Recent weeks have seen government housing projects announced as part of the long-term third phase of the National Action Plan to address the earthquake aftermath (dubbed “People First”), which the Council of Ministers declared on February 15 and approved a month later.
In addition to providing accommodation for earthquake survivors, these projects aim to rezone and rebuild some informal settlements in east Aleppo, including Al-Maasrania suburb.
Suhail Abdul Latif, the Minister of Public Works and Housing, inspected progress on government housing for eligible earthquake victims on June 3. A week later, Prime Minister Hussein Arnous was briefed on the project, which consists of four buildings comprising 120 flats, each ranging in size from 65 to 90 square metres, with a total floor area of 10,000 square metres, at a total estimated cost of SYP 18.6 billion. According to official announcements last June, the project is about 28 percent completed. The Military Construction Implementation Establishment, a part of the Ministry of Defence, is carrying it out.
A source in the Aleppo City Council told The Syria Report that the government would build the housing project for the earthquake victims on the ruins of unlicensed buildings partially or entirely damaged in combat. The buildings, located near Sayyida Zeinab Street and the Paint Factory in Al-Maasrania, had been previously demolished by the City Council in March and April 2021. At the time, the City Council carried out a demolition campaign targeting 50 buildings, most of whose owners had been forcibly displaced to opposition-held areas in northwestern Syria.
However, the City council did not announce at the time about these demolitions, which were part of a beautification plan to upgrade roads, sanitation and water networks in the suburb. The project involved demolishing unlicensed buildings partially or entirely damaged in combat when the opposition-controlled east Aleppo between 2012 and 2016. The City Council refused to grant renovation permits for the partially damaged buildings because they were in areas of mass unlicensed construction.
It remains unclear whether the earthquake victims’ housing project will be built on the same parcel of the land previously seized in Al-Maasrania for the benefit of the Ministry of Public Works and Housing, where a youth housing project has been ongoing since 2002.
Al-Maasrania is located on the Aleppo-Raqqa highway near Aleppo International Airport. Initially, the suburb consisted of agricultural lands where construction was prohibited, and which were owned by the Sabouni, Benqisli, and Jabli families from Aleppo. However, informal settlements began to appear in the area in 1971, inhabited mainly by people who migrated to Aleppo city from rural areas. Many were employees in government institutions, ministries, police departments and the military. Since the 1970s, these newcomers would buy small plots of land and build unlicensed homes. It became customary for buyers to file lawsuits against the sellers to verify the sales, through which they obtain a court ruling confirming the transaction – the only document proving their ownership of the land. Meanwhile, the Directorate of Cadastral Affairs refused to document such sales, rejecting the recognition of its de facto subdivision and the existence of construction on it.
In 1982, the state confiscated agricultural lands in Al-Maasrania close to Aleppo International Airport, including 36 properties that it seized only partially. Nevertheless, the process of unlicensed construction on the partially seized plots continued. These properties extended from the Scientific Research facility to the east, formerly known as the Paint Factory neighbourhood, to the Sayyida Zeinab Mosque neighbourhood to the south and to the west in the Shulba neighbourhood. The City Council considered the entire Al-Maasrania neighbourhood an area of collective unlicensed construction. In 2002, ownership of the 36 partially seized plots was transferred to the General Housing Establishment, which launched a youth housing project to build 4,000 residential flats on a 68-hectare area. Of these flats, 215 were allocated as paid alternative housing for those who had been notified that their homes would be demolished in the project zone.
Then in 2007, the Aleppo City Council demolished 50 unlicensed houses in the youth housing project area. Law enforcement surrounded the area, assaulting those who tried to halt the demolition of their homes. The City Council promised that evicted residents would be given priority in subscribing to the paid alternative housing in the project area. However, by 2010, only a small portion of the entire project had been completed, much like all social housing projects in Syria.
Al-Maasrania became a dangerous area after 2012 due to its proximity to the airport. It was subject to air strikes by the regime until 2016, resulting in widespread devastation. In December 2016, all residents were displaced outside of Aleppo city. Then, on December 20, 2020, the General Housing Establishment cancelled the subscriptions of those who had not paid their required instalments in more than a year, essentially removing forcibly displaced people.