As NGOs and volunteers rushed to renovate some 70,000 homes that were impacted by the Beirut Blast to help people return to their homes, some building owners saw it as an opportunity to capitalize on their generosity.
Among their capitalization endeavors, there have been threats, attempts of eviction, and rent increases recorded.
Lebanese urbanist and graphic designer Nadine Bekdache has been documenting eviction cases in Beirut since 2014 as part of a project called Housing Monitor, created by the design studio Public Works.
Founded in 2012, Public Works is currently registered as a non-commercial Civil Company that collaborates with a network of professionals ranging from historians and journalists to artists and filmmakers.
Bekdache told The Daily Beast that, since the explosion, threats and evictions have been on the rise.
Between September 3rd and October 17th, Housing Monitor recorded 58 cases of threats of eviction affecting 190 people. That has increased, recording 119 cases during the last 2 months of 2020, with 427 people affected.
Sharing one of the many eviction cases in Beirut, Public Works wrote on social media:
“Dalal is a lonely widow, who has lived for over 40 years in a rented apartment in Armenia street. After Beirut’s blast, she had to leave her apartment and sleep at her son’s house. Dalal is trying to return to her apartment as her son’s situation isn’t better, having lost his car and job at the port, and almost his life.”
“Threats of eviction on these neighborhoods have been happening before the blast, but what becomes traumatic is when your house exploded and then you’re faced with eviction,” Nadine Bekdache said.
She noted that the real estate market has been planning for these specific areas to be developed and gentrified even before the port explosion.
“So, the blast becomes an opportunity for these forces,” Bekdashe said, adding that any landlord who wants to get rid of their tenants can use the reason that the buildings are too damaged to live in.
The August 4th blast, caused by the ignition of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse for years, shocked the whole world. Individuals in Lebanon and all around the world were moved to try and help rebuild Beirut.
Financial support has poured in from the diaspora as well as smaller initiatives to help rebuild people’s homes. That’s in addition to world powers pledged $300 million in emergency aid.
Some of these funds were allocated to a number of NGOs that worked on the ground directly after the explosion to repair houses, while the majority of renovations came from independent volunteers who crowdfunded donations and/or allocated their own skills in engineering and others.
Yet, considering that collecting data on evictions is dependent on referrals and reports by tenants, the actual number is expected to be much higher.
After the Beirut’s port blast, the government passed a law, specifically for the affected areas, titled LAW 194/2020, specifying that rental contracts and prices can not be changed for a year, and owners are not allowed to sell their properties.
An employee at the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) in Lebanon told The Daily Beast that the law attempted to mitigate against gentrification and urban-renewal projects being undertaken following the blast.