Housing Cooperative Members at Risk of Losing Properties After General Union Dissolved

One year on from the dissolution of the General Union of Housing Cooperative, the Ministry of Public Works and Housing is continuing to dissolve more housing cooperatives. Members of dissolved cooperatives may be at risk of losing opportunities to obtain housing. It is not yet clear how much real estate the ministry has seized from the hands of the union and its branches in various governorates, as well as from local housing cooperatives.

Earlier this month, Minister of Public Works and Housing Suheil AbdulLatif threatened to dissolve housing cooperative associations that do not have current construction projects, or to merge them with other cooperatives. The ministry’s director of housing cooperatives meanwhile revealed that hundreds of such cooperative associations had been dissolved.

However, according to official statements released by the director earlier this month, there are still 2,500 housing cooperatives registered with the Ministry of Public Works and Housing. The director warned that  cooperative associations that had yet to purchase real estate or establish their main office, or those that had less than 100 members, would be immediately dissolved, invoking Legislative Decree No. 99 for 2011, which regulates the work of housing cooperatives.

The ministry says that it is reorganising housing cooperatives through such measures. In recent official statements, it said that it had worked to address the status of 219 housing cooperatives, while 368 such cooperative associations had already been disbanded. The ministry justified such measures by saying that the cooperatives had obtained land and had not yet begun constructing housing units, or that they had begun construction but did not finish. Cooperatives were also included if they were established decades ago and had yet to acquire land or to gather funds from their members.

Since the start of 2020, the Official Gazette has included announcements of dissolution, liquidation, and mergers of housing cooperatives in accordance with decrees from the Minister of Public Works and Housing. To liquidate a housing cooperative, the minister appoints a committee that consists of a president, an inspector, and other members. A reading of the Official Gazette makes it clear that, in every governorate, the same names are repeated as members of the liquidation committees.

The ongoing liquidations and mergers come after Legislative Decree No. 37 of 2019 dissolved the General Union for Housing Cooperative (GUHC), 58 years after the union was established. Decree No. 37 transferred the duties and functions of the union and its properties, both movable and immovable, to the Ministry of Public Works and Housing. The measure also dissolved housing cooperative unions in governorates.

In an official memorandum issued in late 2019, the GUHC described draft Decree No. 37 as unconstitutional, as the measure included the confiscation of funds owned by cooperatives, as well as transfer of these funds to the Ministry of Public Works and Housing. The union backed up its claim with Article 15 of the Syrian constitution, which prevents public confiscation of funds, and preserves both privately and collectively owned property.

Media reports published since the passage of Decree No. 37 painted a picture of authorities seizing non-governmental funds and properties and warned about increased government control over civil society organisations. Financial deposits owned by the General Union for Housing Cooperatives are estimated to be around SYP 80 billion, which were deposited with the Real Estate Bank free of interest. These deposits have reportedly come under the custody of the Ministry of Public Works and Housing.

The General Union for Housing Cooperatives was established in 1961, while its organisational structure just prior to dissolution was in accordance with the Housing Cooperative Societies Law No. 13 of 1981. After the law passed, the union’s mandate expanded, and it established regional branches in governorates across Syria that included local housing cooperatives. The union’s duties centred around proposing a general policy for housing cooperatives and participating in preparing laws and regulations for the housing cooperatives sector, as well as providing statistics and data related to this sector. The union also managed the Associations Lending Fund and the Cooperative Social Security Fund.

According to government statements, authorities decided to dissolve the union in order to prevent the duplication of having two housing administrations in each governorate: namely, the General Union and the Ministry of Public Works and Housing. The ministry has said that Decree No. 37 gives it a supervisory role over housing cooperatives, while those who make decisions are the board of beneficiaries and the public bodies in cooperatives that choose their boards of directors.

Over the past several decades, cooperatives have contributed to securing tens of thousands of housing units for their affiliates, with large facilities and a low cost. According to the Director of Housing Cooperatives in the Ministry of Public Works and Housing, there are 1,074,544 cooperative members.