- The Washington Times - Monday, May 13, 2002

KABUL, Afghanistan In the days of the Taliban regime, the people here endured hunger, religious oppression and political violence. But at least this dusty, smog-choked capital offered one good thing they can no longer count on: cheap rent.
Since the U.S.-led campaign ousted the Taliban, nonprofit groups, journalists and international aid officials coming in have pushed up housing costs beyond anything that ordinary Afghans can afford.
"Get out of Kabul," Ashraf Ghaum, an Afghan official, bluntly told a group of foreign journalists and NGO (nongovernmental organization) officials gathered for a conference recently. "You're driving up the rents."
Rents in chic neighborhoods have risen the highest perhaps fiftyfold, residents and real-estate brokers say.
An Arab NGO recently signed a $4,800-per-month lease for a six-bedroom villa that went for $300 a month during the Taliban era, said Ghodratollah Yadegar, a real-estate broker who gleefully cited numerous examples of houses he had recently rented out at exorbitant markups.
The British Embassy recently rented a 10-bedroom house for $10,000 a month. It went for $400 during Taliban rule. In the safe, decent neighborhoods of Shahr-e-now or Vazir Akbar Khan you won't find a two- or three-bedroom place for less than $1,500.
"The Taliban were terrible for the real-estate business," said Mr. Yadegar. "There were no foreigners here who wanted to rent."
Even in poor neighborhoods with no electricity or running water, rents have increased, said Hamed Safi, a geologist and authority on Kabul's infrastructure, from about $50 to $250 a month.
"Some of the people are coming here and returning to Pakistan because of the cheap rents there," Mr. Safi said.
In the Pakistani border city of Peshawar, he said, you can rent a place with electricity and running water for about $110 a month.
Salaries in Kabul are measly. Some local doctors make no more than $100 a month.
"Rents here are too high for Afghan wages," said Golmakai Shah, a former Washington and New York resident who returned to Afghanistan recently to run the Kabul theater. "I can't afford the rents here. I'm staying with a friend."
Many Kabul residents, unaccustomed to the whims of the free market, have demanded government intervention.
"Right now rents seem to be determined entirely by property dealers and house owners," said an unsigned letter in the May 2 issue of Kabul Weekly. "I request from the official bodies to set affordable house prices so that the poor can live without difficulties."

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