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cost of housing is \'number one problem\' in kurdistan

Qassim Khidhir Hamad
A survey conducted by the Kurdistan Institution for Political Issues (KIPI), released on 13th January, showed that the cost of housing in the region is people’s number one cause for concern.
4.02.2010  |  Erbil

The survey was carried out in the three provinces of the Kurdistan region, Erbil, Sulaimaniyah and Duhok. 24 percent said housing is their main problem, with similar but smaller numbers focusing on the inflating cost of goods and services, poor electricity supplies and unemployment.

Compared to the average salaries of residents in Kurdistan, housing is heavily overpriced. There is a lack of small, affordable residential units for young people. There is a need for planned developments of different sizes and price ranges that are accessible for people with different income levels.

Jamal Muhammad, 27, is a primary school teacher, who rents a house with his wife.

"If the government does not find a solution,” he complains, “I will never be able to have my own house or apartment."

Muhammad and his wife, also a primary school teacher, each earn 400,000 Dinars (about US$320) per month.

"We pay 300,000 Dinars monthly to rent the house and we spend 400,000 Dinars every month on food and other daily necessities. So we can only save 100,000 Dinars a month. According to our calculations, that means we will never be able to have our own house.”

During the last Kurdistan Region parliamentary and presidential elections campaign, the housing problem was one of the main subjects candidates debated. The housing crisis is prompting many young people not to get married and the stresses and strains are also pushing more married couples to divorce.

The Directorate of Nationality and Civil Status in Sulaimaniyah city said that many issues that young couples face are pushing the divorce rate up. High house prices, a lack of jobs and even the cost of marriage ceremonies are turning people off marriage.

"The marriages registered at the directorate in 2009 were 13,535, while divorces were 1,027 cases, which is a lot," stated the directorate.

It added that the number of marriages is dropping in the Kurdistan Region.

Ibrahim Khalid, runs a real-estate business in Erbil city. He said there are two reasons for a constant increase in land and house price. Firstly, there is a high demand in the region for land and housing, both from individuals and businesses.

The other reason for increased house prices, Khalid believes, is the changing price of the region’s oil.

"Whenever there is news that the Iraqi government will send more oil to international markets, the prices automatically increase in Kurdistan," says Khalid, adding, "The real estate business is one of the best businesses here."

In Erbil, the price of a regular house in a normal, middle-class areas is about US$70,000. Compared to other countries in the Middle East such as Lebanon and Jordan, the prices of houses and land in Kurdistan are much cheaper but within Iraq it is high.

In this years' draft budget law, however, the Kurdistan Regional Government has allocated 300 million dollars to finance housing projects aimed at helping low-income residents who don't have land or houses.

Those involved in the plan believe it is crucial to solving the housing problem.

"The price of these houses and apartments will be no more than 48 million Dinars (US$ 40,000). For houses, the government promises to pay 10% of the cost and for apartments, they promise 15% of the cost. Low-income residents will pay the rest of the money over ten years," explained Nawroz Mawlood, the manager of the Kurdistan Investment Board. “In the countryside,” she continued, “The government will pay 20 percent of the cost.”

Private companies will build the houses and apartments according to agreements with the government, much to the delight of Muhammad, the schoolteacher, who is very happy about the government’s plan.

"I think it will be my only chance to own my own house," he said.

(Photo by Qassim Khidir Hamad / Niqash.org)