Development & Education

Baghdad's housing crisis

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This story was originally covered by PRI's The World. For more, listen to the audio above.

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Baghdad's Mayor, Salah Abdilrazaq, believes the housing needs in his city are dire. Construction across the city ground to a virtual halt in 2003. Since then many Iraqis have moved to the capital, fleeing violence in other parts of the country. "Now we need about one million units," Abdilrazaq told PRI's The World, "because we haven't any housing project from the government from 1982, so this crisis has been accumulated for more than two decades."

Sadr City, for example, is just eight square miles, but home to nearly 3 million people. It's one of Baghdad's most densely populated neighborhoods. There, The World spoke with Halda Leaji, a 24-year-old mother of seven. Leaji, her husband and five of their children sleep in a space barely larger than a typical American living room. At night she takes down the foam sleeping mats from on top of the dresser and arranges them on the floor. Leaji and her husband sleep lengthwise and her children sleep crosswise. Her family lives alongside four others on a plot of land originally meant to house just a single family. There are 31 people in all, and they share a single bathroom.

The population density in places like Sadr city could be solved in one of two ways, according to Abdilrazaq: Luring residents to the outskirts of Baghdad with roomy low-cost housing, or moving people temporarily while their homes demolished and then rebuilt. He acknowledges that neither option is ideal. And of course there needs to be investors.

Some investors are eager to tap into Baghdad's housing deficit, according to Abdullaj Al-Bander, an advisor to the Iraqi government's National Investment Commission, but so far not a single company has broken ground on a new project. Al-Bander explains that investors have been wary because of Iraq's ambiguous land ownership laws. But he says that will change. His commission pushed a new law through parliament giving investors full land ownership rights.

Security could also be deterring new foreign investment. Baghdad mayor Abdilrazaq says he's assigned some of his own security forces to protect foreign investors. He told The World, "This is not my task, but I want to support them and to go further for these projects."

Even if property laws are reformed, even if there's security, there's still a question of whether people would move into new developments. Most experts agree that any solution to Baghdad's housing crisis is far off.

PRI's "The World" is a one-hour, weekday radio news magazine offering a mix of news, features, interviews, and music from around the globe. "The World" is a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston. More "The World."

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