The mass displacement of people from conflict zones to safe cities has restricted the housing supply and fueled rent hikes
Rising rents are compounding Yemenis’ suffering
A dramatic rise in housing costs in big cities across Yemen that was spawned by an influx of conflict migrants fleeing rural areas is contributing to a migration in the opposite direction as people struggle to make rent.
Ibrahim Mohammed, a private school teacher who lives in a popular neighborhood in Sana’a, said it’s getting increasingly difficult to find an apartment that matches your income. After getting married six years ago, Mohammed lived in a modest apartment with two rooms, a bathroom and a kitchen for 23,000 riyals per month not including water and electricity.
When his lease expired, amid a steady influx of displaced people during the war, the owner of the house doubled the rent, which amounted to slightly more than his salary each month. “I ended up leaving,” Mohammed said.
The mass displacement of people from conflict zones to safe cities has restricted the supply of apartments and houses in safe cities, which has contributed significantly to an increase in rental rates.
The United Nations estimates that nearly five million people have been forced from their homes since 2015. With about 74 percent of displaced families living in rented homes, according to UN estimates, the trend of rising rents is devastating for many.
About 170km east of Sana’a in Marib, one of Yemen’s most stable cities, rental rates have skyrocketed since the city was liberated from Houthis incursions in 2015 and became a magnet for conflict migrants.
Emad Mohammed used to live in a two-room apartment with a separate living room for about 20,000 riyals ($35) per month. He now pays 10 times that much for the same apartment, he said.
Despite the construction of four camps for displaced people in Marib governorate, as well as nearby camps in surrounding governorates, rental rates continue to climb, according to a humanitarian worker there.
Applicants who manage to find a vacancy in Marib face further obstacles, like coming up with six months or more of rent in advance to secure the deal.
In Yemen’s central governorate of Ibb, the situation is not much different. Mohammed
Ahmed has postponed his wedding because of housing concerns. After tracking down a suitable apartment for rent in Ibb City, Ahmed was told that he needed to put down a half a year's worth of rent in addition to providing a letter from a business guaranteeing payment in the event his funds dried up.
Government employees often find themselves blacklisted in the real estate market. Mohammed Abdullah, a public school teacher in Sana’a with seven children, said that the owners of one property refused to rent it to him based on his profession. “How you will pay me at the end of the month without a salary?” Abdullah recalled the landlord asking him. In order to live in his building, he told Abdullah, you either have to work for an NGO or have family abroad who can make your rent payments.
Despite the non-payment of salaries to government employees in several sectors in Houthi-controlled areas, they continue to work because of the threat of arbitrary dismissal and replacement.
“I teach students in the morning to save my job and during the day I work as a carpenter,” Abdullah said in tears. “Despite the difficult conditions, I have survived.”
Although local authorities have banned rents from being raised above certain thresholds, the law remains merely “ink on paper,” according to public sector worker Wasim Al-Sabry.
“Residents of homes and rental shops (who can’t pay rent) are harassed, evicted and sued,” he said.
Many Yemeni families living in large cities have been forced to return to their original homes in rural areas and villages due to the rising rents. Among them is a growing number of government employees in Houthi-controlled areas who have gone without salaries since late 2016.