Real estate firms are also to blame, Luaibi adds, noting that some of the big developers have been deliberately slow to build big housing projects which drives the rents up further – this works out to the developers’ and real estate owners’ advantage.
“It’s illegal but there’s no way of holding these companies accountable,” Luaibi says.
One local realtor, Akram Abdul Karim, says that besides a chance to make profits, there has also been a rush on agricultural land around Basra. The increasing business being done in the central city has caused some property owners to sell up at a profit and then move to the cheaper outskirts of the city. Land on the outskirts is also sought after by low income locals.
Additionally, Karim says, the local authorities have increased the land tax on properties in central Basra – which has been translated into higher rental prices by owners.
Meanwhile local authorities say rents are rising so high because a lot of the land in Basra isn’t allocated for residential use. Large parts of the province are allocated for the oil industry and agriculture or are designated historical areas. This is despite the fact that alleged agricultural areas have also been contaminated by salt water or were bulldozed during the years of the Iran-Iraq war.
“About three quarters of Basra’s land isn’t actually residential,” explains Zahra al-Bajari, a senior member of Basra’s provincial council. “A lot of it is unfit for farming or cultivation but it’s still classified as agricultural land. And there are laws that punish anyone who uses agricultural land for residential purposes.”
Local authorities say that to solve this problem they have a number of projects planned, including investing in major residential developments using money from regional development funding.
However those promises may come too late for families like Ahmed Bader’s. For now the chaos in the housing market and profits to be made in Basra’s real estate sector continue to devastate the province.
The result: a new class of wealthy government officials, oil smugglers and contractors is emerging in the Iraqi province that is richest in natural resources.