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International scene

Squatter Housing in Turkey
by Filiz Temel Ozek

Recent urban growth has been rapid and the largest cities were growing at the fastest rate, but despite this acceleration Turkey is still relatively "under-urbanized" compared to other developing countries. In a quarter of her towns, agriculture is still the main source of employment. The rapid growth of urban population In Turkey has brought great pressure to the government, which has limited financial resources, and made It Impossible to cope with the growing need for housing in urban areas. Government Investments In residential construction have been very limited and house purchase has been supported indirectly through credit agencies and banks. However, the type of housing built and supported by these agencies is too expensive for low income families particularly as a ten percent deposit on the cost of a house is required before the loan is made. In addition interest rates are fairly high. In spite of these drawbacks, the demand for loans from the middle income group is high and can not be completely met.

As a result, squatting by the low income families became a widespread response to the housing shortage. Today low and middle income families, including policemen, are building their own homes on vacant government or private land in the metropolitan areas. The building of gecekondu has been so rapid that neither the government nor court decisions were strong and fast enough to cope with this problem. But the main problem is related to the immigrants who come to the cities from rural areas, therefore this article will deal with immigrants rather than families who are already living in the cities.

Basic reasons for migration to the cities

Squatter houses emerged in the cities in the 1950's and 60 to 65 percent of the large urban areas in Turkey were covered in as short a period of time as 20 years. Turkey was in a stage of fast socio-economic development as a result many problems which emerged especially after the Second World War. Two independent variables are responsible for this change in both urban and rural areas:
1. The increasing population growth rate of the country
2. The advance of rapid mechanization within the agricultural sector which reduced the necessity for a big labor force. The unemployment situation was worsened by the flood of Marshall Aid tractors during the 1950's which rapidly increased the amount of surplus labour in the countryside.

These two independent variables, by increasing each other's effects, have caused the disruption of the prevailing stability of the rual areas and brought about structural change. Demand increased much faster than the supply of housing in the cities, therefore rural inhabitants migrating to the cities looking for a job and better living conditions, first had to struggle with the housing problem.

Besides these two variables there are other side-effects that should be taken into consideration, such as the division of large partiarchal families, the law of inheritance that affects the agricultural productivity and the difference in incomes in agriculture and industry.

Although the previous factors can be classified as rural push, urban pull plays a considerable role in the immigration pattern, too. The immigrant is usually at the productive age group and has high aspirations and courage in the sense that he is not afraid of change and a new way of life in order to improve his living standards. The fact that he can make use of the public services like schools, hospitals and other infrastructure facilities makes the city much more attractive to him. This awareness of a "better life" makes him restless. Many of the migrant villagers communicate with their fellow villagers, persuading them to go to the cities and informing them about the advantages of urban living. The gecekondu dweller has a feeling of superiority when he compares his present situation with his former life in the village. As a result of these changes, the disguised unemployed in the agricultural sector in particular wanted to utilize their time more efficiently and find jobs outside the agricultural sector, in the cities.

Socio-cultural characteristics of gecekondu areas

Studies have shown that the size of the gecekondu family is smaller compared to families in rural areas in Turkey. Usually the average number of members per family is 5, in some areas it is 4.6 person per family. The reduction in the size of families shows that near relatives, second and third generations, are excluded from the families.

When the migrant comes to the city he has very little or no money at all. Some sell whatever property they have in their villages to come to the city. This money helps to keep them till they find a job. Their first job in the city is usually a temporary one. They earn very little and change this job as soon as they find something better. Most of the time the husband comes to the city alone. He fetches his family after finding a job and a house to live. As his skill and experience increase, his income increases too. Usually his wife starts to work as a house-keeper. There are a large number with no fixed workplace, usually those in occupations such as hawking or driving; in general these persons work long hours for a relatively low income. Income and hours worked do not correlate.

Relations-with the village are a good criterion to decide upon the degree of urbanization in a gecekondu area. Studies have shown that more than 50 percent of the families communicate with their relatives and friends in the village. They get their winter food from the village and spend their summer holidays there. But as the time passes they are more influenced by the city and their ties to their village weaken, after one or two generations they become city dwellers.

It is seen that many of the families living in the same gecekondu neighborhood come from the same region of the country or from the same village. There is a solidarity among them. The families help each other when there is a birth, wedding, death or illness, or during the construction of a gecekondu. They borrow from one another. Due to the fact that all members of gecekondu environment face the same problem, there is a disguised but strong bond among them which shows itself mostly in periods of distress.

Unfortunately they do not establish an organization which could help to solve many of their problems. Since there is enough potential in these districts, it would not be difficult to create an organization of their own by the help of technicans. They are very adaptable to changes as long as they make life easier.

