Creative Solutions for Affordable Housing: Fixing Egypt’s Housing Problem the Ashoka Way

Over the last week a lot of attention has been paid to Egypt’s housing issue. Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif announced the government’s new plan to address the problem. Ashoka Arab World sent out a press release about its Housing For All Initiative. Daily News Egypt even published an editorial on “The Slums of Cairo.” The current discussion about Egyptian informal settlements and the poor communities who live in them highlights the need to move away from traditional solutions to the region’s most pressing concerns. It’s time to start looking at these crises from a new perspective, to involve beneficiaries in the solutions, and to make a lasting change. This attitude is exemplified by Ashoka Arab World’s Housing For All project.

The slums of Garbage City

The slums of Garbage City

The housing problem in Egypt has been building up for years. The country suffers from a fundamental mismatch between available housing and those who need housing. More than 11 million people live in informal slum settlements. 90% of Egypt’s housing is built informally and 10% is built by professional companies. Unfortunately, construction companies are building new homes primarily for the high-income market for the sake of profitability. This has lead to the creation of one million unoccupied apartments in Cairo while over five million people have been pushed into the cemeteries of Cairo’s City of the Dead.

The flaw of traditional solutions to this problem is not that they do no good. The Egyptian government’s new plan to deal with 29 slum areas includes giving out alternative plots of land and offering commercial, health, and sports projects to increase employment. There is no doubt that this plan will help people and have some benefits. However, it fails to address the core of the housing problem. The government’s solution is simply not the right answer; it will not give people safer, cleaner, and better homes. Moreover, Prime Minister Nazif’s idea, though extensive, may have the side-effect of placing some slum residents at risk of losing their homes all together.

That’s where Ashoka comes in. Ashoka Arab World is approaching this problem from an innovative angle: the Housing For All (HFA) initiative, called “El Dawar,” leverages the collective purchasing power of the poor to make them viable customers for construction companies. It will transform housing markets by providing a market-based model which creates low-cost housing solutions to low-income communities. Ashoka Arab World and four of its Fellows are partnering with local communities, the business sector, and the government to implement the project, which will create an estimated 3680 housing units over 2 years. The houses, which will be newly constructed or renovated, will be affordable, safe, and ecological. The initiative takes into account everything that obstructs impoverished Egyptians from living in proper homes: it provides affordable building materials through partner construction companies; it makes financing possible through microfinance institutions; and it makes building low-cost housing safer and more environmentally sustainable with the help of engineers and university students. Furthermore, HFA centers will help residents obtain some ownership over their new housing so they have greater control over their lives.

Ashoka Arab World is bringing in experts from all sides of the housing issue to make HFA an effective, comprehensive solution that is bound to go farther than governmental projects and traditional solutions. Ashoka Fellow Hany El Miniawy has built over 10,000 affordable housing units in the El-Monib, Imbaba, and Mansheyet Naser areas of Cairo. Waste disposal, which is linked to public health and environmental safety, will be addressed by Ashoka Fellow Sameh Seif Ghaly, who is introducing low-cost sewage systems in Egyptian villages. In addition, Ashoka Fellow Salah Arafa has experience with economic development and environmental protection of rural communities living in informal settlements in Bassayssa. Finally, Ashoka Fellow Maher Bushra is working to provide essential living needs to Egypt’s informal sector and to raise awareness among poor communities about their rights and resources. All of these Fellows understand that Egypt’s housing troubles are about much more than just homes.

By directly dealing with the issue of housing HFA can address many more closely linked problems such as poverty, public health, environmental sustainability, human rights…The list goes on.  Any solution to the housing problem must attack the fundamental challenge facing the inhabitants of Egypt’s informal areas; poor people cannot afford homes. Moreover, solutions to that long list of socioeconomic problems above must include a solution to the swelling of slums. In Egypt and throughout the Arab world, all of these problems are inextricably connected, and HFA finally looks at them as such.


11 comments on “Creative Solutions for Affordable Housing: Fixing Egypt’s Housing Problem the Ashoka Way

  1. Your work is admirable. I saw a CNN report of a housing project in a village in the upper nile, and would like more details please.

  2. It is great to see someone is looking at a partially bigger picture. Most of the companies that left the low income housing market in my opinion have not studied the financial benefits of it as we do here in the US. The first and most important is the ROI and everything else will follow. I spent time in 6th of October and 10th Ramadan and in my opinion those areas followed a sardine can design. I can see why now we have to look at health issues and utility issues. Another major issue I see and hear about is the traffic dilemma which I understand has exceeded 200% of the road capacity. I hope some day we can see all the different ministries input their problems and solutions in the planning and execution of new areas to be developed. Maybe we will see a panel put together that is unbiased to a certain Ministry and look at the development of communities self sufficient in all ways yet affordable, environmentally friendly and energy efficient. I know a lot of people have become greatly concerned about Egypt’s growth problem and we have great people in place and as we see them working together we will see great things happen in Egypt. I have been for the last several years trying to look at those housing issues and strongly believe that they will be overcome in the future. Hats off to all of those who have made this issue a priority in there life.

  3. Absolutely agree – The flaw of traditional solutions to this problem is not that they do no good.

    That is why we designed moladi as a solution to the issues raised
    The production line principal needs to be applied – Where does the bottleneck lie?

    It is perceived to be the supply of blocks or bricks but this is not so! It lies with the ability of a craftsman or artisan to lay these bricks or blocks – there simply is not enough artisans to address the backlog or even simply the need.

