Despite the fact that the extremist group known as the Islamic State has almost been pushed out of Mosul, life in the northern Iraqi city is far from normal. One of the biggest problems for those who flee fighting in other parts of the city, or who have returned from displacement camps to find their homes destroyed, is housing.
The United Nations says that 862,000 people have been displaced in Mosul. Many of these individuals settled in displacement camps on the outskirts of the city and as they slowly return home, many are choosing to head to the eastern side of the city because it is safer and is returning to normal more quickly.
Most of the provincial and federal government offices have now reopened as have some schools; water and power has also returned to most of the city’s neighbourhoods and markets are open.
Real estate agents have been quick to capitalize on the problem and locals have accused them of being greedy.
And there is another reason for returning to Mosul. Very strict security in both the nearby semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, as well as in other areas controlled by the Iraqi government’s forces, make it difficult for the displaced from Mosul to go anywhere else in Iraq, even if they wanted to leave their former home for good.
Mosul man, Yassin Taha, decided to return to Mosul because life in the camps for the displaced was so miserable. Unable to return to his family’s own home, he stayed at relatives’ homes for several days in the Salam neighbourhood in eastern Mosul. Then he started walking around, trying to find a house that he and his family, whom he had left back in the camp, could rent.
It was nigh on impossible to find anything for a reasonable price, he told NIQASH.
After a week and a half, Taha was desperate enough to set up camp in a house that was still under construction. “Having a roof and walls is better than being in the camp,” he told his family by phone, trying to convince them to return to Mosul.
Local real estate agents have been quick to capitalize on the problem and locals have accused them of being greedy. Rents have basically doubled and some have even tripled. A house that used to be rented for US$100 a month is now rented for at least US$200, if not more.
When NIQASH visited a local real estate broker, Mohammed Samir, in his office in east Mosul, he was on the phone negotiating an apartment rental for a displaced family.
“There is a housing crisis,” he confirmed to NIQASH, after he put down the phone. “Every day I get dozens of people in here looking for shelter of some kind. Our market is subject to supply and demand and rents were high even before the Islamic State group came. Now they are going higher still.”
Making things even worse is the relative poverty of most of the locals at the moment. Those who were earning government salaries have not received any pay for months and private businesses have yet to resume their activities.
The local council has apparently tried to control the situation by calling for lower rents, but it seems that nobody will abide by their guidelines unless they fear some sort of punishment. At the moment there is no way of enforcing this kind of rule.
“We had a big house and it is on the other side of the river,” says Mosul resident, Ahmad Sheet. “We had to flee when fighting started though, and now, even though the IS group was pushed out of our neighbourhood six weeks ago, we haven’t gone back yet because things are far from normal there.”
Sheet says he was lucky enough to find a vacant house on the other side of the city. He enquired about renting it and was shocked when the owner told him it would cost US$400 a month.
“That is a high rent in our city,” Sheet explains. “So instead I have rented a much smaller place for US$150.”
Sheet’s brother’s family is now also in the smaller residence with them. His brother’s family couldn’t find a house and it makes the rent more affordable, even though it’s crowded, he says. Many other Mosul families are taking similar measures, Sheet notes.
Everybody in Mosul hopes that the rental price hikes will be short lived. Once the IS group has been driven out completely it seems likely that many locals, who have little other choice and no money to make repairs, will return to the city’s neighbourhoods and eventually rehabilitate their own housing. That could bring the prices down. In the meantime though, the real estate agents continue to make a profit.