Alternative Housing for Marota and Basilia City: Will It Actually Happen?

After a delay of more than eight years, it appears that the project to build alternative housing for former property owners at the Marota City and Basilia City areas in Damascus is gaining traction, with the past few days seeing numerous official statements about implementation.

Under Legislative Decree No. 66 of 2012, the government created two zoning districts in Damascus, Marota City and Basilia City to be built atop former informal housing neighbourhoods damaged during the war.

Former homeowners who lost their property were to be provided alternative homes. The housing is not granted for free, but sold at cost. Payment can be made in interest-bearing instalments.

Decree No. 66 requires the Damascus Governorate to secure alternative housing for eligible residents within four years from the date of issuance of the decree. However, Law No. 10 for 2018 amended this rule, changing that time period to four years from the date of eviction, which took place in stages starting in 2015.

While the project had been put on hold for years, last week saw the Ministry of Public Works and Housing announce that the General Housing Establishment (GHE) would take on administering the alternative housing project and that the Military Construction Establishment (MCE), a company affiliated with the Ministry of Defence that conducts civilian construction works, would start building the first two residential towers in the alternative housing project for Marota City. The MCE is also negotiating to build two more construction towers. The ministry added that the General Company for Engineering Studies (GCES) would supervise construction of the alternative housing units. Both the GHE and the HCES are affiliated with the ministry.

Last week, the GHE announced that it had made a list, certified by the Damascus Governorate, of 5,516 people eligible for housing in Marota and Basilia. The Establishment called on those eligible to sign up between December 18, 2020 and January 14, 2021.

Alternative housing recipients must verify their names, other personal data and the areas entitled to them before making a down payment to the Real Estate Bank. Afterwards, they will be given ledgers recording the dates and amounts of monthly payments.

The announcement did not specify where the housing would be located, the timeline for construction or an approximate price per unit. Instead, it set the down payment for those entitled to alternative housing at SYP 55,000 per square metre, with monthly instalments of SYP 275 per square metre. The units are expected to range from 40 to 120 square metres, meaning the down payment would be between SYP 2.2 million and SYP 6.6 million. Monthly payments would be between SYP 11,000 and SYP 33,000.

The process, however, does not constitute an initial public offering. Rather, this method of payments is one way that public sector institutions in Syria collect funds to carry out construction projects without converting each project into a company or giving official shares to those eligible for the resulting real estate units.

Under these conditions, underwriting is considered to be a form of compliance contract in which the General Housing Establishment dictates the full terms, and can cancel the contract if those terms are violated. The General Housing Establishment is not responsible for any material, time or moral obligation related to the contract, and has the power to change the terms to suit its interests.

However, in addition to legal and administrative issues, the alternative housing projects in Marota and Basilia have suffered delays due to a lack of liquidity. Damascus governorate authorities had previously announced, in July, that it did not have sufficient funding for alternative housing in Marota City, a project that was estimated at SYP 285 billion. 

There are no precise statistics on the number of residents who used to live in the largely informal neighbourhoods where Marota and Basilia are now being constructed, although that number is almost certainly higher than the 5,516 people listed as eligible for alternative housing.

In 2015, the Minister of Housing and Urban Development issued Decree No. 112, related to the principles of allocating alternative housing and determining who would be eligible. Those listed as eligible were the last occupants of a certain housing unit in place before the issuance of Decree No. 66 in 2012. 

In accordance with Decree No. 66, the issues of establishing tenants’ ownership and legitimacy were relegated to the “inventory and labelling” committee. However, the committee was marred by reports of bias against property owners, who were seen as pro-opposition. Many former properties had also been informally owned and were not recorded in legal contracts. In some cases, more than one family were residing in one home. Many families also lost their ownership documents due to the war.