Images of young people sleeping on park benches in Izmir, in front of Sakarya University, on the seats of the ferries that connect the European and Asian shores of Istanbul and other parts of Turkey have made their way on social media the last days. They are part of a demonstration that began in the middle of last month against the difficulties of access to housing or to a place in a university residence at a time when rents have climbed between 50 and 300% compared to at the prices of a year ago. anus. About 100 students were detained, although they were later released.
“We published a video in which we saw that several students were sleeping in a park. The next day, when we were about to do the same, the police had cordoned off and deployed dozens of officers and an armored vehicle. We asked them if the problem was that 20 students slept in the open air or the circumstances that force us to sleep in the street, ”explains Mert Batur, one of the movement’s spokespersons. Barinamiyoruz (We have no accommodation) and law student at Istanbul University. “The video had a lot of repercussions and the police eventually pulled out. Since then, we have slept every night in various parks in Istanbul, ”he explains. The protests have reoccurred in different ways in 24 of the 81 provinces in the country, according to data from the Interior Ministry.
September and October are busy months in the Turkish real estate market. With the opening of the school year, university students and teachers are looking for housing and homeowners tend to take advantage of the increased demand to raise prices. This year, a combination of factors made these increases astronomical: Education returned to face-to-face for the first time since the start of the pandemic, with which millions of students who had returned to their homes Origin returned to the country’s major cities such as Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, where almost half of the country’s 200 universities are located, in addition to the largest and most sought after. In Istanbul, for example, one million of the eight million studying at universities in Turkey are concentrated.
Other countries around the world are facing a price bubble in the real estate market as the normality interrupted by the pandemic recovers, but “in Turkey this has been exacerbated by the government’s monetary policy”, says economist Ugur Gürses. In 2020, he explains, the government put pressure on banks, especially public banks, to extend mortgages at all costs. Banks have phoned potential clients to convince them to take out cheap mortgages (then the benchmark interest rate was at its lowest for four years, at 8.25%, it is now at 18%), and these potential clients were not necessarily those with a more urgent need for housing, but rather those with a better profile to repay the loan, ie with higher incomes.
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The volume of loans increased by 40% in a few months and sales soared. “But as construction costs have increased a lot due to the depreciation of the Turkish lira, the price of new housing has also increased a lot, so these purchases have been directed towards second-hand apartments”, explains Gürses. If before the pandemic, second-hand apartments represented a little more than half of sales in the real estate market, today they are at 70%. And these were houses that the owners rented. With which there has been a significant reduction in the supply in the rental market and a rapid increase in demand.
By law, landlords cannot demand annual rent increases above the official inflation rate (currently 19.25%), but there are no regulations on the starting price of vacant homes. The average asking prices for a two-room apartment near a university in Istanbul are between 2,000 and 4,000 lire (around 200-400 euros), and state grants and credits that allow 1.5 million euros. Students to study are only 650 lire per month (63 euros).
Another problem is the lack of university residences. In recent years, places in public residences have been reduced (they are less than 700,000, at a price of around Lira 400 per student in rooms for four to eight people) and private ones, which cost two and three times more, have increased. and, in many cases, they are led by religious brotherhoods close to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party. “This is part of the government’s neoliberal plan to cut public funding for education and turn it into a business,” Batur denounces.
Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu responded to the protests by saying that most of the participants “are not students” but “members of left-wing fringe organizations”. And even “terrorist groups” like the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party (MLKP, in its Turkish acronym) “or those members of the LGTB (collectives) who love me so much”, he added. , using the initials of the lesbian, gay, transsexual and bisexual collective as if it were an armed organization. Erdogan also indicted them, accusing them of wanting to “create a second Gezi”, in reference to the massive youth protests that rocked Turkey in 2013.
However, the governing party’s councils – also those of the opposition – have opened municipal infrastructures to house students with housing difficulties for free for a month and the executive has announced the creation of new public university residences with 110,000 new ones. places, which has led groups of students to reduce the protests. “We will see if this solution is sufficient, but if not, we will increase our mobilizations”, explains Batur: “The housing problem does not only concern university students. In fact, during our demonstrations, we were contacted by hundreds of workers and unemployed with the same problem ”.
Victory and discontent
For the student movement, it is a small victory that it is not used to savoring in a country that has seen how demonstrations have been banned or dissolved with sticks and gas. And it’s not the only one that has happened in recent months, either. The mobilizations that began at the beginning of the year at the Bosphorus University, the most prestigious in the country, succeeded in bringing Erdogan to dismiss the rector whom he himself had handpicked six months before and, although the replacement is not to the taste of university students or teachers, the protest served to galvanize the student movement and make it aware of its strength.
In the corridors of power in Ankara, the prospect of larger youth protests, like Gezi, is a nightmare. In the next election, if held on schedule (June 2023), there will be around six million new voters, and polls indicate they don’t look favorably on an Erdogan who has reigned uninterrupted since 2003. .
Surveys indicate that the level of discontent among young people is higher than among other segments of the population, as their precariousness increases, just as in more developed economies. Until a few years ago, a university degree in Turkey was a sure way to access a guaranteed job that paid better than average. It’s not like that.
In addition, two-thirds of the scholarships awarded are in fact credits, “with which a graduate begins his working life with a debt of at least 30,000 lire,” says Batur. This forces them to look for lower paying jobs in a market with fewer and fewer job opportunities (30% of university graduates are unemployed). “The government is not tackling the problems of young people. There is a huge unemployment problem. Salaries are very low and many graduates move into the minimum wage segment [2.826 liras o unos 280 euros]. Across Turkey, around 40% of workers earn the minimum wage and, in addition, part-time work has increased significantly since the start of the pandemic, ”explains Gürses. In other words, housing is just the tip of the iceberg of the problems faced by Turkish youth.
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