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It has been difficult to merge together the positive aspects of the “self-built” informality
commonly used in Egypt and the government policy that imposes to give them legal sanctions and an
enduring development.
Specifically, the Egyptian policy about informal housing would prohibit to build new illegal
constructions and stop its intrusion on lands devoted to agriculture, rebuild informal dangerous and
damaged areas, improve buildings and supply new services that older settlements didn’t have, and
produce social housing that could be for families looking for an low-cost place to live.
Despite the prohibition policy, the numbers of the informal buildings have been incremented
since 2011 and even though the law established demolition, arrests and the suspension of services such
as water and electricity, the imposition had the opposite effect.
The housing designated as unsafe that would have needed and resettlement only consists of the
2% of all the informal areas. The national program started in 2009 aimed to fund the redevelopment of
these informal buildings, but the already “improved” ones lack basic housing rights.
The government have improved some infrastructures over the years, without having established
budgets or priorities and without defining the characteristics that an informal area should have to be
defined as one. Also, the redevelopment hasn’t been applied over a large scale, giving the rest of the
informal buildings a lot of problems and not enough basic services. Even foreign donors and NGOs
have focused on specific areas to improve having excellent results but those are not copied anywhere
else.
The government of Egypt has built social housing for people with low income for a lot of years
now and since 1990 those have been focused on the more desertic cities. The main fact of the housing
being located on the desert make it difficult for poor families to live there; the housing promotes the
formation of ghettos and the system is ok with abuse, that is why a lot of the housing estates are empty.
Some analysts over the years have mentioned that the alternatives to informal development
should be regulated and guided at the same time that the services are been applied. People thought of
programs that would attract people to finally stop the informal building. The program would consist of
building neighborhoods in low-cost lands that would be well-located. The idea was that those areas
would eliminate the need for people to build their own houses.
Even though there had been a few tries, the government never attempted seriously on realizing
this strategy; the most successful attempt was during the 1980s, when there was the Hay El Salaam
project. The government still considered their own project as the most efficient one in order to shut
down the informal buildings.
In 2007, the Ibni Beitak scheme was proposed, as another alternative, whose objective was to
generate huge neighborhoods in which the inhabitants could build their own apartments with subsidies.
The results of the project were disappointing, since the locations were remote and the standards were
rigid, so again the project was shut down.
Now, the government has no efficient policies regarding the problem of informality and they
recently created a Ministry of Informal Areas, where negligence dominates. UN-HABITAT created a
housing strategy for the whole country that indicated possible ways to eliminate the problem, such as
creating a dense neighborhood near cities and it could have great results competing directly with
informal buildings. However, this strategy would require the government to get on board offering more
valued land to the project (that is usually used for more luxury purposes that are used nowadays for the
economic growth) and they would need to acknowledge the fact that the current policies aren’t actually
working and that the government is not able to control the project. The recognition is not likely to
happen since the government considered itself as a “supreme regulator”.
It is difficult that there would be a shift in policy in the near future and the informal
development would to grow more and more since it already produces 65% of the country housing,
which are affordable, while on the well-located parts of the country, more luxurious real-estate are
being built, having more investors who are interested in it.
Through the Ibni Beitak failure, people learned that, in order to shut down the informality, they
need to understand thoroughly how the informal building works, in processes, designs and dynamics.
Therefore, some things were learnt through the projects over the years.
In order to eliminate it, the informality needs to be understood in order to: make it a part of
usual architectural and urban thinking and avoid the margination; make the government understand the
positive sides of the informal buildings, since it creates affordable housing at a small cost for the
country; make people understand the informal buildings create a sense of community, more jobs and
opportunities.
Misconceptions and myths and disregard towards informality will be maintained unless there
would be an appropriate research. It has been useful, then, to have ETH Zurich and MAS Urban Design
analyzing informality and its design and transform it into the book “Housing Cairo” that would be
beneficial in order to deeply understand informality.
List of References:
Angelil, M. and Malterre-Barthes, C. (2016). Housing Cairo – The Informal Response. Ruby Press.

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