The General Housing Establishment (GHE), affiliated with the Ministry of Public Works and Housing, announced in Letter No. 11838/6 dated December 3, 2023, that applicants to Youth and Labour housing programmes must continue to pay their instalments exclusively through the national electronic payment system starting from early 2024. The GHE also invited applicants to collect their newly issued electronic cards by the end of 2023. The GHE considered its Letter No. 11838/6 a sufficient personal notification to all applicants.
However, upon visiting the GHE offices, many applicants were surprised to find no cards issued in their names. They were informed of their exclusion from the payment lists on the pretext of previous violations that forfeited their project rights. According to unofficial sources speaking to local media, those applicants were excluded from social housing programs and their subscriptions cancelled due to their failure to make regular payments for their monthly instalments for periods exceeding 240 consecutive days (eight months) retroactively before 2016. According to local media, this affected about 5,000 applicants in Youth housing projects across regions under the regime’s control and hundreds of applicants in Labour housing projects.
The Ministry of Housing, through its construction companies such as the GHE, implements social housing programmes aimed at providing low or medium-cost housing and selling it to applicants via a streamlined process. The ministry bases this process on Legislative Decree No. 26 of 2015 and its executive instructions issued by Decision No. 8 of 2016, which regulate the operations of the GHE. This law is the latest amendment related to the operations of the GHE, which was established in 1961.
The general director of the GHE, Rama Daher, justified these actions in comments to the pro-government website Syria Home News in January 2024. She stated that Law No. 26 of 2015 and its executive instructions stipulate that a delay in instalment payments for a consecutive period of 240 days results in the loss of the applicant’s right to the subscription, while a delay for a non-consecutive period of 240 days leads to the loss of their turn and priority.
Indeed, Ministry of Housing Decree No. 6375 of 2022 stipulated an amendment to the operations of the GHE as per Law No. 26 of 2015. In case of delay in paying monthly instalments for a continuous period of 240 days, the subscription is deemed automatically cancelled without the need to warn or notify the applicant. Their payments are refunded after deducting administrative expenses of 10 percent of the total payments.
However, the provisions of Law No. 26 of 2015 apply to projects announced by the GHE after the issuance of its executive instructions in 2016, while projects subscribed to before that remain subject to previous laws and regulations. These previous regulations do not mention the possibility of cancelling the subscription in case of payment delay but only impose fines and additional fees. This includes most Youth housing projects that were announced and whose subscriptions began in 2002. They were supposed to be completed by 2012 but mostly remain unfinished.
Another problem arose from the retroactive cancellation of subscriptions. Some people whose subscriptions were cancelled had previously settled their financial situations and paid their instalments for more than eight consecutive months based on offers made by the GHE.
The GHE has issued at least one such announcement annually since 2011, the last being in April 2023. During that period, the GHE accepted instalment payments from those who had delayed payment for more than eight consecutive months and granted them financial clearance. This clearance is a required document for trading subscription ledgers, a process similar to a stock exchange for social housing, most of which are still unfinished projects. The GHE’s cancellation of subscriptions for this group, who paid their overdue instalments, settled their situations and received financial clearance, means they have been trading cancelled subscription ledgers in the past period, which will cause harm to the buyers of those ledgers.
Ms Daher justified this by the lack of a previous automated link between the data of the Real Estate Bank, where instalments are paid, and the data of the GHE regarding applicants who are late on their payments. Therefore, it was not easy to monitor the process of instalment collection at the Real Estate Bank and match it with the GHE’s data to identify those who were late. She added that in 2023, the GHE completed its digital transformation and electronic payment system, making the data automated and verified for all applicants. Based on the automated database, the subscriptions were cancelled for those who had exceeded a continuous eight-month payment hiatus.