Closing the chapter on hazardous housing

Amira Hisham, Tuesday 2 May 2023

Chair of the Urban Development Fund Khaled Seddik outlines the next steps on eliminating life-threatening shanty areas and replacing them with decent housing in an interview with Amira Hisham



Following the near completion of work to eliminate 357 life-threatening shanty areas in Egypt’s 27 governorates, the government is turning its attention to the informal area of Ezbet Abu Qarn in Old Cairo, with informal housing in the district being torn down in preparation for development.

The project to develop Egypt’s shanty areas began with a presidential initiative in 2016 under the supervision of the Informal Settlements Development Fund and its Chair Khaled Seddik. The fund was renamed the Urban Development Fund (UDF) after the near completion of the project, with Seddik also at the helm.

In an interview with Al-Ahram Weekly, Seddik described the stages in eliminating Egypt’s shanty areas, along with the challenges the fund had encountered in doing so, including in Ezbet Abu Qarn, the area extending behind the Amr Ibn Al-Aas Mosque to the northeast of Salah Salem Street in Cairo.

Each shanty area had its own set of challenges according to the nature of the surrounding area, he said, foremost among them “allocating alternative housing to the residents… though we always had alternative solutions to the problems we encountered.”

“Our goal has always been to find solutions most suitable for the residents and not solutions most suitable for us,” Seddik said, adding that on embarking on developing a shanty area the fund always studied a host of social, psychological, financial, and cultural factors pertaining to the life and work of residents.

 “Some people need to live in apartments and others in houses,” he said. “For example, in one area in the Sohag governorate where the residents worked in fishing we were careful to house them in a new city close to the river.”

Seddik explained that developing an area takes months of research. “We prepare studies on the population of the area, the number of buildings, their type, the number of residents in each building, the size of the apartments and the number of rooms in them, and so on.”

Another obstacle had been people’s acceptance of the development operations and how aware they are of the need to implement them. “Some people were sceptical at first, and they did not necessarily trust us. They would ask ‘what does the government want with us and what will it offer us,’” he commented.

 “But after seeing the results on the ground and our success in developing the shanty areas, people began to seek us out to develop their districts.”

Another challenge Seddik and the UDF faced related to the inheritance of houses and land. “On one occasion, there was a 40 square metre plot of land and 35 heirs. In other instances, there were people who had inherited land from their great-grandparents,” he said.

“A challenge we faced in some areas was finding alternative land, especially in densely populated areas. The ideal rate is 150 to 200 individuals per feddan, but there were areas housing 700 individuals per feddan,” Seddik noted.

“It was sometimes difficult to deal with people, relocate them, give them financial compensation, or offer them alternative housing. In every case we had to meet their demands after they had filled in forms stating their choices.”

Some residents of areas under development said that the compensation they were offered was not fair, which was “why we offered several types of compensation for people to choose the most suitable alternative,” Seddik said.

The UDF “offered compensation of LE60,000 per room to a total of LE180,000 for a residential unit comprising two bedrooms and a living area, although the inhabitants could be tenants issued an eviction notice.”

“Even so, some people criticised us, saying we were offering too little. The fund also offered LE40,000 per individual in the form of social support in addition to annulling the eviction notice.”

Seddik referred to the Maspero Triangle area in Downtown Cairo where 4,137 families had lived before the development of the area.

“Some 71 per cent of the residents of the Maspero Triangle accepted the financial compensation instead of being given an alternative unit in the Asmarat district or a unit in the same area post-development,” he said.

“People were given the right to choose, and they opted for the financial compensation, which proves that this was fair,” he added. “The people who lived in Maspero were given compensation of LE220,000, whereas at that time residential units in social housing projects sold for LE174,000.”

These moves “were based on studies meant to provide the residents of shanty areas with a decent life. We were looking out for their best interests, and we gave them their full rights.”

He denied that the Maspero Triangle area was to be sold to a Gulf state investor in which buildings would sell for LE180,000 per square metre. “The organisation in charge of implementing projects in the Maspero Triangle is the New Urban Communities Authority. Investments in this area are purely Egyptian, and the residents of the area were offered the possibility of moving back after the development of the vicinity,” Seddik said.

Regarding the demolition of older buildings in the Maspero Triangle, Seddik said five houses on 26 July Street were registered as important urban heritage and had been evacuated. The fund did not intervene until the Civil Coordination Authority and a ministerial committee issued a report stating that the buildings were dangerous and were on the verge of collapse, he said.

 “It was then that we approached the residents to offer them compensation. Otherwise, there were no other heritage buildings in the area apart from the Abul-Ela Mosque, which was kept untouched.”

Those moved to alternative residences are required to pay a maintenance deposit, “which is customary to maintain the infrastructure and quality of services,” Seddik said.

Regarding the ways in which the UDF navigated the floatation of the Egyptian pound, as well as variations in project costs since the plans began, Seddik said that “we have consistently maintained a contingency strategy, along with procuring raw materials and establishing agreements with firms well ahead of project initiation.”

 “Additionally, we have comprehensive plans in place to cope with emergencies and a budget earmarked for that purpose, alongside measures that factor in any disparity in purchasing power across different time periods.”

Seddik said that expenditure on upgrading hazardous shanty areas from 2016 to 2020 had amounted to LE40 billion.

Now that the scheme is near completion, the UDF has conducted studies with other agencies to draw up urban development plans, he said, adding that “we have a pipeline of investment projects, such as Fustat Gardens and Fustat Gem.”

“These are Egyptian investments. Some foreign entities want to partner with us in these projects, and we are currently studying their offers.”

* A version of this article appears in print in the 4 May, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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