By Jubin Katiraie
Forty-one years ago, Islamic Republic founder Ruhollah Khomeini claimed that the ayatollahs’ rule would soon provide homes for impoverished people.
However, the religious government not only broke its promises but also confiscated or destroyed the poor’s sheds. Furthermore, the ayatollahs’ economic mismanagement has dramatically expanded poverty and pushed many citizens into selling their homes and becoming renters.
Nowadays, Iranian media outlets report that Iranian families have even lost their ability to rent residential units, let alone purchasing. They also write about the emergence of new social phenomena like slum-dwelling and residing in holes, on rooftops, in graves and caves, as well as sleeping in cars, under bridges, urban canals, and in carton boxes.
On May 23, Mohammad Reza Mahboubfar, a government-linked expert, acknowledged an odd increase in the homeless’ population, including 7.6 million people around cemeteries.
“In 2018, around 19 million Iranians resided in 3,000 slums. However, after two years and in parallel with the country’s economic crises, this population has reached 38 million. This portrays the social injustice and discrimination in the country’s economic structure,” the Qatreh website quoted Mahboubfar as saying on the same day.
What’s the Main Reason for This Status Quo?
In fact, current Iranian officials are not absolutely concerned about people’s dilemmas. In this context, they do not show a real will to resolve socioeconomic disasters already exhausting society. They only highlight the people’s pains to obtain their political privileges. The fact that the ayatollahs have built their system’s pillars on theft, corruption, plundering national resources, and spreading poverty and injustice.
On July 26, Shargh daily underscored a similar policy among different administrations that “has destroyed housing cooperatives and allocated all subsidies to so-called mass constructors.”
On the other hand, Iran’s homeless population has grown while relevant officials and experts confirm that the number of residential units is more than that of Iranian families. “In return for 24 million Iranian households, we have nearly 30 million residential units across the country. Three million of which are abandoned, and another three million are also underused,” according to a July 28 piece published by Javan daily.
“Only one bank possesses the key of 1,000 residential units,” said Mahmoud Mahmoudzadeh, Deputy Minister of Road and Urban Developments in Housing Affairs. Of course, these days officials constantly lay blame on their rivals for the current housing crisis. However, it is worth noting that banks and financial foundations and institutions affiliated to Khamenei are behind the increase in housing prices.
“The increase in housing prices is due to banks’ presence and speculative activity, powerful financial institutions and foundations, and the inflow of capital from these institutions,” wrote Shahrvand daily on August 20. The daily mentioned institutions as a familiar reference to Khamenei-owned economic foundations and holdings such as the Mostazafan Foundation, the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC), and the Housing Foundation.
These institutions managed to seize the housing mafia with constructing enormous residential units across the country. for instance, the Mostazafan Foundation is one of the wealthiest construction companies. In this respect, in a piece published on May 11, 2014, the Khabar Online website revealed a part of the Mostazafan’s stellar wealth. The article title was: “Get to know better the richest owners of construction projects in Iran.”
“The information posted on the official Mostazafan Foundation website shows that this entity is one of the largest construction companies in Iran. Shahrak-e Gharb and Wardavard of Tehran-Karaj highway have been the main construction sites of Mostazafan Foundation in the past years,” Khabar Online wrote.
“The foundation also has serious participation and presence in construction projects with three large companies. On October 29, 2007, Paya Saman Pars Company, as one of the Mostazafan Foundation’s parent companies, was created and registered at Registration Office to invest and participate in shares of contracting companies, to invest in research and technology in contracting companies, and to provide financial resources from authorized banks and financial and credit institutions for its subsidiaries,” Khabar Online added.
The mentioned companies and massive business under Khamenei’s thumb are the flipsides of the growing population of homeless citizens in Iran. Today, in addition to slum-dwellers, hole-dwellers, and those who sleep on rooftops, several people, who do not have enough money to rent a unit, stockpile their essential property warehouses and spend their days and night in the streets. Simultaneously, the housing mafia affiliated to Khamenei-owned institutions—benefit tax exemption—denies rent out its residential units to raise housing rents.
“In mid-2017, after a period of severe recession in the housing market and construction industry, a wave of rising housing prices began in metropolitan areas and spread throughout the country,” wrote Mehr News Agency on August 18. Mehr also explained that according to the Road and Urban Developments Ministry’s statistics, the price of each square meter of land has increased from 46.19 million rials to 217.75 million rials between 2017 to 2020, which means a fivefold increase. Moreover, in the past four months, the housing price in Tehran has experienced a 39-percent growth.
Recently, social criticisms and public opinion led members of the Majlis (parliament) to plan tax collection from empty houses. However, the housing mafia blocked the plan by infiltrating various political and economic fields. This issue vividly showed the magnitude of authority and influence of this mafia to direct the country’s developments in its favor.
In other words, given the majority of Khamenei’s loyalists being in the Majlis, it proves that the supreme leader and his office are the godfathers of this corrupt net. They refrain from selling or renting millions of empty houses to the people to hold housing prices and rents expensive.
“The housing mafia prevents the execution of tax law on empty homes… Majlis had passed tax law on empty houses. However, the administration does not have the will to implement it, and beneficiaries curb it to be performed by a thousand methods,” state-linked economist Hossein Raghfar said in an interview with Shahrvand daily on August 20.
Furthermore, Seyyed Mahmoud Nabavian, an advocate of former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, revealed that in Tehran, a person has purchased 700 units 150-meter-square apartments and locked them all. Also, he doesn’t pay and tax, according to a July 18 report wired by the Mehr News Agency.
Mostazafan Foundation Serves the Underprivileged or Seizes Their Insignificant Properties?
On the other hand, the housing mafia has not only monopolized empty homes and residential units, and left millions of citizens homeless, but also seeks to confiscate and destroy impoverished people’s sheds and insignificant properties. Concurrently, according to the Borna news agency’s report on February 2, the Iranian government started “constructing 30,000 residential units in Damascus” and siphoned Iranians’ national assets away in Bashar al-Assad’s interests.
Contrary to the ayatollahs’ generous contributions for al-Assad’s forces, they show no mercy to Iranian citizens. On May 19, Kermanshah Municipality in western Iran agents raided a shed belonging to an old woman by the name of Asieh Panahi to destroy the place. Mrs. Panahi sat in the loader’s bucket to save her shed. However, state-backed forces drew her on the asphalt and sprayed pepper gas in her face. She shouted, “Do not spray, I have heart disorder!” She lost her life shortly afterward.
No one was held accountable and instead, Kermanshah Mayor Saeed Toluei defended his forces’ crime. “According to its legal tasks, the municipality carried out its measures based on Article 55th on demolishing the property,” Toluei said. Notably, he is one of the closest individuals to Majlis Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf.
Furthermore, in late August, state security forces frequently raided Abolfazl village in Ahvaz, southwestern Iran, to confiscate and destroy the houses of underprivileged locals. The Mostazafan Foundation claims the village has built on its properties. However, this village is even older than the foundation itself. “During the monarchial era, officials failed to provide documents to our ancestors and claimed: ‘Arabs have no right and they can merely farm and eat in this area.’ Now, the Mostazafan Foundation does what the Shah’s SAVAK [intelligence service] did in dealing with our ancestors,” one local said.