Physical characteristics of gecekondu areas

Criteria for the selection of gecekondu areas in the Turkish cities are the following:
- Their access to the city center - The amount of land available
- The present ownership of the land - The location of other immigrants from the same village
- The pyhsical characteristics of the land.

In Turkey, until very recently, prestige residential areas were close to the central facilities. However, parallel to the increase in car ownership, prestige areas are now arising outside the squatter house belts. Thus the highest and lowest income groups are in competition for the same areas. The result is that locations with better physical qualities and close to transportation routes are occupied by the high income groups, while the low income groups have to settle for sites on difficult land, far from good roads.

Ownership of land is a major problem for the gecekondu houses. Most of them are built either on private land or treasury land as mentioned earlier. But the studies indicate that land on which gecekondus are built belongs to the gecekondu owners. Ownership of the lot increased as the cities grew towards the villages on the periphery of the cities. The land owners in these suburban villages divide their land haphazardly and sell to those who want to build gecekondus. In the older gecekondu settlements there are more rentals. Because older migrants improve their economic condition and move out of this area to a better part of the city, renting their houses. In some districts which are accessible to the city center, rents are incredibly high. There are some families who pay one third or even two thirds of their income in rent.

Construction of gecekondus

It is obvious that a gecekondu is a very straightforward solution to the low cost housing problem where the low income group builds its own house without drawing on the nation's capital resources, although it creates other problems. Due to the lack of money, second-hand materials and unskilled workers, the result is very low quality housing. The owners do not want to spend too much money and are not concerned with building techniques. But in some districts the quality of gecekondus is very high. Because of their illegal status they are called gecekondu as soon as they are built.

The usual steps in constructing a gecekondu are as follows. When an immigrant finds a vacant lot he first constructs one room with the help of his relatives or fellow villagers. They do not build it of very strong material or very carefully. If the police come and insist on demolition they take down the whole structure, and rebuild as soon as the danger is over. There are many houses which have been "built" 4 to 5 times.

The process of constructing gecekondus is closely related to the income of the family. The houses are developed room by room; when the family has enough money they build a second room, then a kitchen and maybe another room. It takes almost 6 to 7 years to complete a gecekondu with 2 to 3 rooms, bathroom and kitchen. Of course, if they have enough money, this time may be shortened. The gecekondu family has a very dynamic structure. If they have enough money, they use it to improve their house, but if they are short of money then they rent one room of their house to another family. If they can build the second floor they usually move to the second floor and rent the first floor to other immigrants who do not have a gecekondu of their own.


Because of their high population density, low ratio of community facilities, difficulty in accessibility and improper topography the squatter settlements impose serious health problems on the cities. After they have been established it is difficult to remove these houses, they grow very fast and block the orderly expansion of the city they surround.

The lack of paved roads causes problems especially in the wet, muddy winter months and the dusty summer season. Due to the lack of planning it is extremely difficult to provide access to every house by means of roads.

Sewage is another problem in gecekondu areas and small canals and pools made by the gecekondu families are far from being satisfactory. Water is usually collected from a public fountain and stored in the house. The best that could be done for a gecekondu dwelling would undoubtedly be providing water, electricity, sewage and road systems, since the gecekondu districts are real phenomena which we can not get rid of easily. Due to the fact that gecekondu areas are unplanned and have no pattern, providing these facilities might be very costly. In spite of these difficulties many municipalities are trying to bring these utilities to the gecekondu areas. In fact although the older citizens regard the gecekondu areas as slums in terms of their standards of layout and house construction, the facilities included in the residences are far superior to conditions in rural areas. The condition of gecekondu areas in many cities is better than it was 10 years ago.


The mobility pattern in gecekondu areas is as follows:
1. The migrant moves from a rural to an urban environment.
2. He settles in a rented room in a gecekondu area or in a relative's house, or in the basement of constructions till he gets a job. Temporary location.
3. As he starts to earn more he moves to a gecekondu district and rents a dwelling unit, brings his family from the village. The time spent by the migrant and his family in this location depends on his income.
4. When his economic condition improves he buys or constructs his own gecekondu. The time spent here depends on the income and the chances that this location is permanent. Since it is a continuous process these continuous improvements cause the gecekondu dweller to remain in the same location for a long time.
5. If the income shows a drastic increase then the migrant moves to a better part of the city renting his gecekondu to someone else.

The tradition that has continued till our day is the relation with outdoor areas. This characteristic can be seen in gecekondu areas. Due to the fact that the buildings are single or duplex, the relation with outdoor has not vanished in gecekondu areas although it has lost its significance in the cities. The very small stretch of land in front of gecekondu is used for outdoor living. In summer meals are cooked there, the time is spend in the garden instead of the house. If the piece of land is big enough, it is used to grow vegetables and flowers. Due to the fact that the toilet is outside the house, the garden is used throughout the year. Because of the multifunctional uses and the continuation of a rural tradition, the garden is still a very important part of the gecekondu.

