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 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.