Middle East faces major shortage of middle-income housing

Published September 8th, 2015 - 04:31 GMT

Shortage of “middle-income” housing is a major issue in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, according to JLL’s second MENA "Middle-Income" Housing report released Monday.

JLL, the world's leading real estate investment and advisory firm, in its special report on the middle-income housing segment in the MENA region, highlights the social and economic impact of a marked shortfall in the required supply of middle-income housing, suggesting that significant efforts are needed to address the current imbalance.

JLL defines "middle-income" housing as that provided by the market which is affordable to the middle tranche (i.e. 40-60 percent) of households on the assumption that they spend no more than 30 percent of their gross household income on housing. 

The definition of affordable varies across the region in terms of "price point." JLL’s report indicates that an "affordable" sales price in the UAE is currently around AED790,000 ($215,090) with an affordable annual rent of around AED72,000 ($19,603). In KSA, the affordable sales price is around SR450,000 ($119,992) and the affordable annual rent is around SR47,000 ($12,532). While in Egypt, the affordable sale price is around EGP285,000 ($36,398) and annual rent around EGP 32,000 ($4,086). 

The report noted that this shortage is an important and consistent issue across all three major MENA markets (KSA, Egypt and the UAE). While there is a general recognition of the problem and a growing number of policy initiatives and projects targeting the middle-income sector, more needs to be done if the current shortage is not to widen further before it is reduced, the report pointed out.

The importance of the middle-income sector of the market should not be under estimated, as it accounts for over 60 percent of all households in both KSA and Egypt. That equates to 3.3 million households in Saudi Arabia and 12 million in Egypt. The relative numbers in the UAE are smaller, but there are still over 820,000 middle-income households, representing almost 40 percent of all households in the UAE.

In 2011, JLL identified the need for an additional 3.5 million affordable homes across the region. This gap has almost certainly increased over the past five years as the vast majority of developments delivered and conceived throughout MENA over this time, have been aimed at more affluent households. Only 22 percent of residential units launched in 2015 to date in Dubai are "affordable" to "middle-income" households according to JLL’s definition, “while we have not seen any residential units being launched this year that meet our definition of ‘affordable’ in the other markets.”

The report highlighted several factors that have contributed to the current shortage of affordable housing. These include: 

• High land values which have reduced access to affordable land 

• High capital costs for associated infrastructure development such as roads,  electricity and sewerage

• Low adoption of prefabricated construction techniques have contributed to higher construction costs 

• Lower financial returns compared to other residential sectors, making such developments less attractive for developers

• Limited access to suitable finance for low income families, due to generally immature mortgage markets

The complexity of these factors means that solutions are not necessarily easy to find. The report suggests that resolving the shortage of middle-income housing requires a concentrated effort involving government agencies, private developers and other stakeholders, focusing on six key factors:

• Providing developers with access to affordable land. 

• Reducing the cost of infrastructure and land servicing costs borne by affordable housing projects.

• Promotion of industrial approaches to construction and more unified, large scale procurement processes to reduce construction costs.

• Adapting developers’ business models to make affordable homes more attractive. 

• Improve access to mortgage financing through regulation and encouragement of financial services industry to allocate certain funds  middle income households.

• Regulate the delivery of affordable homes and ensure ongoing affordability. Dubai’s RERA has shown that rental caps can protect middle-income households from spiraling rent increases.

Craig Plumb, Head of Research at JLL MENA, said “while none of these solutions are easy, we believe that working together, governments and developers can address the shortfall that JLL has identified in this report.”

He noted that “governments around the region have started to allocate significant financial resources to encourage more development of middle-income housing, but more needs to be done. We believe there is a need to re-think the existing relationship between government and the real estate development industry to create more affordable housing that middle income families can afford .We also recommend more innovative planning and design initiatives to create more attractive, environmentally sustainable and cohesive communities as well as accessible financing, empowering middle income families to take a stake in their future.”

Plumb cited several examples of best practice that offer some hope that changes are already beginning to take root. 

“Developments such as Nshama’s Town Square in Dubai show that private sector developers are able to deliver affordable product for middle-income households in the UAE.  Elsewhere in the region, timely government initiatives such as the launch of the KSA Ministry of Housing‘s "ESKAN" project should result in progress toward the supply of 500,000 affordable units as it aims to increase the proportion of homeowners in the Kingdom. In Egypt, both Arabtec and Orascom are also contributing significantly to the need to provide more affordable homes.”

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