The embezzling of money earmarked for low-cost housing has become a burning crisis for the Algerian authorities, as angry poor people take to the streets to press the government to take action.
Hundreds of people demonstrated in the western city of Oran, when the local authorities published a list of beneficiaries from a low-cost housing project in the city, one of the largest in Algeria.
The demonstrators, angered by evidence of fraud and embezzlement, stoned the city hall and sequestered the mayor, who was liberated only by police intervention.
There were similar demonstrations at the end of July in Sidi Belabbass (420 km south of Algiers), where the townsfolk compelled the mayor to annul what was considered unfair allocations of low-cost housing.
Algeria suffers a chronic lack of housing, made worsened by an ever-growing population explosion and an mass immigration of rural people to cities. With the worsening of poverty and the increase in rents, hundreds of thousands of Algerians are claiming social housing financed by the government.
The Algerian authorities actually launched a major project to curb the crisis but intermediaries immediately seized the opportunity to profit, buying low-cost housing and taking advantage of the demand to resell them at exorbitant prices.
The housing crisis touches almost every one in Algeria, except the very rich and middle-class people are ironically among the most vulnerable. Their salaries are deemed too high for social housing that is earmarked for low-income people. But middle-class salaries are too low for people to buy apartments at market prices.
According to official figures, a medium sized apartment costs US$360 US dollar a square meter, four times more than the minimum monthly wage in Algeria. A house in the suburbs of the capital can rank 500 times higher than the minimum wage.
Banks complicate things by imposing an 11 percent interest rate for housing loans, as well as requiring a regular salary.
Those are difficult conditions for a country with 30 percent unemployment and where the poor are 23 percent of the population. The dismal social and economic situation pushed Algerians to vote for the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) in 1992 general elections, but the central authorities canceled the election, sparking a civil war of merciless violence waged by Islamist groups taht so far has claimed more than 100,000 lives. –(Albawaba-MEBG)