    For more information you are welcome to visit our website at

  4. Unfortunately with our population in Egypt growing at a rate of about 1.5 million it is hard to see any significant dent in the housing matter. There is allot of organizations out there working hard yet we are so far behind it is hard to see the light on this housing issue. I think we need to do more to empower the people to do for themselves. We need to develop a pyramid system of education for people to learn to do for themselves. The skilled people are fading and we need to re train our youth to work with there hands and build there country back up. We cant afford to take one person from the slums when 10 new ones are entering. My understanding is that we are building an average of one home for every nine children are born. The ratio of 1/9 has to find its way to 9/1. Egypt has allot of resources I feel we don’t have the people with the right skills and the attitude to want to do it. People need to understand we have to look at life as a whole and tackle it in that namer. I wrote my thoughts down once that I will share with whom ever reads these comments maybe it will put some thought into there minds to come up with more solutions.

    “My home is my castle”
    By: Amin Abdelkader

    A lot of people use this phrase in describing their home. I wonder if they really know what that means. One might say it is where one feels safe from the grime and the weather of the outside world. Another person might say it is where I can rest and rejuvenate for the next day. Or even one might think it’s where he can have a good healthy home cooked meal; all that is good, but is it really true?

    During the last 20 years I spent building homes, I experienced the days of unsafe aluminum wiring, exploding pipes and fittings, water intruding stucco and the big “M,” mold in homes. These things sure don’t sound like my castle to me.

    As my friend once told me, life is a wheel and we can’t look at it one spoke at a time. Just imagine a bicycle with one spoke, you will never go anywhere. Now, hook all the spokes into the wheel, and off you go to enjoy yourself.

    As we reached our destination and happiness with the wheel on a bike we need to reach happiness riding on the wheel of life. As I read articles on health, diets, cars, water, energy and almost everything that touches our lives, I find one thing missing: the center of the wheel, that holds all the sprockets together. Well, I have come to the conclusion that my home will hold the sprockets and be the center of that wheel and the center of my life.

    Let’s take Mr. X, a well rested well fed, happy man. Now, why wouldn’t Mr. X go to work this morning? Why would he want to take a nap during the day? Would Mr. X want to leave early to go to the doctor? Would Mr. X want to have another job to pay medical bills or higher utility during the winter or summer because it’s unbearable at home? Would Mr. X want to get a maid to clean the house because he had to open the window thinking he might get some fresh air? Oh is that the fresh air that is full of dust from the open land around us and fumes from traffic in our streets.

    Our home is our castle, has caused us to feel like we are working too hard (and we are not) and it makes us work harder so we can afford to live in it.

    As we look at all the great things that great people around us do in research for better health, life and all the life comforting gadgets we are still missing one element the center that holds all those great things together.

    Now, let’s look at our new home or our real castle. Why can’t we have a home that can be strong, maybe a concrete house that would give one the security they would want, in case a storm or an earthquake came along. Let’s make the house as sound proof as we can and that way we can filter all the outside noise for some peace and quite. Now let’s take out all the organic material in the home and not have anything giving off gas inside the house. Could it be possible that we might give our immune system time to rejuvenate? Let’s turn that home into one big insulated box. Could you imagine living in a cooler just like a soda on the beach? Stored in a cooler the soda stays cold for a long time and that tea in a thermos sure stays hot for a long time. We can also go another step by orienting the home in the right direction to utilize the breeze and the sun. Imagine solar power in a home that hardly uses energy! Now that we built a new home that feels like living in an ice chest or thermos set inside a clean operating room built inside a sound proof recording studio. Does that sound too perfect and too expensive? Well let’s make that as affordable as low income housing where it can become a standard of living.

    Let’s look at a bigger picture. We build our castles in town and bring all the amenities our wonderful government offers us to our town. We can also bring our jobs closer bring the schools for our kids, the stores the banks and the parks. Well we now don’t have to travel far maybe even walk more, exercise. Less traffic, less carbon in the air; wow! What a life! Can it really be true?

    Well, a self-sustained, GREEN, affordable, energy efficient community with our castle in the middle. Let’s find a way to bring all the spokes that hold the wheel together anchored with our home and live a better life.

  5. i have an assignment at the university about a problem and i choose this source but, i don’t know what are the weak point of this, can you help me ??

  6. The main problem for the slum housing that the government and the regieme did not want to solve the issue. They have to change the laws that were created long ago and adopt it to the current life

    • Please excuse my lack of knowledge. I say that because it seams that i am missing something. What exactly are the laws that need to change to build better homes and create jobs. i was told that on numerous occasions but no one will elaborate. Over the last 6 years or so I spoke with the last 3 ministers of housing and I had no obstacles or laws they could find to stop one from building. I did find a lot of obstacles on the way up through the different departments in the Housing Ministry but those are not laws they are mind set of what people think is the law. We even attended last year the IEEI Real Estate Forum and we got the same feeling yet no direct answer. I do wish to be educated on this subject. My opinion is housing solutions start with jobs. Our Egyptians are smart and everyone that deals with Egyptian workers loves it. I spoke a few weeks ago with a friend at Lenovo and he said having a call center move to Egypt was a great thing, communication is so much easier with them then anywhere else.
      We need to look at Egypt as a sustainable Egypt.

  7. Dear Amin,

    It is easy and simple. I refer you to the World International bank for doing business in Egypt. The analysis shows that obtaining a building permit is the worst point where Egypt scores. Egypt rank came in the 165th rank in the report with a duration to obtain the permit of 218 days (I believe this is related to laws). The huge amount of corruption in municipalities it is taking place because of the laws. The Building law has to be mutually agreed with all parties taking in consideration the social impacts. In the law it is not allowed to build a building with a height more than 1.5 times the width of the corresponding street and the government officials use to claim that 12 story building is structurally unsafe. Those were some of the points I believe they need to be amended in the laws.

    I agree that we need to look for a sustainable country. Meanwhile, you need to consider the people with no shelter or living in slums and not informal housings only. I am sure you are aware that shelter is from the human’s basic needs.

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