Copy the Egyptian experience to solve our housing crisis

Muhammad Al-Saaed


FROM the early 1970s until the late 1990s, the hot topic discussed in the Egyptian media was the housing crisis. Cinema, television and the newspapers were pushed to come up with unique solutions to an issue that was considered quite urgent by society.

We used to watch in Egyptian dramas honest discussions on the difficulties of finding a small apartment where couples could start their lives.

We were not paying any attention to it at that time because we were not suffering from a housing problem the same way we face it today. Our numbers were little and our lives were simple. Finding a home was easy and the rents were very low. Cities were small and people preferred to live with their extended families and therefore the need for a private home was limited.

With the rise in population, the change of lifestyle and with many people living in cities far away from their homes for work, the need to find distinct housing units for single families increased. The desire for more privacy by couples also increased with the changing lifestyle of Saudis.

The housing crisis declined in Egypt since 2000. There was a construction boom in Egypt, which was not witnessed in any other country in the Arab world. Egyptians had a combination of advantages at the time. There were housing plans, suitable housing products for sale, serious investors, marketing moves, strict regulations protecting the rights of all parties and easy financing.

Honestly speaking, the Egyptian government did not interfere in the financing aspect expect in a few projects. The main housing investor was the private sector, which took the initiative and the risks. All what the government did was providing legal support and guarantees, in addition to creating the necessary infrastructure for new projects.

The investors' appetite to profit from the existing opportunities in the housing sector was unquenchable. There were intelligent minds that were able to visualize low-cost housing projects that led to the establishment of new cities and satisfied the needs of every Egyptian, who could easily afford to purchase a home for himself.

One thing worth mentioning here is that the Egyptian people were realistic about their conditions. They did not impose tough demands and conditions on housing and they did not reject the idea of living in places far away from home because they knew that the cheapest real estate units are the ones found outside the city limits.

I remember our Minister of Housing Majed Al-Huqail complimenting the Egyptian experience, which he wished was copied in Saudi Arabia.

Al-Huqail was right simply because he could not build millions of housing units in one go because each citizen had a different taste and needs from others.

Also the joint projects consume a lot from the budget. They are complicated and very slow to implement. The best solution for the ministry is to be the medium between the developer and buyer, similar to the Egyptian experience. It can guarantee the rights of both parties, easing the pressure on consumers.

Al-Huqail urged the Saudi developers either to take advantage of the Egyptian experience, or open the door for the Egyptian developers to transfer their experience and investment in the promising Saudi housing market.

A person visiting Egypt will discover that housing is not a major issue in that country. Of course, the issue will continue to crop up in a country with a population of more than 90 million people, the majority of them low- and middle-income people.

Here in Saudi Arabia, when we are still beginning to try and come up with innovative solutions to the housing crisis, we need to take advantage of the experience of others. We need new housing protects that can satisfy the need of every Saudi citizen, his taste and his way of life.