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Renters across Lebanon face sky-high prices amid worsening economic crisis

Lebanese citizen Rania Farah and her husband, sister-in-law, and three children moved home twice because none of them can afford rent increases.

At the beginning of 2020, Farah lived with her family in a rented apartment in the area of Zouk Mosbeh, north of the capital Beirut, for 750,000 Lira a month – the equivalent of $500 at the official exchange rate.

After the currency crisis that erupted in late 2019 and the hyperinflation that ravaged the country, Farah couldn’t attend to a rental increase of 1,000,000 LL ($667) imposed by the landlord and had to move.

She found a smaller flat for 1,200,000 LL ($800) per month in a neighboring area. She lived there until August 2021, when she received a lease renewal letter stating a monthly rent increase.

“It’s not easy to change homes thrice in less than two years when you have three little children,” Farah told Al Arabiya English. “The third house we moved to was in bad condition, but we couldn’t find a more affordable rent.”

“Not only that, but we also had to transfer our kids to another school, one that is close to our current flat, to avoid paying high bus fees. It was a major change for them at all levels.”

Rental prices across Lebanon have soared over the past year, with some tenants having to move or pay a bigger slice of income to stay in their homes.

The tiny Mediterranean country is dealing with what the World Bank has described as one of the world’s sharpest economic depressions.

The national currency has been in free fall since 2019, losing more than 90 percent of its value. The official exchange rate is 1,500 to the dollar, while the currency is changing hands on a parallel market at around 24,000. The minimum monthly wage stands at 675,000 LL, translating to a meager $28.

Farah still visits real estate websites now and then, hoping to find a better property without success.

“Homeowners and real estate agents post prices in US dollars, while most Lebanese people get paid in Lebanese pounds,” she said. “My husband earns a salary of 4,000,000 LL; how will we be able to pay a rent of 2,000,000 LL a month and above? This is insane.”

According to Walid Moussa, president of the Real Estate Syndicate of Lebanon, there’s a mismatch between rent prices and renters’ purchasing power.

“There’s no right or wrong in this equation, only a difference of perspective,” Moussa told Al Arabiya English. “A furnished apartment that used to be rented for $750 in 2019 is now rented for $300. This means that landlords and landowners have lost around 70 percent in rental fees. We can’t, however, deny the fact that $300 is considered a high amount for someone who doesn’t have a dollar income, and that’s the case of the majority of Lebanese.”

Growing demand amid shift to rentals

Surging rental demand has been noticed over the past few years, and this il s due to severafactors.

“The appeal of rentals has recently grown as people have been priced out of the housing market. It’s quite impossible nowadays in Lebanon to buy a house,” Moussa explained. He also linked the soaring demand to the hikes in fuel prices.
“The fuel shortage and the recent sharp increases in gasoline and diesel prices have made commuting challenging. Today, more than ever before, employees want to live near their offices.”

However, the high demand does not eliminate the pricing issues and rental challenges.

Thirty-one-year-old Firas Makhoul spent ten months looking for a furnished apartment near his workplace in Hazmieh, a town located in the southern suburbs of Beirut. He lived in the city of Byblos before moving.

“It is very difficult to find an affordable flat in Beirut, especially that almost all rentals are in fresh dollars, while wages are in Lebanese lira,” he said. “I ended up renting a small old apartment in an aged building in Furn El Chebbak for $600 a month. Luckily, I’m sharing it with three colleagues, or else I wouldn’t have been able to afford the rental as it far outstrips my salary,” he added.

The monthly amount that Makhoul pays is still high, and he regards it as a heavy financial burden. Still, he noted that it’s better than spending 2,000,000 LL ($1,333) per month on fuel, adding that advantages include not having to worry about gas shortages and daily traffic congestions.

Lebanon, a country that heavily relies on imports, has been grappling with shortages of fuel, medicine, and basic goods as foreign reserves dwindle and the economy contracts. It has led, among others, to hyperinflation, affecting all sectors, including real estate.

Broker and real estate agent Aziz Boutros sees that rental prices will continue to rise due to an overwhelming demand versus squeezed supply.

“We’re witnessing an increasing number of tenants, particularly among newlyweds, and at the same time, several landlords quit the market, leaving supply shortages,” Boutros noted.

