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Empty Cairo homes beyond reach of Egypt's poor

In a country where 26 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line, social housing has become a pressing need, but it is often beyond the means of those who most need it.
TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY TONY GAMAL-GABRIEL A general view shows unfinished and empty apartment blocks on the outskirts of the Egyptian capital, Cairo, on August 31, 2015. A construction boom has seen new housing developments mushroom around Cairo but they are out of reach for many.  AFP PHOTO / MOHAMED EL-SHAHED
TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY TONY GAMAL-GABRIEL A general view shows unfinished and empty apartment blocks on the outskirts of the Egyptian capital, Cairo, on August 31, 2015. A construction boom has seen new housing developments mushroom around Cairo but they are out of reach for many. AFP PHOTO / MOHAMED EL-SHAHED

CAIRO // Ahmed and Mohamed are both married with children but still live with their mother, unable to afford one of the hundreds of thousands of homes sitting empty in Egypt’s capital.

A construction boom has led to many new housing developments around Cairo but they are out of reach of the pockets of many, including the two brothers in their 30s.

Instead, they share a three-bedroom flat with their wives, three children, another brother and their mother, for a combined rent of around US$10 (Dh36) a month.

Away from their rubbish-strewn neighbourhood with its tenements and narrow alleys, empty and unfinished buildings flank the ring road that circles the vast metropolis.

Outside the city, gated compounds of villas, lush gardens and golf courses in the desert await those with money.

Almost half of Cairo’s population of about 20 million lives in informal settlements with poor infrastructure and buildings often constructed with no permits.

At the same time, the government says there are 1.5 million vacant homes across the country.

In 2013, then housing minister Tarek Wafik, quoted by state-run newspaper Al-Ahram, said 30 per cent of the country’s housing units were unoccupied.

Experts blamed the authorities for allowing housing prices to rise while not creating enough affordable social housing.

“Those projects are not made for us,” said Ahmed, a father of two who earns about $160 a month working at a slaughter house.

“If you have the means, you can pay and have one. If not, no,” he said.

Mohamed’s wife, Rahma Nafea, who is expecting their second child, also dreams of having a home of their own.

“But we just have enough to buy food and cover expenses for the children,” the 18-year-old housewife said.

A 2007 government decree that removed many restrictions on property purchases by foreigners was followed by a boom in construction of high-end real estate.

According to Yahya Shawkat, an urban planner and founder of the 10-Tooba research centre, the government encouraged an increase in housing prices by deregulating the market.

The price of land in Cairo’s satellite neighbourhoods, increased fourfold between 2007 and 2013, according to Mr Shawkat.

In a country where 26 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line, social housing has become a pressing need, but it is often beyond the means of those who most need it.

“There is a high demand for social housing, but the homes that are available are luxury ones,” said Manal al-Tibi, the director of the Egyptian Centre for Housing Rights.

Galal, an electrician, has twice broken off engagements because he could not find a flat, which is often a condition imposed by a fiance’s parents.

He lives with his parents and shares a room with his brother.

“Honestly, I’ve lost hope,” the 24-year-old said.

* Agence France-Presse

Updated: September 23, 2015 04:00 AM

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