On the outskirts of the eastern, northern, and southern districts of Aleppo city, 22 informal settlements have emerged, founded and inhabited by impoverished migrants from rural areas. These include Tal Al-Zarazir, Ansari, Harat Al-Shahadin, Salaheddin, Fardous, Karam Al-Daadaa, Haydariya, Sheikh Faris, Sheikh Khader and Sheikh Said. Three large informal settlements have expanded around villages outside Aleppo city: Nairab, Handarat, and Ansari. These were gradually incorporated into the city’s general zoning plan at different stages.
The expansion areas west of the city were zoned according to urban expansion laws that limited residential expansion to unregulated and undivided areas within the city’s general zoning plan. However, there are districts in western Aleppo that feature widespread unlicensed construction. These fall within the city’s administrative boundaries and zoning plan. The most notable of these are the districts of Rashidin and Kaliria. However, nobody refers to them as unlicensed construction areas because today, they are high-end residential communities inhabited by the middle class and do not suffer from a lack of services. Also, there are two large, old informal settlements west of Aleppo city and outside its zoning plan: Khan Al-Asal and Kafr Dael.
All the above-mentioned informal settlements were included in the amendment issued in 1991 to the approved zoning plan for Aleppo City. This amendment gave the homes there the status of two-storey Arab-style housing, which is a relatively new urban category specific to these areas. Under this designation, pre-existing buildings consisting of two storeys were licensed, which is the case for the majority of buildings in these areas, provided that they have at least 25 percent of the construction plot area without a ceiling, and that the width of the street onto which the building faces is at least five metres. The goal of that 1991 amendment was to regulate these areas and control unlicensed construction. However, the licensing for this new urban housing category was, in practice, only applied to properties belonging to people who had been given demolition notices in the area northwest of the Hanano district. And in 2012, with the issuance of the new zoning plan for Aleppo, the “Arab-style housing” category was removed from the building code system.
In 2000, the government issued Urban Expansion Law No. 26, amending Urban Expansion Law No. 60 of 1979, meant to solve the informal settlements in Aleppo. Article 7 of Law No. 26 identified several methods for dealing with these areas:
- The first method was to apply the provisions of City Division and Urban Planning Law No. 9 of 1974, under its first and second sections, either through zoning or division. Typically, a local administrative unit undertakes the zoning process in unoccupied or sparsely populated areas, as the process is lengthy and complicated. Established informal settlements are subjected to division, allowing property owners to subdivide their properties. In both instances, the administrative unit is allotted a third of the area free of charge to construct roads, squares, public buildings and other facilities.
- The second method involved the local administrative unit expropriating the necessary lands within informal settlements to create roads, squares, parks, public buildings and residential subdivisions per the Expropriation Law No. 20 of 1983. This method significantly burdens administrative unit councils due to compensation costs, and they lose the free third they could have gained through division or planning. Ultimately, only the main axes that will be expanded through this method will change.
- Finally, the third method considered informal settlements as urban expansion areas, applying the second article of Urban Expansion Law No. 26 of 2000. This meant the complete takeover of the settlement, followed by preparing a detailed zoning plan after deducting the free one-third of its area. After estimating their value, the resulting residential divisions are dealt with, with 60 percent sold at cost to public entities and housing cooperatives, and 40 percent to property owners in the area. However, this solution cannot be applied to informal settlements already densely packed with buildings.
In 2004, the Aleppo City Council identified several informal settlements where it could apply Law No. 26 using the third method mentioned above. These included Al-Haidariya, where demolition notices had been issued, an area of mass unlicensed construction entirely confiscated for the benefit of the City Council. Also included were Jabal Badro and Sheikh Najjar. The City Council began preparing detailed zoning plans for these areas and tasked the engineering unit at the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Aleppo to propose planning solutions for other informal areas like Tal Zarazir, Al-Ansari, and the remaining informal settlements in 2005. However, none of the above methods were actually implemented in addressing Aleppo’s informal housing.