“Everyone has the right to healthy, safe, and affordable shelter, which includes all basic services and facilities while allowing them freedom of choice without discrimination and ensuring the legal right to own their housing or be tenants without the threat of expulsion or forced eviction,” said Nafisa Hashem, first undersecretary and head of the Housing and Utilities Department at the Ministry of Housing, during the online launch of the first National Housing Strategy for Egypt on Monday.
The unveiling of the strategy coincided with World Habitat Day, this year held under the slogan of “Housing for All: A Better Urban Future”.
The vision of the Ministry of Housing focused on enabling every citizen to exercise his or her right to live in a safe environment fully equipped with infrastructure and connected to employment opportunities and adequate services, with the state taking on the responsibility to provide a minimum standard of decent housing for all citizens, particularly low-income groups, those speaking at the launch webinar said.
The webinar cast light on the ministry’s action plan for housing, which focuses on subsidised housing for low-income families, support for middle-class families, and making housing available for high-income segments of the population.
The new Housing Strategy is designed to clarify the national vision for the housing sector, raise the efficiency of achieving its objectives, provide a vehicle for linking and integrating its policies with other sectors, and enable all the parties to develop long-term plans that raise their efficiency and performance.
The strategy also aims to mark a shift from house construction alone to a larger concept of integrated urban development, emphasising the core role housing plays in achieving development, stimulating the economy, reducing poverty, and enhancing social inclusion, as those in the webinar explained.
Hashem pointed to several challenges that needed to be addressed in implementing the new Housing Strategy, including an unbalanced distribution of housing units, the reluctance of private capital to invest in rented housing and the increased emphasis on ownership, closed and vacant units, and rent controls for the privately rented housing stock.
The issue of housing has been an intractable one over recent years, with the new strategy noting that “the high rate of population growth, the increase in migration from rural areas to cities, and the directing of available public funds to support the construction of new housing units have made it difficult to cope with the increase in population in urban areas.”
It added that these factors and others had led to the emergence of informal areas in many cities and the growth of informal housing since the mid-1970s.
The new Housing Strategy was prepared by the Housing and Utilities Department at the Ministry of Housing, utilities and urban communities in cooperation with the United Nations Human Settlements Programme.
The need for developing new housing strategies in Egypt and worldwide has been prompted by the global increase in urbanisation rates and the consequent increase in demand for housing and basic urban services, especially as the population of informal and poorer areas in the world has increased from 725 million in 2000 to an estimated 889 million in 2020.
This increase has widened the gap between social groups and raised the vulnerability and deprivation of the poor.
The issue of adequate housing has topped international development agendas as a result, in particular the New Urban Agenda and UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially Goal 11 to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable, and to upgrade slums by 2030.”
In 2013, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme issued a Global Housing Strategy to assist member states in promoting the right to adequate housing. The Council of Arab Ministers of Housing and Reconstruction at its 30th session in December 2013 then decided to prepare an Arab Strategy for Housing and Sustainable Urban Development.
The Secretariat of the Arab League has assigned great importance to the development of strategies and programmes to achieve sustainable development in the Arab countries, including of housing, with the technical support of the UN Human Settlements Programme. It endorsed the strategy in 2016.
Egypt adopted the overall direction of the Global and Arab Housing Strategies by drawing up a roadmap towards achieving the goal of adequate housing for all. Before its development, the Ministry of Housing, with the participation of consultants, developed a Reference Document for Housing Strategies and Policies in 2013.
In 2014, the ministry prepared tools to monitor the current situation of housing in the country, ongoing programmes for housing, and other data related to the sector.
In cooperation with house builders and other stakeholders, as well as the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS), and after workshops and discussions with housing experts, UN-Habitat in collaboration with the Ministry of Housing launched the “Egypt Housing Profile” in 2016.
This included an analysis of the housing sector in the country and focused on affordable housing polices, programmes, and projects. The profile is the core of Egypt’s new Housing Strategy and aims to provide the necessary support for comprehensive discussion and real understanding of the sector with a view to the effective direction of the new strategy.
Based on the profile and various international human-rights agreements and treaties, Egypt issued its new Housing Strategy this week, bringing together sectoral visions, Egypt’s 2030 Vision, and urban and economic development plans to enhance the relationships between housing and other development and service sectors and reinforce effectiveness and efficiency.
This strategy has become more pressing in the light of the spread of the global Covid-19 pandemic, which once again has stressed the importance of the right to adequate housing that is healthy and safe for all.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 8 October, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly