This book has documented some of the opportunities and challenges women in Iran face in different spheres of their lives from culture and attitudes toward education to employment and law at both the macro and micro levels. In this chapter we wish to start a preliminary discussion on the issue of shelter. According to UN-Habitat, it is estimated that the world’s slum population will double in the next 30 years and the problem is a global challenge facing our future world.1 With increasing UN-approved economic sanctions on Iran and the global financial meltdown on the one hand and government mishandling of the economy on the other hand, the relevance of the housing problem for vulnerable populations has become highly important. Moreover, there is a growing literature that documents the vital role women play in community development and housing in general, and in informal settlements in particular.2 Here our emphasis is on the major role that women play in poverty alleviation and sustainable urban planning, rather than on greater gender equality, although we recognize that gender inequality is a subject of great magnitude that affects the strategies women adopt to deal with poverty. In addition, while we recognize that a comprehensive analysis of the housing situation in the case of rising property values and rentals and their impact on those in the lower strata of society is essential, in this chapter we wish to focus on just one aspect of housing, that of the informal, or extra-legal settlements. Rising urban population as the result of a declining agricultural sector and population growth in Iran has been documented in the work of academics.3 The trend had started under the Shah during the 1960s and accelerated during the first two decades of the Islamic Republic (c.1980-2000).4 A rising urban population, growing poverty, and the need for low-income housing led to the expansion of shanty towns adjacent to Iran’s cities. Asef Bayat, for example, has written comprehensively on the topic and has elaborated on slum settlements and their relationship to the rise of urban popular movements.5 In fact, growing poverty in the shanty towns of south and east Tehran was an embarrassment to the Shah’s glorification of modernization that characterized his pre-revolutionary governments. The intention may have been to set up small satellite cities for different income groups as part of the Shah’s third development plan, but these state-funded projects were inadequate to address the housing needs of the poor and did not

prevent the growth of illegal settlements on government land, such as Zurabad [founded by force] next to Karaj. These illegal settlements, or to borrow from Hernando de Soto’s terminology ‘extra-legal settlements,’6 did not disappear no matter how hard the government tried to discourage them, including the infamous bulldozing of illegal houses in east Tehran in the summer of 1977. As Iran’s poor and economically marginalized were mobilized for the Revolution, post-revolutionary Iran sought to address their problems by legalizing what before the Revolution were illegal settlements. Since the idea of the revolution was based on fighting disempowerment and many of those living in slums were mobilized for the Revolution, illegal/extra-legal settlements slowly came to be part of the habitat of the new, increasingly urbanized Iran. Here we need to make clear that these extra-legal settlements were (and are) not homogenous and vary according to their size and the quality of shelter they provide, nor are they static (they keep changing over time). Some of these extra-legal/informal settlements are comparable with low-income housing in inner cities (such as those of Tehran) while others are merely shanty towns, such as those outside of Zahedan (the capital of Sistan and Baluchestan, the least economically prosperous provinces in Iran). As the boundaries of mega-cities such as Tehran expand, extralegal settlements become part of the mega-city, which means that municipalities and the Ministry of Urban Development and Planning have to be prepared to keep track of these settlements and the government, both at the national and local levels, has to provide services such as access to tap water and electricity as well as other basic services such as communications. According to data from the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development (MHUD) in 2003, household income is highly related to home ownership. We do not have any time series data at this point, but it is highly probable that the problem of poverty is related to rising inflation and high unemployment, two conditions for which we do have data, and in this book there are numerous references to increases in unemployment (see, for example, Chapter 11 by Elhum Haghighat-Sordellini). Nor do we have data on extra-legal housing. However, the MHUD has divided households into five categories by income levels: very high (5), high (4), medium (3), low-medium (2) and low-income (1) and some 80 percent of those from the highest income own their homes.7 The Ministry data also illustrate that substandard housing was very typical among those in the lowest household income levels: levels 1, 2, and 3 household incomes. Table 10.1 shows the percentage of informal settlements in different cities. It shows that Zahedan, in the far southeastern part of the country near Iran’s borders with southern Afghanistan and southwestern Pakistan, has one of the highest percentages of informal settlements: 26 percent of inhabited areas are part of informal/illegal settlements, and 36 percent of its population live in this type of housing. An even higher percentage of the population – 39 percent – live in extra-legal settlements in the Persian Gulf port of Bandar-e Abbas; however, the illegal housing units account for only 7.7 percent of all households in Bandar Abbas. Different provinces show different percentages both in terms of the area of urban settlement classified as extra-legal and the percentage of the population

living in it. For example, the city of Sanndaj, the capital of Kurdestan province in the west and bordering northern Iraq, had the highest percentage of inhabitants living in extra-legal dwellings – 53.3 percent – even though such settlements comprised only 15.6 percent of the city’s total area. Like Zahedan, Sanandaj is close to an international border where security and government control are very weak in the rural areas, especially at night; and both cities are populated predominantly by ethnic (Kurds in Sanandaj, Baluchis in Zahedan) and religious minorities (Sunni Muslims in both cities); ethnic and religious tensions exacerbate housing problems in both cities. These statistics have been alarming for some government officials, as they show that the problem of extra-legal settlements can have consequences for national security as well as the goal of poverty alleviation. Iran’s first postrevolutionary governments had to deal with the problem from the start. In the initial nine months following the Revolution, the drafters of the new constitution made it a state responsibility to address the issue of empowerment of the poor and the marginalized [mostazafin]. The 1979 constitution stipulated that illegal housing must become legalized (thereby making the state responsible for providing them with basic services). At the same time, several other measures were taken, such as the 1980 law requiring that vacant dwellings (if identified) had to be rented to those who were living in illegal settlement areas; absentee landlords could be penalized by having their properties rented or sold to people with no land or property ownership.8 Nonetheless, after the revolution and throughout the 1980s, the government enacted a series of laws and regulations, under the arazi mavat [unutilized properties], arazi shahri [urban properties], and zamin shahri [urban real states], in efforts to stop a booming, urban real state market.9 More importantly, in 1993 Parliament passed a law, ghanon-e tahiyeh-e maskan

baraye afrad-e kamdaramad [law providing dewellings for low-income individuals], that made it mandatory for the state to provide housing for the poor. This law came into effect in 1997, with various ministries, such as the Ministry of Economics, Energy, and Housing and Urban Development, together with public foundations such as the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee and the Housing Foundation, mandated to provide low-income housing for economically marginalized groups. Despite these legal, governmental, and non-governmental measures, the dilemma of extra-legal settlements has not disappeared, and the situation may have deteriorated since 2000. In fact, during the early 2000s, extra-legal housing became part of the everyday reality for many cities. In 2002 the World Bank in collaboration with the Office of Urban Development and Rehabilitation tackled the issue. Bandar Abbas, Kermanshah, and Zahedan were some cities where the World Bank carried out research on the problems of extra-legal settlements. One year later, a joint declaration by an intera-ministerial committee was formed to come up with a common definition of informal settlements in order to incorporate the matter into the fourth development plan of the post-revolutionary era. For this reason, the Center for National Empowerment with Regard to Informal Settlement (CNERIS) was formed. This new initiative brought together the Ministries of Urban Development, Interior, Health, Energy, Labor and Welfare, Industry and Mining, National Security, Environment, and Justice as well as the Center for Management and Planning. The CNERIS, an organization responsible to each of the aforementioned ministries, was assigned the task of dealing with the informal settlements and to prevent the formation of new ones.