On July 5, the Syrian Salvation Government’s (SSG) Ministry of Local Administration and Services announced that it would grant a one-month time period (July 8-August 7, 2023) for the youth housing project applicants in Idlib to confirm their subscriptions to receive homes in the project.
This confirmation process is a new procedure and appears to be directed toward identifying applicants who are able and interested in resuming paying the instalments they owe for homes in the youth housing project, which has been suspended for years.
The July 8-August 7 confirmation period is the second period granted in less than two months and targets applicants who did not confirm their subscriptions during the two-week deadline ending on July 5. Those wishing to verify their subscriptions must go in person to present their subscription ledger and any receipts for previous payments in addition to their ID.
Youth housing is one type of social housing programmes implemented by public authorities across Syria. The programmes were suspended in areas outside regime control in 2011. In the Idlib governorate, the Ministry of Public Works and Housing had planned to construct youth housing north of Idlib city, along the Idlib-Maaret Misrin highway. Subscriptions for this project opened in 2005, with 1,485 people signing up. The project was divided into two phases: the first was meant to be completed in 2011, and the second in 2012.
The minister allocated 26 hectares of agricultural land for the project and began pavement and levelling work by removing 2,880 olive trees from the construction site. Then in 2009, the ministry contracted with the Idlib governorate branch of the Military Housing Establishment (MHE) to build 600 housing units for the project’s first phase. However, like other social housing projects, the Idlib project saw setbacks and poor implementation in the lead-up to 2011, and the completion rate was below 20 percent in the first phase. According to official statements, the second phase’s completion rate was just five percent. Meanwhile, there are many discrepancies in the government’s statistics on the number of applicants, the completed housing units and units still under construction before 2011.
Then in 2012, opposition forces seized control of the Idlib governorate. Authority over the area changed hands until the Islamist group Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham formed in 2017, and its SSG governing body took control. From 2012-2017, the youth housing project site sat neglected, and construction work was at a standstill.
The SSG’s Directorate of Housing and Reconstruction, under the Ministry of Local Administration and Services, formed several technical and legal committees and subdivided 192 apartments in the youth housing project for applicants. Real estate subdivision means dividing a property through a technical transaction carried out by the Directorate of Cadastral Affairs and per plans approved by the local administrative unit. These apartments were registered under their owners’ names in the Idlib governorate’s Department of Cadastral Affairs, which granted them title deeds. Notably, these subdivided apartments are still not yet fully constructed. The Syria Report could not independently verify the criteria the Directorate of Housing used to allocate and subdivide these properties or if their owners had finished paying them.
Then in 2019, the SSG housed 180 displaced families from East Ghouta in the youth housing apartments after an NGO, Syria Relief, conducted urgent rehabilitation work on the homes. Syria Relief was founded in the UK in 2011 and implements long-term development and livelihood projects. But nine months later, the SSG notified the East Ghouta families that they needed to vacate the apartments, as youth housing applicants were demanding they receive their rights to the homes. The SSG then moved the East Ghouta families to its housing projects in Jabal Kalli, Mashhad Rouhin and Al-Kamouna north of Idlib city, which had been built for them by various NGOs. However, some live informally in unfinished apartments within the Idlib youth housing project.
Pressure has grown for housing in Idlib due to numerous large waves of forced displacement from the regime-held territory to the governorate. In 2019, the SSG began considering completing the youth housing project but has yet to carry out any new construction work. Instead, the SSG has done only administrative work, such as re-organising transactions by old applicants, to prepare for returning to work on the project, the Director of SSG’s Director of Housing and Reconstruction AbdelMonaem Al-Hout, told The Syria Report.
Al-Hout explained that the youth housing applicants to whom the SSG granted deadlines to confirm their subscriptions are the same applicants who signed up under the General Housing Establishment (GHE) in 2005 and still reside in Idlib. They also have not completed paying their instalments on the housing due post-2011. Since the directorate’s first announcement in June, it has reviewed 583 applicants’ applications.
However, there is an issue with some applicants living outside of SSG-controlled territory, whether in regime areas or outside Syria. As the SSG stipulated in its announcement, they cannot visit in person to confirm their subscription. According to sources from the Directorate of Housing and Reconstruction, old applicants who haven’t confirmed their subscriptions will be considered to have forfeited their subscription rights. However, their rights to their previous payments as recorded in the subscription ledgers and receipts will be preserved. Apartments for which nobody has applied to confirm their subscriptions will be offered up for new applicants to replace the “forfeiters.”
The housing directorate has not specified the value for the new payment instalments owed for the housing. However, sources in the directorate told The Syria Report they would be close to the value of the old instalments. They will also consider the costs and timeline for completing the project. This claim, however, does not appear realistic amid recent currency devaluation, as the subscription fee in 2005 was SYP 70,000, and the monthly instalments were SYP 2,500.
In any case, the Directorate of Housing and Reconstruction has no clear plan to finish work on the youth housing project, though is amending the old engineering plans as they no longer correspond with new urban development and expansion in the city. Once the new plans are approved, then construction tenders will be announced, and the directorate will supervise implementation. According to Hout, the project will receive special funding from the directorate, which the applicants’ payments will finance. This means that, for the time being, work is currently focused only on confirming the rights of applicants and collecting their payments to build a budget for completing the housing project.