Actions taken by the Government

Although a strong relationship does exist between slums and poverty in the Third World, the situation is more complex than this. In most cities, the overall housing shortage is so great that many middle income families are without suitable accommodation and are forced to seek out slums or squatter units where their presence inevitably raises rents. For these reasons and many more, slum and squatter housing in Turkey is occupied by a variety of households. Each of them require a different approach to solve the problem.

Since the 1 950's attempts have been made to tackle the growing problem of gecekondu housing. Until the 1 970's the demolition of gecekondu districts was accepted as the only way to prevent their further construction. But it has been realized that the "gecekondu" is a phenomenon which we have to accept due to social and economic change in society. A lot of houses were demolished, but this kind of action did not solve the problems since these people needed housing. Instead things worsened, because the inhabitants of gecekondus lost their faith in the government, they wanted a more permanent solution. In 1966, The "Gecekondu Act" (No 775) came into force. It was the first government decree devoted solely to the issue of squatter housing. By this time it was realized that the municipalities were incapable of coping with the growing problems of squatter areas because of lack of finance and personnel. There have been new additions to this act recently. The Ministry of Reconstruction and Resettlement was accordingly directed to cooperate with municipalities in providing finance to tackle the gecekondu issue. The act laid down as objectives:

1. The clearance of squatter areas where renovation would have been too costly or where natural disasters (landslips, floods, earthquakes) are major possibilities.
2. improvement of squatter areas generally by supplying credits.
2.1 to households for the renovation of their own houses
2.2 for the provision of infrastructure facilities (roads, lighting, sewage) and education, health services.
3. As well, in order to remove or reduce the pressures leading to squatter problems, a four-point approach to housing construction was undertaken, (the so-called "prevention area policy")
3.1 Building of apartment units by the state, for allocation to low-income families. Occupation would be given after a first down payment of 10 percent with the balance liquidated over 20 years.
3.2 Construction of detached coretype housing units of 31 square meters area, with loans to the owner to allow expansion and extension.
3.3 Allocation of prepared sites and building projects with loans for self-help housing.
3.4 Allocation of sites and credits to existing or especially formed non-profit housing cooperatives.

Four years ago, the municipality of Ankara started a project which contains a mixture of the policies above. The area chosen for this project is on the west side of Ankara, approx. 1100 hectares and plans are designed for a population of approx. 250.000. The land belongs entirely to the municipality and the project is called "Batikent" which means West City. All the facilities have been planned and the municipality is working on the infrastructure of the area. The plan will be realized step by step at certain intervals. 500 units are finished and were made available to low-income families.

In August 1983, an additional regulation was put into practice. According to this regulation all gecekondu owners, whether they own the land or not, are required to apply to municipalities in order to legalize their land and gecekondu, after certain requirements have been met. Only the squatter houses which were built before June 1981 are included in this regulation. Squatter houses which are in a very bad condition, or preventing the implementation of the land-use plans will be demolished, but municipalities are required to provide the squatters with another location.

This regulation indicates that the approach of the authorities to squatter housing has changed step by step since the 1950's. Instead of demolition, rehabilitation measures have been taken as an objective. Land is provided for the owners of the demolished squatter houses. Services such as roads, schools, sewage and water are provided.
In the last 8 to 9 years, gecekondu districts have become part of the plans. The city planners are planning separate huge areas on the master plans only for the gecekondu people. Their aim is to control development of these houses; to bring them municipal facilities; to obtain order in urban growth and better living conditions for these people. This is one of the ways to cope with the disorganized growth of squatter houses.


It is important to know the social structure in order to understand the phenomenon I have described. A question that faces us after such an evaluation is: Would all developing countries undergo similar transformations? The Turkish experience of modernization in rural areas and its results can be given as an example to those developing countries that base their development on imported, dependent technologies.

During this change Turkey was not only dependent on imported technologies but it also shows no interest in making political decisions to provide the institutional improvements such as land reform or the establishment of cooperatives or providing new job opportunities in rural areas, which would have eased and rationalized such a change. Thus I can easily say that if the necessary measures had been taken in the 1950's during the modernization, the problems that we face in urban areas of Turkey caused by "gecekondus" would not be at such a high and overwhelming level as they are now.

More positive government action is required before the position of gecekondus is likely to be improved to any great extent. The one method to cope with the problem might be to extend the availability of self-help sites in "prevention areas". The obvious impact of such an action would be cheap and better homes. The more extensive government action which needs to be taken is the direct construction of public housing estates. On the other hand, living conditions in rural areas should be improved in order to avoid migration to urban areas.