Boutros also mentioned that “we’re ahead of a high season, during which expats visit Lebanon and rent houses for one or two months – which will inevitably affect the prices and make rent accessibility harder for low-income tenants.”

“We shouldn’t forget that, for many lessors, the rentals they get are their main source of living. There are also the expenses that the landlords incur, including very expensive maintenance costs.”

In Beirut, Makhoul, similar to young men of the same age, struggles to maintain a decent standard of living and build the future he wants.

“Almost all my income is going toward rent and bills,” he said.

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US: Bodies of two of three missing kids found in Minnesota lake

The bodies of two young children have been recovered from a Minnesota lake, and searchers are still looking for a third they fear may have been intentionally drowned.

Meanwhile, the father of the children died at a different location hours earlier, and their mother is missing. Names have not been released.

For the latest headlines, follow our Google News channel online or via the app.

The chain of events began Friday morning when the father was found dead at a mobile home park in the town of Maplewood, near Minneapolis. Police determined that the woman had left with the children, and a search began.

Maplewood Police Lt. Joe Steiner said the woman’s car was found near Vadnais Lake around 4 p.m. Friday. The shoes of the children were found on the shore.

A search of the lake found one child’s body Friday evening. A second body was found overnight. Searchers from several organizations were busy Saturday looking for the third, as well as the mother.

Authorities believe all three children were under the age of 5.

“There’s nothing more tragic than the loss of young children,” Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said at a news conference on Friday. He called the deaths a “likely triple homicide.”

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Foreign firefighters arrive in Greece for summer wildfire season

Several dozen Romanian and Bulgarian firefighters took up their posts in Greece on Saturday, the first members of a European force being deployed to the country to provide backup in case of major wildfires during the summer.

More than 200 firefighters and equipment from Bulgaria, France, Germany, Romania, Norway and Finland will be on standby during the hottest months of July and August in Greece, where a spate of wildfires caused devastation last summer.

For all the latest headlines follow our Google News channel online or via the app.

A group of 28 Romanian firefighters with eight vehicles, and 16 firefighters from Bulgaria with four vehicles, were the first to arrive for the two-month mission, financed and coordinated under the European Union’s civil protection mechanism.

“We thank you very much for coming to help us during a difficult summer for our country, and for proving that European solidarity is not just theoretical, it’s real,” Greek Civil Protection Minister Christos Stylianides said on Saturday as he welcomed the members of the Romanian mission in Athens.

“When things get tough, you will be side by side with our Greek firefighters so we can save lives and property.”

The Bulgarian firefighters have been stationed in Larissa, in central Greece.

Last summer’s wildfires ravaged about 300,000 acres (121,000 hectares) of forest and bushland in different parts of Greece as the country experienced its worst heatwave in 30 years.

Following sharp criticism of its response to the fires, the Greek government set up a new civil protection ministry and promised to boost firefighting capacities.

In Greece’s worst wildfire disaster, 102 people were killed when a blaze tore through the seaside town of Mati and nearby areas close to Athens during the summer of 2018.

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One killed, six injured in shootout between migrant groups in Serbia

One migrant was killed and at least six others, including a teenage girl, were injured Saturday in a shootout between migrant groups in Serbia near the Hungarian border, the state-run RTS television reported.

The 16-year-old girl sustained life threatening injuries in the incident that occurred in a forest in the outskirts of Subotica, some 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of Belgrade, where the injured were hospitalized, RTS reported.

For all the latest headlines follow our Google News channel online or via the app.

Police, who made no immediate comment, blocked access to the forest where the incident took place, only around a kilometer from the Hungarian border.

Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin rushed to the scene.

The injured, aged between 20 and 30, have no documents, Subotica mayor Stevan Bakic told local media.

It is not known what triggered the incident, he added.

Local media reported that the shootout occurred between Afghan and Pakistani migrants most likely over human trafficking from the area to European Union member Hungary.

Serbia lies on the so-called Balkans route used by migrants heading towards Western Europe as they flee war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Although the route is nowhere as busy as it was during Europe’s migrant crisis in 2015, tens of thousands of illegal migrants still cross the region annually.

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