In late August, the General Housing Establishment’s Citizen Services Centre in Damascus added a new service for alternative housing applicants.
The General Housing Establishment (GHE) opened the centre in late 2019 in the Mazzeh area of Damascus to simplify any administrative complications and facilitate certain transactions. The centre provides 25 different services, including some related to the GHE, such as “requests for architectural plans.” It is unclear what this service entails, but it is known to be related to housing units within social and cooperative housing projects implemented by the GHE.
The centre also provides services related to the Directorate of Cadastral Affairs, such as ownership documents, real estate records, survey statements, and other services related to the Real Estate Bank, including loans and payment of some fees and taxes. Finally, the centre offers personal status services for the Ministry of Interior, such as personal record statements, family record statements and other documents.
This particular centre focuses on GHE-related services. There are 13 other citizen service centres in Damascus, of which all are affiliated with the Damascus governorate and offer administrative services on behalf of some public institutions, including issuing construction permits, fixing lease contracts, issuing criminal records and other personal status items.
Alternative housing services
An announcement published in the state-run SANA news agency on August 30 said that the GHE-related Citizen Services Centre would now also provide waiver documents for subscription to alternative housing units.
The GHE is currently supervising the construction of alternative housing projects in Marota City and Basilia City – two zoned real estate areas whose establishment had been stipulated by Decree No. 66 of 2012. Under the decree, alternative housing is accommodates those who owned or occupied a home in either of these two zoned real estate areas and who was evicted from that property due to developments. Beneficiaries of such housing must pay for it, with costs calculated according to construction costs and paid in interest-bearing instalments.
Decree No. 66 clarified that those eligible for alternative housing are people who built their homes on state-owned land and those who built properties on agricultural land in zoned areas. Minister of Housing Decision No. 112 of 2015 also stipulated that these properties must have existed and been occupied before the issuance of Decree No. 66. The occupants must be the owner or renter, and the family breadwinner must reside there as well.
Decree No. 66 also grants people entitled to alternative housing the right to sell it after paying off the value of the housing and any interest accrued. Beneficiaries may also waive their right to apply for alternative housing or give it to others via an application they must submit to the GHE or the Decree No. 66 Implementation Directorate in Damascus. An applicant is someone who is entitled to obtain alternative housing and has received a subscription ledger that details the data on the housing project, the property owner, any instances of sales and purchases and the payment instalments.
Where are there alternative housing projects?
In October 2020, the Damascus governorate offered 5,516 apartments for subscription within the alternative housing project in Marota and Basilia cities. However, the construction of these housing units has not yet been completed. The GHE’s general director told the state-run Al-Baath newspaper in December 2020 that the organisation was committed to completing two alternative housing towers by 2023. However, this has yet to happen.
Under Decree No. 66, alternative housing must be built within four years of issuing a decree. Subsequent amendments in line with Law No. 10 of 2018, which permit establishing one or more zoned real estate areas within an administrative unit’s zoning plans, state that alternative housing should be handed over to beneficiaries within four years since their evictions from their original homes. In the cases of Marota and Basilia, those deadlines expired years ago.
A delegation of residents from Kafr Sousseh and Mazzeh, who include homeowners, occupants and investors in Marota City, met in late August with the Damascus governor and suggested the possibility of exchanging alternative housing for shares within the project. The governor vowed to study their proposal.