Last week, The Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics of Egypt (CAPMAS) revealed that, as of 2017, Greater Cairo is home to 4.7 million vacant housing units, accounting for 22.7 percent of the city’s houses. Although Cairo does not stand alone as the only Egyptian city with large scores of vacant housing units, vacant housing units in other cities tend to be luxury second houses in resorts or summer / winter getaways.
According to the study, of the 12.8 million housing units that are vacant around Egypt, 4.6 million of them are already built while another 7.1 million are either unfinished or lack the funds to begin building.
Also last week, CAPMAS published its most recent census of the Egyptian population for 2017. The official number rolled in at 94.98 million people living in Egypt with 9.4 million people living abroad. Greater Cairo and Giza alone were estimated to be home to 18.1 million people. Earlier this year, Cairo was named the fastest-growing city in the world in 2017 by Euromonitor, with forecasts that its population would grow by 0.5 million this year alone.
These numbers are not surprising, contributing to the ongoing conversation around population growth in the face of a stunted economy, infrastructural hiccups, and densely populated cities that Egypt has struggled to address in recent years. In 2008, the General Organization for Physical Planning (GOPP) announced a detailed plan for the capital named “Cairo 2050” which aims to make Cairo a “global city” – among other goals.
The original plan provided a number of tactics that tackled the inevitable growth of Greater Cairo. With graphs and detailed plans, the scheme described how the urban fabric of Cairo would be redrawn, painting an image of a “new” Cairo. However, the vision entailed a great deal of displacement of mostly poor and underprivileged residents of Greater Cairo to make way for luxury gated communities in the city and in desert cities like New Cairo and 6th of October.
Today, the plan appears to be nowhere near its goals, with a 2011 report quoting the government claiming that it needs 2.5 million houses to move forward with the scheme.
The trend of abandoned or vacant houses is not specific to Egypt, though. There are approximately 80,000 vacant or abandoned houses across Ireland – not accounting for the 25,000 houses that are in the process of being sold. And although the Irish government has promised to build more homes, the housing minister has said that also said that they “have to manage empty homes back into use.” Similarly in Mexico City, there are approximately 30,000 houses that have been categorized as vacant by Infonavit, the Mexican Worker’s housing fund. About 3,000 of these homes were “rescued” and sold off in 2016 alone. Infonavit claims that 1 out of every 14 houses on a single street in Mexico City is vacant.
Egypt’s housing crisis, like elsewhere in the world, is a byproduct of exponential population growth and fast-paced urbanization in cities. Cairo is one of three “mega-cities” in Africa, meaning that it is home to over ten million inhabitants, and the country’s housing crisis has not left the mega-city untouched. Cairo 2050 had asserted it would reconfigure its housing plan for Greater Cairo so that by the year 2030, when Cairo hits 23 million people, it would redistribute the population over neighboring areas in Egypt. Since 2011, the only part of the plan that has been carried out was the plan regarding Northern Giza, which was supposed to bring parks, schools, health clinics and youth centers to the neighborhood of Imbaba. After the 2011 revolution, the plan was renamed “Cairo 2052,” suggesting that the government needed to go back to their drawing boards.