Plans for Maarouneh Housing Suburb Announced

The General Housing Establishment (GHE), which is affiliated with the Ministry of Public Works and Housing, announced last week that it had released the zoning plans for a new residential suburb development called "The Green City" in the Maarouneh area outside Damascus. Those who may be impacted by the construction project have one month to submit objections.

The project will be built about 16 kilometres from Damascus over an area of 600 hectares. The spot is just south of the Christian village of Maarouneh in the eastern Qalamoun mountain range, which belongs administratively to the Tal district of Damascus Countryside governorate. Bordering the construction zone to the south is the M5 Damascus-Aleppo Highway, and to the east is the Assad Suburb area of Harasta.

Most of the land slated for the project was formerly communal property owned by the families of Tal and Maarouneh since 1943. The land was confiscated officially in 2014.

According to the zoning plans for the new suburb, there will be 25,000 apartments built to accommodate 125,000 residents. Planners will also construct markets, schools, and health centres, as well as set aside areas designated for investment and tourism projects.

The Maarouneh project was launched in 2011 as part of a government housing programme to construct thousands of housing units in all governorates. The programme is just one of four that the government has launched in governorates since 2002, under the banner of social housing: youth housing, housing for workers, saving funds for housing, and government housing. All four programs were meant to be completed by the end of 2024.

The dissolved General Union for Housing Cooperatives (GUHC) had proposed to give the project to housing cooperatives, but the GHE rejected the idea because it preferred to fund the project from its own resources, according to statements made in 2018 by the GHE director.

The Maarouneh housing programme did not see many applicants, as its launch "coincided with the outbreak of the Syrian crisis," according to official statements. Due to the lower number of subscriptions, the Ministry of Works and Public Housing issued Decree No. 407 in 2019 to add the project to the saving funds for housingprogramme.

The government housing and the saving funds for housing programmesdiffer in the manner of subscription and financial payments, and in the allocation of housing. The key difference is that in the housing savings program, applicants do not subscribe to housing within a specified area. Rather, they are provided with housing units within their governorate. This contrasts with the situation with the planned suburb in Maarouneh, where housing is determined in advance. No official statements have been released to clarify this matter or explain what it may entail.

The director of social housing and savings, in charge of the four programmes at the GHE, said in late 2019 that in order to subscribe for housing in the project, applicants must pay an insurance fee of SYP 500,000, as well as a cash down payment of SYP 1.8 million. This is in addition to monthly payments of SYP 20,000, until the subscriber has paid the full required sum.

In March 2020, the GHE announced that it had finished constructing 40 percent of the main roads for the Maarouneh project. It sent a warning to the Military Housing Establishment, which had been contracted since 2013 to draw up detailed studies, to speed up its work or risk losing the contract.