Housing mostly unaccessible in Egypt
Cairo - Saad Mahmoud’s overriding dream is to buy a flat big enough for himself, his wife and his three children. But rising house prices have kept that dream out of the reach of Mahmoud, a civil servant in his early 40s.
“There is a new rise in the price of housing units every time I go to buy one,” he said. “The continual rise makes decent housing a far-fetched dream.”
Mahmoud has a small flat in one of the densest slums in southern Cairo. He is still better off than millions of other Egyptians who cannot even afford to buy a flat in a slum, let alone in one of the country’s new residential areas.
Egypt has always had a housing problem with population growth beating government and private sector efforts to build enough flats to meet demand. To try to bridge the supply and demand gap, the government allowed more private companies to enter the housing market.
This resulted in enough housing for everybody in the country, but few Egyptians can afford the prices that have increased due to a number of factors, including a sharp rise in construction costs.
“The increase in the price of construction materials has been steady over the past months,” said Ahmed Abdel Hamid, the head of the Construction Materials Section at the Industries Federation. “This has, of course, affected housing unit prices and the ability of citizens to buy these units.”
Egypt has seen its national currency lose much of its value to the US dollar in recent months. At the beginning of the year, a US dollar was worth about 7 pounds at Egyptian banks and a little more on the black market. In April, the Central Bank devaluated the pound to 8.88 to the dollar at banks. The exchange rate of the dollar at the black market, however, was almost double that figure. That led to a rise in the prices of all goods, including construction materials.
Two years ago, flat prices averaged $16,800-$28,000. Now, the starting price of the same flat is about $33,000.
Mohamed al-Hasa, a member of the Housing Committee in parliament, warned against the “serious” ramifications of not intervening in the housing crisis.
“When people come short of buying housing units at planned and licensed residential areas, they will have to live in the slums,” Hasa said. “This means that our slum problem will keep exacerbating so long as we have a housing price crisis.”
Millions of people live in Egyptian slums, some of which are unsafe. A sizeable number of people also live in cemeteries or on the streets.
Mahmoud has been living in a southern Cairo slum since he married almost ten years ago. He pays $45 of his monthly salary of $146 in rent. There is no sewage control and supplies of drinking water and electricity are unreliable, making Mahmoud’s life — as well as the lives of the millions of other slum dwellers — intolerable.
“I have been working day and night to collect enough money to buy a flat away from this slum,” Mahmoud said, “but this is a dream that becomes increasingly impossible to realise with the prices getting higher day after day.”
Just a few kilometres away from the dirty alleyways of the slum where Mahmoud lives, luxurious residential compounds have been built where a modest house costs around $77,000 — equal to the combined life savings of dozens of Mahmoud’s neighbours.
Mahmoud said he sometimes passes the compounds as he goes to and from work but feels the people living in them belong to another country or another planet.
“Of course I do not dream of living in one of these compounds because this is impossible,” Mahmoud said. “I just want to have safe housing for my children. Is this becoming impossible too?”