The Egyptian Center For Housing Rights |
The Egyptian Center for Housing Rights
Report to CESCR in response to the Egyptian
regarding the right to housing (issues 27 & 32)
I. The effect of economic reforms on different segments of Egyptian society:
Among the effects of economic reforms has been that access to a place to live-by ownership or rent-has become more difficult not only for the poor segments, but also for the middle-income segments of Egyptian society. Many new middle-income families of the emerging generation also do not find a place to live, except in unplanned, random housing.
Some economic experts have purported that economic reforms have led to the lowering of real wages, which means a real increase in rents for wage earners (workers and employees) and, therefore, making it more difficult for families to enjoy housing tenure within its income. The exception would be in the case that income were lower than before, because the family cannot do without the other basic necessities of food, transportation, medical treatment and the like. The Egyptian society is divided into two categories: (1) those who actually dwell in housing under rent control, changeable rents or by ownership and (2) those who do not and cannot attain the housing they need either by rent or ownership. The latter of these represents a social ticking bomb.
In summary, the period of economic reform has made the housing problem in Egypt more complicated and difficult for the lower and middle segments of society.
II. Housing legislation in Egypt
Indicators appearing under paragraph 157 (d) of the government report to CESCR point to Law No. 4 (1996), which regulates new rental housing and units not previously rented; whereas, subject to that law, rent is tied to the Civil Code such that calls for freedom of contract between the landlord and tenant according to the principles of supply and demand.
Critique: That law offers no protection to the tenant, whereas the rental relationship between the landlord and tenant completely terminates at the very moment that the contract period ends. For the most part, the landlords resort to setting the contract period at one year, thereby giving the landlord the right to raise the rent at the end of that year as much as s/he likes, or else evict the tenant without showing any cause. Furthermore, the tenant has no protection from that decision threatening the tenants dwelling, keeping in mind especially that's/he would have a family and children.
Violation of the principal of legal security of tenure:
Since housing is a commodity subject to supply and demand, this has greatly increased rental values with the application of Law No. 4 by reducing the supply of rental properties. The tenant now is the weaker party such that her/his only alternative is to accept all of the landlord's demands, which are always arbitrary, or live in the street. As a consequence, too, this increased rent takes its toll on the other basic necessities of life, such as food, clothing and health care.
Draft occupants' union law:
The [executive branch of the] government has presented an "occupants union bill," as prepared by the Ministry of Housing, to the People's Assembly [elected house of parliament] in its current session. That same bill previously appeared in 1996, which some housing experts considered to be unconstitutional.
Under the draft occupants union bill, the renter bears more of the burden of maintenance and repair than does the landlord, and its principal purpose is to shift that burden from the landlord to the tenant. According to the draft, the landlord is authorizes to seize the tenants' personal effects in the event that they refuse or fail to pay the costs of maintenance or repair (which are borne by the landlord under the pre-existing law). Moreover, this further opens the prospect of eviction of the poor from their dwelling places. And the draft law did not account for the fact that nearly 40% of tenants live below the poverty line. Proposed solutions: There are numerous possible alternatives to this law. Housing specialists and experts have proposed establishing a fund to support housing for the poor with funds obtained through the allocation of fees collected in connection with construction permits, or by way of stamp taxes on activities related to housing, and these proceeds would be apportioned to housing maintenance and repair of the poor and informal areas. III. Paragraph 157
It appeared in the government report that the state has produced 2.4 million housing units in the period between 1981 and 1994. This number is misleading, since it combines all that was produced in both the public and private sectors, as well as by individuals. The contribution of the public sector is actually limited to only about 120,000 units in the period mentioned.
Besides the lower number that the government-produced housing represents in the public sector, also notable is a downward trend in the number of units that the government has produced. In the period of 1986-90 (the second five-year plan), the public sector produced 52,600 units and, in the 1991-95 period (the third five-year plan), the public sector produced 32,500 units, or an actual reduced quantity of 20,100 as projected in the consecutive five-year plans. In the fourth five-year plan, 1996-2001, the government has set a target of only 30,000 units, or a further reduction of 2,500 units from the third five-year plan, and 22,600 less than the second five-year plan. This represents a significant retrogression in the role of the state in this sphere. Because a large portion of the units have been produced by the private sector and by individuals, the apartments for rent and sale are supplied at high prices, because the housing policy lacks its social dimension. Theoretically, this tremendous number of units (2.4 million) would resolve the housing problem in Egypt. And that is not to mention that, along with the provision of units, unless there are also provisions of purchasing power in the poor segment of society or even in the lower ranks of the middle segment, this number of units alone does not solve the problem. In this period also, the price of a meter of land has risen from about LE 99 to between LE 250 and LE 300 for the lowest-priced units, and the typical raise in real wages cannot meet such inflationary challenges. This has led to an extremely peculiar housing situation such that the housing crisis in Egypt can be described as "dwellers without dwellings, and dwellings without dwellers."
