Affordable housing around the world is always in need and most often not supplied in the manner that is required. Developed western nations struggle and the same struggles are felt in all parts of the globe. In the Middle East and North Africa, the population is growing rapidly and the average age of inhabitants is growing younger. This is naturally an equation that is going to make the housing demand boom. Some estimates put the number of units needed in the range of over 3.5 million. With a lot of unrest and social issues taking place, affordable and decent housing falls right behind food, water and clean air. Maslow’s Hierarchy plays itself out around the world every day and we know that housing is an absolute necessity and launching pad for anyone to achieve personal growth and development!
We should examine an interesting quote recently cited in the Jerusalem Post:
“The lack of access to affordable housing has been identified as one of the problems behind the Arab Spring. Social unrest has been linked to lack of jobs and lack of housing,” Plumb told The Media Line. “As a result, there have been fairly bold initiatives by governments [to address it] in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.”
A Way Forward:
A lack of affordable housing is not the single cause of the up-rise in Arab countries around the world but the importance should not be downplayed. We are seeing some positive changes coming forward but it is obvious much more investment needs to take place.
The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) recently invested around 30 million dollars into a project to provide over 900 units of affordable housing in Iraq. After years of horrible war and destruction of many housing units, this country is in need of new affordable housing. We should mention that substantial rehab and rebuilding is still something that will have to take place.
King Salman promised a few years ago to make a massive investment in affordable housing units. Included in his plan was to build over 500,000 units of housing which is by far and away the largest amount of any Arab or North African country. The government has also looked for ways to reduce bureaucracy that slowed down development and put in place plans to perhaps start taxing owners of undeveloped land.
In Egypt a multi-year multi-phase project to relocate hundreds of thousands of people from slums to new affordable housing projects has been underway. This project is estimated to cost 1.5 billion dollars and will create in total somewhere in the area of 20,000 new units of affordable housing and handle over 100,000 families. A lot of this was in response to major mudslides that wreaked havoc on many families.
The reality is that geography and resources often dictate what type of interest and ability a country has to provide the provision of affordable housing. A report by the The Center on Affordable Housing Finance in Africa brings out the following interesting information. Countries like Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt have gotten closer to a formal real estate industry. These countries are finding that a private market for developing affordable housing is up and running and that subsidized land and rebates has helped fuel that movement.
An environmental scan of this important subject clearly shows that affordable housing is very high on the agenda of many Middle Eastern and North African countries. It is also evident that many of these countries prioritize home ownership over the development of high quality rental housing that might be utilized by people with low-incomes or low means. These governments will need to put a concentrated effort on policies that stimulate the development of affordable housing. Outside organizations and countries should lend their expertise and funds when appropriate to help this happen. A stable, peaceful and profitable Middle East and North Africa is important to the world and affordable housing can play a role.