Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar has been experiencing immense urban growth in recent years, giving the East Asian nation a significant economic boost. But as promising as this growth has been for Mongolia, residents of Ulaanbaatar have been suffering under the pressure of a serious housing crisis, sending many of the city’s urban poor in a scramble.
As Ulaanbaatar’s population continues to grow, the city is struggling to provide adequate housing for the influx of Mongolians that have been pouring into the capital in recent years. Alongside the massive influx of new residents into the city is a wide number of development projects that have been pushing out Ulaanabaatar’s lower income residents.
The city’s urban population today has swelled to 1.4 million as of this year, making up 50.3 percent of the country’s entire population. By 2030, Mongolia’s population is projected to reach 1.7 million, which will make up more than 70 percent of Mongolia’s population.
Due to the housing crisis, close to 750,000 residents of Ulaanbaatar live in informal housing in traditional Mongolian tents known as gers. And although these tents remain an important aspect of Mongolian culture, the gers – also called yurts – have no heating, which makes Mongolia’s harsh winters particularly difficult for residents to bear.
Due to the lack of heating, Ulaanbaatar’s lower income residents rely primarily on coal heaters, which contribute significantly to the country’s poor environment track record. The fumes from the heaters have brought the city’s air quality 14 times over the recommended level, giving Ulaanbaatar one of the worst levels of PM 2.5 in the world.
When Ulaanbaatar’s population reached one million in the 1990s, the city saw vast urban development in an attempt to accommodate the influx of residents. The shift in urban demographics came at a time when Mongolia transitioned to a market economy, which can also in part explain the beginning of Ulaanbaatar’s urban growth.
Mongolia’s economy has largely been benefiting from the swift urban growth Ulaanbaatar has been experiencing. The country experienced a regrettable growth of -9.3 percent in 1992, it’s all-time low, and jumped to Mongolia’s highest ever GDP growth of 17.5 in just two decades. Accordingly, urban growth in the capital seems to be ringing in gains for Mongolia.
Because the intense urban growth in the city has had a positive impact on Mongolia’s GDP, this has deterred officials from addressing the ramifications of such a boom. City leadership has also been very welcoming of real estate development projects in hopes of adding to the fruits of urbanization the city wishes to reap. This, however, has made it difficult to provide affordable housing for Ulaanbaatar’s urban poor.
In 2014, the city brought forth a plan to revamp the future of urban development in Ulaanbaatar, tackling issues like land zoning, transportation, and housing by 2020. Under the plan, development companies would have to receive at least 70 percent approval by residents to move forth with construction plans. But this plan was brought forth before the election of the current government in 2017, which might change things for Ulaanbaatar’s residents.
Out of the 7,374 apartments that began construction in 2010, only a little over 3,500 were completed as of 2016.
As development efforts continue, more residents are being evicted from their homes, pushing some residents to refuse to leave. And even for those who conditionally accept vacating their homes, they have returned to find their homes razed to the ground, according to Reuters.