The housing policy in this period has led to the presence of a phenomenon in which closed (unused) apartments-acknowledged by the government in paragraph 157 (d) of the report-presently have reached approximately one million apartments, and 800,000 in the rural areas. In the period in which the phenomenon of informal housing developed and their population reached 11,561.000, the quantitative balance between supply and demand was not sufficient, which was for the balance between the family's gross income and that portion designated for housing to be such that the family could thrive. IV. Paragraph 157 (a) New Development Communities
The situations and conditions of the new cities have led to the inability of attractive housing areas to achieve the purpose for which they were established. For we find that there a clear disparity between the apparent housing expectations of the new, planned cities and the actual housing reality. Whereas, the size of the population is lower than estimated. (For instance, 6th of October City was planned to absorb half a million persons, while actually 75,000 [reside there] in its first stage; and likewise 10th of May City was planned to accommodate 250,000, but its actual inhabitants in the first stage are 100,000. This shortfall is attributed to several causes, the most important of which are:
1. Reduction in the average production of all types of housing units planned for, and a general preference to build luxury housing, despite the advice and urging of the experts as to the necessity of, and demand for low-cost and economic housing stock for those with limited income.
2. The majority of heads of families work outside the new cities, reflecting the news cities' inability to provide suitable employment opportunities for most of the inhabitants.
3. The decrease in the average occupancy of the housing units delivered to their owners, which goes back to the reduced average provision of services in the new cities, making life highly problematic, and leading some to choose not to move and reside in them.
4. Likewise, the amounts demanded to obtain one of the housing units in these cities exceed the capacity of many of the poor, as well as the middle-level segments of society. Those from the higher-level or the middle segments of society are the ones who obtain them. In a new city, such as 6th of October City, the deposit required in order to obtain a unit there is LE 4,000, then a monthly payment of LE 1,000 for a period of three years. Then a LE 115 installment is paid monthly for a period of thirty years. Even if it were possible to manage the required LE 4,000 deposit, then it would not be possible for the poor, nor for the lower-level of the middle segments of society to pay LE 1,000 per month. That discourages these portions of the population-the ones who actually need the housing-from demanding these units by virtue of their lack of purchasing power.
These reasons are coupled with the fact that the speculation on these apartments in the new cities also contribute to the rise in costs. These combined reasons are why the demand for these units has not materialized at a level commensurate with the social need, nor even among those who actually have the means to pay the costs. IV. Paragraph 157 (b)
A. Concerning the production of housing in the event of emergencies and natural disasters The waiting lists for housing in dire situations in the governorates have become extremely long. In the Cairo Governorate, the last housing provision amounted to 4,000 units after several years of waiting, at a time when the waiting lists in that governorate reached 28,000 cases (not including the number added to the list every year, which is about 4,000 cases). We find that the average rate for settling these cases is extremely slow and cannot solve the problem. There is also injustice in the distribution of funding appropriations among the different governorates, especially the rural governorates, where Cairo Governorate claims a near monopoly with the biggest portion of funding. For example, the allowances designated for the governorates in 1998-99 was LE 200,000,000. Cairo Governorate alone was allotted LE 70,000,000, while LE 130,000,000 went to the rest of the 26 governorates.
B. Loans for those who want to buy or build housing
The government mentioned in its report that it has provided loans to those who want to buy or build housing, not to mention the complex bureaucratic procedures required to obtain them, that the value of the loan is linked to the level of income, and that the amount has to be repaid within four years. For example, if the requested amount were settled at LE 10,000, the amount of LE 2,000 in interest is deducted from it in advance. So, the loan taker gets only LE 8,000 and undertakes payment of LE 10,000 within the four-year term. One should keep in mind that some 40% of the population is living under the poverty line and that these segments and lowest ranks of the middle segment are unable to obtain a loan and cannot bear the debt burden. VI. Paragraph 157 ( c), concerning cooperatives
The housing-cooperatives sector basically undertakes construction for the middle class, and that is done through pooling resources of those in the middle class who desire to improve their housing situation. The state has assisted this sector greatly such that it has obtained loans that the state has dedicated to embellish the cooperative associations in 1991-92 to the amount of LE 1.2 billion, which was reduced to LE 550 million in 1995-96. It is worth mentioning that the biggest share goes to the associations linked to the armed forces and police, in order to appease that particular sector. Meanwhile, the cooperative housing system in Egypt is considered to be chaotic the extent of being characterized by corruption and profiteering.
