Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Urban Iranians Protest Inflation, Housing Shortage

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Urban Iranians Protest Inflation, Housing Shortage

Article excerpt

SINCE early April, Iran's economic crisis has caused riots and other disturbances in at least five Iranian cities, including a July 4 confrontation between squatters and revolutionary guards in the industrial city of Tabriz, according to sources contacted in Tehran.

The gravest outburst of violence took place in early June in the eastern city of Mashad where thousands of angry residents went on a rampage, burning buses, wrecking banks and government buildings, and looting government shops. In Tabriz, Mashad, and other Iranian cities, street violence began after city employees evicted squatters and razed houses built without municipal authorities' permission - the result of a desperate need for housing.

Housing shortages have been endemic in Iranian cities for decades, but the crisis over the past few months has reached an unprecedented level. Since 1987 real estate values in midtown Tehran have increased fivefold; apartments now sell for 1 million rials ($690) per square meter.

That means the monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in a middle class neighborhood is 200,000 rials ($138), the equivalent of a month's pay for a government employee. The Tehran daily newspaper Abrar recently ran a vitriolic editorial explaining that a worker would have to save his entire salary for 50 years in order to buy a small, two-bedroom apartment in the center of Tehran.

Western diplomats in the Iranian capital say the shortage of housing inherited from the imperial regime was exacerbated in the early 1980s by the baby boom that followed the 1979 revolution. In the early years of the Islamic regime, the government encouraged couples to have several children. As a result the birth rate reached 4 percent in urban areas and the Iranian population grew from 33.5 million in 1976 to 58.5 million in 1991. Half of that population is under the age of 15. In 1987 the Iranian government reversed itself and began encouraging birth control. Abortion remains illegal.

The combination of an increasing population and a housing shortage has led to frustration among many Iranians, and forced some to squat in empty buildings or build houses illegally. The government has responded by evicting squatters and razing dwellings that violate city codes. …

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