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The shortage of housing ranks high among the list of many other concerns. A rising gap between what is available on the market and what most Saudis can afford has left many frustrated home-seekers on the edge. A shortage of low- and middle-income targeted housing means millions of Saudis cannot afford to buy a home. Young Saudis are especially affected since it takes years of saving before many can afford to buy a home, often a precursor to marriage.
Ahmed and Ayesha are a recently wedded couple who have been living with Ahmed’s parents because of their failure to find suitable and affordable housing in Jeddah’s real estate sector. Their stay with the parents was meant to be temporary until they found the apartment of their choice, but it has now has been extended for over eight months because of their fruitless search for something their pocket could absorb without sinking them into heavy debt.
Ahmed who works for an insurance company tells me he can not comprehend the prices landlords are charging for rents today. “They are indulging in uncontrolled price gouging and there is no way that I can afford something decent on my salary. Even if my wife is to pitch in with her income, we would barely get by after paying one bill or the other,” he complains. He adds that it is the couple’s desire to move out on their own so they could enjoy their privacy, but market prices have effectively barred their desires from bearing fruit.
Ahmed’s voice is one of many who are facing a dismaying time at acquiring appropriate housing at affordable prices. Statistics on Saudis who do not own their own homes has reached as high as 70 percent in some studies. To address the shortage, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah ordered the allocation of nearly $70 billion back in 2011 for the purpose of building entry level homes for his people. A new housing ministry was established and tasked with implementing the King’s directive. The media at the time reported that the Ministry was going to ensure the rapid addition of a half million new units for prospective buyers at affordable prices.
After nearly three years of waiting, many Saudis have become disillusioned from this ministry that promised so much but delivered so little. It was certainly not the lack of funds that was the factor. The market prices of what landlords and land owners are demanding have caused many to complain that this ministry has failed in its performance and purpose in introducing affordable housing to the mass of Saudis.
Daily criticism in the media about their need to show results seems to fail penetrating the thick hide of the bureaucratic institution. A local columnist even went so far to suggest that the ministry’s bureaucratically oriented housing loan programs had “actually created even more demand for homes, while the agency had almost completely neglected its duty to get more houses built.”
Many cannot understand why the Kingdom should face such a quandary, given its large real estate. There have also been calls for the heavy taxation of large tracts of prime real estate that sit for decades within urban centers without being developed as their owners seek to maximize their returns. In Jeddah, where the housing shortage is alarming and perhaps growing larger in a city whose population increases by approximately 160,000 people every year, huge acreage of undeveloped land is nestled within developed districts. Who owns them and why are they allowed to sit there undeveloped and unused is a question on many people’s minds.
Along with unemployment, the rising shortage of housing must be regarded as a threat to the country’s national security and remedial actions beyond words and speeches by the appropriate authorities must bear quick and concrete results, otherwise more home seekers will find themselves at the short end of the stick.