A new report titled “Housing Complexes in North-Western Syria,” published by the Assistance Coordination Unit (ACU), surveys the growing number of housing complexes in Northwest Syria, namely in the Idlib and Aleppo governorates.
Since the start of the decade-long conflict, many internally displaced persons (IDP) have sought to improve their situation by converting their tents into cement rooms, while some humanitarian organisations and donors have built several housing complexes. In both cases, these complexes have turned into new cities and towns.
The number of individuals living in the housing complexes covered by the ACU’s study is 171,407, constituting 32,062 families, including 141,939 individuals in the Idlib governorate and 29,525 in the Aleppo governorate. Of the residential population, 54 percent (76 complexes) of the housing complexes were all IDPs.
In February 2022, the number of IDPs in the camps of Northwest Syria reached 1,705,299, constituting 321,840 displaced households. Of the total, only about 10 percent of the camp residents have been transferred to decent housing.
The ACU’s recent report seeks to clarify the nature of these complexes in terms of construction, location and services, legal agreements. The following is a summary of the report.
The ACU defines housing complexes as new concrete buildings that have emerged in displacement sites or on the outskirts of cities and towns in both an organised and unorganised fashion. The study was limited to complexes in which the number of cement houses exceeds forty.
According to the report, 117 new housing complexes exist in Northwest Syria, with 79 percent (93 complexes) in the Idlib governorate and 21 percent (24 complexes) in the Aleppo governorate. The ACU’s findings show that 67 percent (78 complexes) of the housing complexes were planned before their establishment (with construction plans), while 33 percent (39 complexes) weren’t planned before construction, making them random buildings.
The housing complexes differ drastically in size. The study found that the number of buildings within 35 percent (41 complexes) of the housing complexes does not exceed more than 107 buildings. Meanwhile, 25 percent (29 complexes) have 108 to 207 buildings; 14 percent (16 complexes) have 208-307 buildings; and 9 percent (10 complexes) have between 308-407 buildings. The majority have only one-storey buildings (94 percent or 97 complexes) and two-room houses (61 percent or 52 complexes).
Housing complexes have been financed in a number of ways, either at the expense of the residents, through donations, or by contractors.
The ACU states that 30 percent (35 complexes) of the housing complexes were built at the residents’ own expense; according to the report, these complexes were likely camps that residents converted into rooms or cement houses. Meanwhile, international organisations established 21 percent (31 complexes), donation funds established 9 percent (11 complexes), and contractors established 7 percent (8 complexes).
Location and services
As per the report, 46 percent (54 complexes) of the housing complexes were public lands owned by the government before the housing complexes were established on them; 42 percent (49 complexes) on private agricultural lands; 7 percent (8 complexes) on agricultural lands owned by the government; and 4 percent (5 complexes) on forested and tree-planted lands not owned by anybody.
The location of housing complexes largely determines the job opportunities and services available to residents.
Out of the 117 complexes, 99 complexes are more than 1 km away from the nearest city or town and 79 percent (92 complexes) are located far from the main roads, making it difficult for service vehicles to reach residents, such as water tankers, water transport vehicles, ambulances when patients need urgent aid, and civil defence during disasters.
Meanwhile, 9 percent (14 complexes) of the complexes do not have any roads; 8 percent (12 complexes) have dirt roads; and 51 percent (80 complexes) were only paved with gravel.
The ACU also states that 48 percent (41 complexes) of the housing complexes have regular networks for drinking water and water for daily usage, compared with 59 percent (69 complexes) that don not have any water networks and depend on tank water.
According to the report, 74 percent (87 complexes) of the housing complexes have sewage systems, while 26 percent (30 complexes) depend on irregular cesspits for sewage disposal. These cesspits are not equipped with layers of stones and sand to filter wastewater before reaching groundwater, making wastewater a threat to groundwater and soil within these complexes.
Finally, nearly 51 percent (60 complexes) of the housing complexes do not have schools or informal education centres. In contrast, schools are available in 46 percent (54 complexes) of the housing complexes. Informal education centres are available in 3 housing complexes.
The report showed that only 11 percent (13 complexes) of the housing complexes do not have any authority responsible for managing the complex. In 38 percent (45 complexes) of the housing complexes, a civilian administration was appointed by a specific entity. Meanwhile, 21 percent (25 complexes) of the housing complexes are run by a civilian administration elected by the population; 15 percent (17 complexes) by local humanitarian organisations, and 7 percent (8 complexes) by the local councils responsible for managing the complex’s area. International humanitarian organisations run only 6 percent (7 complexes) of the housing complexes.
In 45 percent (51 complexes) of the housing complexes, the residents do not have any residence status documents. In 16 percent (18 complexes), the residents have ownership papers (sale and purchase contracts) registered with the local authorities. As per the report, these houses are often found in the complexes established by the contractors. In complexes established by the international or local humanitarian organisations, the residents have a paper from the organisation proving that the dwelling has been handed over to them temporarily or permanently.
The housing complexes were handed over according to varying mechanisms.
In the case of 34 percent (43 complexes) of housing complexes, residents were required to request a document from the local council or any other official body proving compliance with some criteria, e.g. that the beneficiary family residing in the complex is displaced, one of the family members has a disability, or one of its members has died during the war. Meanwhile, 33 percent (42 complexes) were required to pledge not to sell the apartment. This pledge includes a condition requiring the beneficiary family to hand over the apartment to another displaced family or to the local council or local authorities, which will supervise the transfer process to another family that meets certain criteria. Only 17 percent (22 complexes) were not required to provide documents.
Finally, it was also found that the residents of 87 percent (102 complexes) of the housing complexes live in the complexes for free, while 13 percent (15 complexes) of the housing complexes are rentals.