics about the housing needs in the region, the ministry claims that the demand is above 100 thousand units.
Application form for housing
Erbil Governor Nawzad Hadi announced on Tuesday July 10th 2012 that within one week they will announce the guidelines for applying the distribution of the 6,500 residential units built by the Koreans. The announcement will be made in the presence of the media.
Only in Erbil more than 50,000 families are looking forward to own their houses and get rid of their leaseholds.
It is not yet clear whether Hussein will spend the remaining years of her life in her own house or if she has to continue paying rent for her leased house in Dirkawa.