Manhattan, London, Tokyo, Dushanbe? When surveying the world’s most expensive real-estate markets, Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe (population: 700,000) doesn’t immediately come to mind. But the city, most of whose aging housing stock dates to the Soviet era, is in the grips of a chronic housing crisis.
With demand for new housing far outstripping its availability, real-estate prices around Dushanbe have skyrocketed over the past decade. According to Tajik architect Bobokhon Zaynalov, the going cost for a new flat is about $1,500 per square meter, meaning that lodging in Dushanbe -- where the average monthly wage is around $100 -- is more expensive than in many of the developed world’s biggest cities.
For Tajiks accustomed to the government housing guarantees of the Soviet era, the overcrowding has spelled a miserable decline in living standards. When Tajikistan’s civil war ended in 1997, a person could buy a flat in the center of Dushanbe for $1,500.
But those days are long gone: the last decade has seen a flood of migrants from the Tajik countryside into Dushanbe, and affordable housing construction in the Tajik capital has failed to keep up. Today’s rising real-estate costs have created a city center of ever more crowded tenement housing; it isn’t uncommon for five families to pack into a one-room studio flat.
Faizali Rajabov, an expert on Tajikistan’s construction industry, tells RFE/RL’s Tajik Service that the soaring cost of housing in Dushanbe is exacerbated by two factors: first, that approximately 80 percent of Tajikistan’s construction materials are imported; and second, that Tajikistan’s government imposes a stultifying system of taxes and tariffs, which account for roughly a third of the cost of new home construction.
Importing materials into landlocked Tajikistan is an expensive proposition. Rajabov says that the country desperately needs to develop a domestic industry in construction materials and reduce taxes on businesses seeking to build low-cost housing for Dushanbe’s teeming masses.
Seeking to head off social unrest, the government’s solution to the problem has been to give away plots of land in the Dushanbe suburbs to individual families, with the expectation that those families will build their own homes from whatever materials they might scrape together. Predictably, the policy has changed Dushanbe’s landscape for the worse: the city is now surrounded by vast tracts of poorly constructed shanties. For low and medium-income Tajiks looking for a well-built residence, the options are bleak.
Compounding the problem is the country’s immature financial industry: it is not possible for most people in Tajikistan to obtain a mortgage loan, meaning that prospective home buyers have to pay for housing entirely up front. For those lucky few who can afford a loan, the process is often made prohibitively expensive by institutionalized corruption: government and bank officials routinely expect kickbacks in order to let a mortgage through.
That’s a moot point for most Tajiks, though. Stagnant wages mean that saving to buy even the most modest apartment is simply out of reach. “What we earn is just enough to eat and purchase clothes,” Dushanbe resident Saida Naimova says. “There’s never enough to save for a house.”
-- Charles Dameron, with reporting from RFE/RL’s Tajik Service