There are an enormous number of complaints arising from Egypt's cooperative housing schemes, all of which revolve around the control of an individual or group over the funds of those requesting cooperative housing. Then the projects falter for many reasons until it has reached the point where some of the cooperative projects have been prolonged for twenty years (as in the case of the Muntasir Housing Project, in the Helwan District, belonging to an engineers cooperative association, which has overrun its schedule from 1976 until now). Also, there are pending complaints of chaos and injustice in the distribution of units that, out of nepotism, go to relatives and friends of those controlling the funds pool.
Accompanying the economic reform policy come the goals of lessening the burden on the national public budget and reducing the deficit. This effort is oriented toward reducing the amounts designated for subsidized housing loans and raising the interest for those subsidized loans from 4% to 6% (provided that the loans produce profits, which are excessive). Thereupon then, the social segment that obtained housing through cooperatives has decreased with the economic reforms and, furthermore, has experienced greater difficulties in obtaining popular housing by subsidized means.
VII. Paragraph 157 (f)
The government mentioned in its report that, with respect to the production of rental housing units-despite their importance-is deemed to be the ideal for the poor and middle segments of society that do no possess means, if only for the fact that, up until today, the government has not been content to produce units for them to own.
VIII. Paragraph 160 concerning informal housing
Clarification: The government report referred to "shantytowns" to describe the informal housing areas. However, in reality, that term is not accurate to describe the random, or informal housing in Egypt. For these are not just towns of tin shacks or shanties, but what is meant is the random or informal nature of them. The more appropriate term to identify these areas is "informal areas," which may also incorporate also shanties. Shanties and informal areas are not found only on the edge of cities, but also in the very heart of the cities.
The informal areas are a type of housing that does not fit in the Ministry of Housing plans. There are disparate degrees of development in this type of housing. They vary in quality from houses made of adobe and cement at the higher end of the scale, to shacks made of sheet metal, cloth, and even of cardboard.
The government already had planned to develop some of the informal areas (953 areas) and to eliminate some others (81 areas), which total 1,034 areas. According to official 1996 census counts, about 7,000,000 persons lived in these zones, while estimates of the Centers for the Support of Decision Making in the governorates assessed the population at 11,561,000 persons.
In the implementation of that plan, many problems arose, especially with regard to the areas earmarked for elimination, as these were in the heart of the city. The government plan did not desist from its removal plan as a goal of solving the problem of informal areas. Because the price of the lands these areas were standing on became extremely high, the government then wanted to obtain those lands. That was to be carried out by also transferring the population to standing buildings at the edges of the cities, or doling out compensation that was insufficient actually to obtain an apartment in the informal areas on the outskirts of town. Both options were inappropriate for the inhabitants because it placed them far from their workplaces, and that pushed the population to oppose the government decisions to remove them, and then entered into violent confrontations with the police forces responsible for enforcing the decisions.
1. The government should remove these areas in stages-and develop them where possible instead of eliminating them-and erect buildings in the same areas subject to removal so as to rehouse the residents in them once again in the same area (just as it had done the Zaynhum area, and as is planned in the Manshi'at Nasr area).
2. Also, [the government] must eliminate the causes of the growth of informal areas, the most important of them is the migration from the rural areas to the city for lack of work, and to take interest in development of the cities along with the countryside, so that there would not be an unfair distribution of development plans between the cities and the countryside. Therefore, there must be an improvement of the Egyptian rural conditions and the development plans and provision of work opportunities.
