For the past 10 years, the residents of the Maspiro Triangle (Mothalath Maspiro in Arabic) have been living in limbo. In what was cloaked as an attempt to ‘develop’ the informal neighborhood is actually an attempt to forcibly evict and remove the Triangle’s residents to make way for a point-blank gentrification of the area. Mothalath Maspiro, however, is just a peg in the wider story that is the state of housing in Egypt.
As news of the eviction of residents from the Maspiro Triangle spread earlier this summer, many Cairenes were dubious as to whether the informal neighborhood should have gotten razed to the ground at all and questioned what would happen to its residents. Maspiro, however, is one of many instances where the state of housing in Egypt poses more questions than answers. As Egypt lies 12 years away from its grand 2030 scheme, it has a long way to go to address a number of issues, from affordable housing and secure tenure to vacant housing and rent laws.
Earlier this month, a collective of urbanists – notably Yahia Shawkat and Omnia Khalil of 10Tooba, along with urban researcher Ali Moghazi – delivered a talk titled “The Question of Housing in Egypt: State of Plans and Proposals.” During the talk, Shawkat, Khalil, and Moghazi explored issues regarding the state of housing in Egypt as well as potential solutions for it.
The talk was part of a larger project run by the French Institute in Mounira in Cairo called “Midan Mounira,” delving specifically into rent both as a housing and a socio-economic phenomenon. The data that 10Tooba collected in partnership with the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS) formed the State of Housing Egypt 2017 series that was published on the Built Environment Observatory (BEO) website earlier this year.
As part of the series, Shawkat and Khalil spoke about the current state of housing in Egypt and how it has been changing as a result of a number of social, political, and economic conditions over the past 30 years. According to a report produced by BEO, there are four different types of rent in Egypt: Old Rent, New Rent, In-Kind Benefit, and Furnished Rent. Shawkat and Khalil, however, were more concerned with the former two during their talk.
Rent: Old and New
Old rent, which is a byproduct of a law passed in the 1920s, is a form of rent control that has since become passé. Under the old rent law, tenants paid a small – often negligible – amount of money as rent, despite houses often being valued at much more. As a result, landlords felt that old rent contracts inhibited the profitability of their property. In 1996, a new rent law was passed to liberalize the real estate market in what is known as ‘new rent.’
Forced evictions and secure tenure – or lack thereof – continue to be one of many pressing issues in the conversation around the state of housing in Egypt and, up until today, lack a constructive, forward-looking framework. For one, the imminent end to old rent contracts means that more people will have to either voluntarily leave or be forcibly evicted from homes that they have most likely lived in for generations. The future of these residents and others who have rented their homes for decades remains uncertain.
Ownership, Rent, and Nominal Income
At the moment, more than 85 percent of Egyptian houses are owned by their tenants while 14 percent of houses are rented. The report claims that the percentage of rented apartments across governorates is sporadically spread. Cairo, the Red Sea, and South Sinai topped the list of having the highest concentration of rented houses at 39 percent, 33 percent, and 32 percent respectively. Because the latter two governorates are highly dependent on tourism, the reasoning behind the concentration of rented houses follows.
The number of individuals renting homes in Egypt, however, is falling. For starters, the change in legislation in 1996 which liberalized rent made it more difficult for families to pay rent that had increased exponentially. And with a disproportionate income-to-rent ratio, low- to middle-income households could no longer afford to rent houses under new rent contracts. Between 2006 and 2017, the number of rented houses in Egypt fell from 23 percent to 14 percent.
After the Egyptian government devalued the Egyptian Pound in late 2016, the currency lost more than half its value against the US Dollar. Following the devaluation, the median cost of new rent in Egypt rose to EGP 1,200, up by 20 percent from the year before. Egypt’s minimum wage officially stands at EGP 1,200.
The rent-to-income ratio, however, has been changing for more than decade. Since 2008, when the ratio was 14 percent, Egyptian households saw the ratio almost triple to 39 percent.
According to the report, the coastal City of Port Said saw the biggest increase in the ratio between 2016 and 2017, jumping from 72 percent to 91 percent, whereas South Sinai saw the smallest increase from 11 to 12 percent. South Sinai, like the Red Sea governorate, depends heavily on tourism – an industry that has been hit hard by economic instability and political turmoil across Egypt.
The Near Future of the State of Housing in Egypt
Although the BEO’s research does a profound job of summarizing the current state of housing in Egypt, there are a number of social and economic factors that must be taken into account on an aggregate level. For one, both Egyptian society and Egypt’s urban fabric are characterized by informality, which, to an extent, renders measuring rent and income levels far more difficult.
Whether in regard to informal housing or informal data collection processes in Egypt, the data used by the BEO for their fact sheet on rent and income levels comes directly from census data provided by CAPMAS. However, the scale of rent used in this particular fact sheet only covers data from the censuses of 1986, 1996, 2006, and 2017.
Data used for approximating income levels, which also comes from survey data provided by CAPMAS, was collected from only 20,000 households. The findings from the initial survey were used to calculate an approximated median and are based on only 50 percent of CAPMAS’ original findings.
This, however, suggests how difficult analyzing rent and income levels is due to the lack of available data and the complications of data collection processes. Add to that how the informality of both the labor and housing markets in Egypt, trying to instigate structural change becomes a difficult task.
The BEO’s report stands as a well-rounded criticism of how leadership has been handling changes to the current state of housing in Egypt. Countless residents are being systemically evicted from their homes with no alternative or temporary housing made available. The few residents that have been relocated elsewhere have told researchers at BEO of being informally evicted from there as well or sometimes given the wrong keys and left to live on the streets.
Unfortunately, it does not seem the policies currently in place are prioritizing urban residents and their well-being, but, rather, plans for development and also gentrification – as with the Maspiro Triangle – which are at the top of the list.