The Urban Impact: Housing
An affordable housing crisis?
Most Jordanians believe Irbid is experiencing an affordable housing crisis, believe increases in rental costs is because of Syrians, and that young Jordanians are having more trouble getting married because they can’t get a house, a cultural prerequisite to marriage (Public poll, Based Al Athamneh & Al Momani, 2016). Some of these newlyweds are pushed to the peripheries of the city where rental costs are lower: we met with one of these recently-married Jordanian couples who lived with their three young children in a bare apartment above a car repair garage on the outskirts of the city.
Jordanian realtors describe a 300% increase in apartment rental demand since 2010, but Syrians only comprised 10% of the housing market (Alafi & Alfawaeer, 2014), suggesting the changes in rental prices have as much or more to do with domestic urbanization and development as it does with the arrivals of refugees.
Exact rental price data over time is not available, but landlords we spoke with described overall demand for housing increased only slightly with the large numbers of refugee arrivals to Irbid in 2012-2014. Further, because many Syrians have since returned to Dara’a, traveled to Europe, or migrated elsewhere, rental prices have slightly declined from their 2014 peak.
From our interviews, Syrians consistently list cost of rent as their largest single monthly expense. Some have adapted by living in Mafraq on weekends, while staying with friends in Irbid during the week while they work twelve-hour days. The Syrians I [Charles] spoke with hadn’t faced discrimination renting apartments, but some said they had heard rumors that landlords avoid renting to Syrians because of the belief that they “ruin the buildings.” The landlords I [Charles] spoke with shook off questions about prejudice as nonsense—they would rent to anyone who could pay and know that the cash stipends INGOs give Syrians make them dependable at meeting monthly rents, a finding supported by Jordanian survey (Ibid).
Increases in rental costs do not seem to come from a spike in demand, but from inflation from the infusion of cash: refugees have access to cash from having sold off properties in Syria, from relatives living abroad, and from monthly INGO cash assistance (Ibid). Exploitative landlords know this and rent apartments to Syrians at triple their fair market value. Jordanians then find themselves outbid.
While additional research is needed, it is possible that without international cash assistance inflating rental costs, prices could decline for both refugees and low-income Jordanians. Another solution to the affordable housing “crisis” could be increasing the housing stock through construction. Construction is cheap, and Syrians regularly work in construction alongside other migrant workers. The growth rate of residences (apartments and houses) in Irbid has in fact risen, from 800 units in 2010 to 1700 units in 2013 (Ibid), but this nowhere near fast enough to meet the demands of population growth from the dual influxes of international migration and urbanization.