In spite of the government's proposed plan, it does not provide the required appropriations to address this problem. For instance, in the Cairo Governorate, the ex governor Dr. 'Amr 'Abd ul-Akhar stated "That the development of the informal areas in Cairo needs six years, beginning with 1993-94, until the end of the planning strategy of the Cairo Governorate, on the condition that there is a consistent outpouring of expenditures earmarked for development." That is, it is assumed that the connection between development of the informal areas in the Cairo Governorate and the solution for the year 2000, which will not happen without providing the necessary expenditure of funds for it. VIII. Forced eviction
In the frame of the development plan that the state posed for developing the informal areas and other development projects, its various agents and bodies have violated the right to housing and its congruent rights by using types of forced eviction that resulted in the dispersal of many poor citizens. The state was not content with neglecting them and not providing housing for them, but attacked their poor homes and inhabitants. In many cases, the eviction was carried out without compensation or appropriate alternative shelter. The patterns of forced evictions in the informal areas include the following.
1. The demolition of potters' dwellings in ancient Cairo without alternate housing or compensation:
In January 1998, armed police forces carried out the demolition the homes of 75 poor families without previous warning and without even giving them a chance to move their belongings, abandoning any demonstration of humanity until one child died, and burying the poor families' furnishings so that they would lose their place of residence.
The ones responsible were carrying out orders to subjugate the citizens by removing only the potters' places (and these were workshops for manufacturing ceramics) without touching the dwellings fit for families. However, the citizens were surprised by bulldozers demolishing their houses as well. Violent confrontations broke out there between the citizens and the police forces, which used tear gas, arrested 72 citizens and injured others.
A Social Affairs committee established that indeed houses were demolished there that 75 families were living in, among which were 34 families who pay taxes to the state and had the documents to prove it. The committee also recommended that they be moved to shelters; however, the governor's opinion was that those citizens had no legal claim to replacement housing, not even to tent shelters, because they are subject to prosecution and there was no actual demolition of houses. The citizens have obtained nothing.
2. Demolition of homes in 'Ayn Hilwan
In June 1997, four houses were demolished on the heads of their inhabitants in the informal 'Arab Ghunaym area in the Helwan section of Cairo. Violent confrontations ensued between the citizens and the police forces, resulting in the injury of a number of citizens. This was carried out on the pretext of the widening of the street, in spite of a court order not to carry out the demolitions. The affected citizens have obtained neither compensation nor replacement housing.
3. Removal of five houses in al-Marj
Police forced removed five houses in the informal Marj area without previous warning. When the citizens asked where is the removal order, they were served with the pretext that the houses were to be demolished for the "public good" in order to widen the street linking the area to the ring road. The citizens never received any official notice concerning the evacuation of those houses. They were not given any replacement housing, nor any compensation to the families that lived in them. There is nowhere for them to live but in the street.
There are many other cases to mention. However, these stories are typical examples and not exhaustive.
There are even cases in which compensation is paid or replacement housing is provided, while the procedures involved in claiming these entitlements from the government leave numerous criticisms, including:
X. Youth housing programmes
The state engages in projects called "youth housing" and there are numerous problems with these projects, including:
1. Limitations to the actual demand, as in 6th of October City, where in one of the stages the project was proposed at 2,000 units, while the real demand was for 42,000 units.
2. Unfair apportionment of these units so that they go to those who do not actually qualify.
3. Increases in the costs to obtain a housing unit to levels too high for young people (as the high demand constitutes the number of those actually in need of housing, but are not able to bear the cost).
4. Lack of services, such as transport, and/or high costs of those services when available.
5. Imposition of conditions that are arbitrary and not understood, affecting the time in which the housing would be available. Many young families expecting to wait five years have been kept waiting more than ten years, and still have not obtained a housing unit.
XI. Housing in cemeteries
There is a type of housing in Cairo not found in the rest of the governorates in Egypt. That is habitation of cemeteries, where citizens take refuge there on account of their inability to pay the costs to obtain a housing unit. The 1986 census showed that the inhabitants of cemeteries did not exceed 14,000 persons at a time, when unofficial estimates ranged between a half million to one million. The government does not mention in its report about its plan with regard to this type of housing and population.
It is presumed that shelters are a kind of temporary housing during strained and emergency circumstances until proper housing can be provided. However, this type of housing converts from temporary housing into permanent housing such that the citizens have to wait long years without having obtained housing units.
XIII. Bank financing
In Egypt, the recent period has witnessed a formidable expansion of investments in upscale real estate-as opposed to other forms of housing-that the banks finance. This has led to an oversupply of luxury real estate that is contrasted by a large and continuing demand for low-cost and medium-priced housing. Consequently, this has led to stagnation in the real estate market. The demand should be taken as a guide, indicating that low and medium-priced units should be built instead.
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