The majority of individuals leaving the city are low- and middle-income people
Mahin Mia used to work as a cook at a restaurant on the Patenga sea beach in Chattogram.
He came to the port city in 1989 and, since then, has been living in the Noorjahan Colony on the Akmali Road in the EPZ area. Meanwhile, he got married and became the father of two daughters.
His family had been living in happiness until the novel coronavirus hit Bangladesh in March and took away his job – along with his smile.
For the last few months, Mahin had been supporting his family using his savings. Finally, he had to give up and, on July 1, he moved back to his birthplace in Chandpur along with his family.
"I have lived in the EPZ area for 30 years. I used to work at the Baro Aulia restaurant until the novel coronavirus closed the business. The owner paid me some money for a few months. Later, he also fell into trouble," he said.
"Apart from house rent, it costs Tk12,000-15,000 per month to support my family here. Unable to cope with it, I am returning to my ancestral home where there is no need to rent a house. I will be able to survive somehow."
Not only Mahin Mia but also thousands of others are leaving the port city every day, because some of them have lost their jobs while incomes of others have dropped significantly.
Although other cities started emptying much earlier, owing to the pandemic, Chattogram was different. However, countless people began leaving the city in June.
Nahid Hasan, owner of Sabuj Villa in Badurtala area, told The Business Standard that, on July 1 alone, four tenants left his flats. Some went back to their villages and others shifted to cheaper houses.
He also said two more tenants may leave the villa in August.
Abul Kalam, who used to sell newspapers in the Chawkbazar area, had been living with his family on the DC Road for 15 years. He, too, left the rented house on July 1 as sales had declined.
He sent his family back to his village in Noakhali while he himself shifted to his elder sister's house. "If the situation improves, I will bring the family back. However, I had no other option but to send them back to the village amid the present crisis."
Nasir Uddin, a worker of a star-rated hotel in Agrabad, has been unpaid since February. Despite the owner's repeated assurances, he did not get his salaries. Nasir currently lives at his village in Cox's Bazar.
"I used to work on a low salary. I could hardly support my family with the money I got. When payments stopped, I had to leave my rented house in April and move back to the village. The hotel remains closed and is not even paying the workers."
According to the Consumer Association of Bangladesh (CAB), 70 lakh people live in Chattogram and almost half of them are tenants.
According to the Chattogram City Corporation, the number of slum dwellers in the city is about 14.5 lakh, all being from the low and middle classes.
SM Nazer Hossain, vice-president of the CAB, told The Business Standard that many have lost their jobs and are struggling to make ends meet. Most of those leaving the city are poor and middle class people.
In March last, a survey by a private development agency, Brac, revealed that people were losing their incomes due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
Before the outbreak, the average income of those surveyed in February was Tk14,599. After the pandemic broke out, their average income decreased to Tk3,642. Chattogram's people were the highest income losers.
'To-let' ads everywhere; landlords in financial crisis
There are 27 flats in the Shubashati Tower in Chawkbazar area known as Coaching-Para in the city. Four of them are vacant at present but it used to be difficult to find a flat to rent in the tower in regular times.
Zia Uddin, a resident of the tower, told The Business Standard that he has been living there for five years. "I never saw a flat empty in the tower. Now I see it, thanks to the novel coronavirus."
Nazim Uddin is the owner of Yakub Villa located next to Alpana Community Center in the Oxygen area of the city. The five-storey house has 10 flats, five of which are vacant at present.
Nazim told The Business Standard that tenants have been leaving since March. Now half the house is empty. New tenants do not come even when the rent is reduced.
"I am a scrap dealer. I do business on bank loans. However, the business remains closed because of Covid-19. I thought I would continue repaying instalments by the money from house rent. Now, this is no longer possible and I am in a financial crisis."