Rabat – A large number of Moroccans, estimated at more than four million, have moved from rural to urban areas since the 1950s. As a result, urban Morocco has struggled with housing and sanitation.
Generally, the quality of market housing rises worldwide as production increases. New homes and flats are larger, use better building materials, and embrace technology. But existing housing is not always able to keep up with the trend.
Like people everywhere in the world, Moroccans are demanding better housing. Many developers complain that housing units are completed but unsold. Perhaps those developers built too far from town; failed to build near roads, water, drainage, and power systems; or misjudged how much people could actually afford to pay.
Mounia Tagma, manager of Middle East and Africa projects at the Affordable Housing Institute (AHI), told Morocco World News that she thinks Moroccans know how to design and build and must do better.
Real estate developers must adapt, and the government must support the shift with better urban planning, better infrastructure, and more public transportation services.
Tagma first joined the Affordable Housing Institute in 2009 interested in slum rehabilitation and financing.
Although she has faced challenges as a Moroccan professional woman, Tagma told MWN that she draws inspiration from other women: “I am inspired by women in my family, by public figures, and women who are colleagues or friends.”
She continued, “he main obstacle is the widespread perception, often subconscious, and even amongst some women, that men actually do a better job. The only way to fight this perception is to prove your capabilities.”
The problem of shantytowns
According to the Center for Affordable Housing Finance in Africa, the real estate and construction sectors are currently seeing a slowdown but demand for affordable housing is still high, particularly among the low- and middle-income population. This demand, combined with government initiatives and incentives, could continue to provide opportunities for investors.
In 1995, the government began a low-cost housing program to tackle substandard housing around major cities, particularly Casablanca and Rabat.
Of all urban households, about 43 percent are rented, 41 percent are owner-occupied and 12 percent are occupied rent-free by non-owners.
In 2001, a reported 320,000 households were living in shantytowns.
In 2003, the perpetrators of the Casablanca bombing attacks were identified as residents of the city’s slums. Since then, the Moroccan government has doubled down on efforts to eliminate substandard housing, which until then had helped to fill the country’s housing deficit.
In 2017, the government pledged to build 800,000 affordable housing units over five years to meet the growing housing demand.
According to Mounia Tagma, Morocco succeeded in reducing the housing gap from 1.2 million units in 2002 to 400,000 units in 2018.
However, new housing projects have encountered problems of corruption and other “dysfunctions.” In January 2018, King Mohammed VI appointed four ministers after sacking several high profile officials due to dysfunctions in Al Hoceima development projects since 2015.
How Morocco addresses housing
According to Tagma, every government has policies and incentives that affect housing and housing finance. Some are direct and visible, like subsidies and loans; others are indirect, like urban planning and zoning.
Even when most housing is built by the private market, and even when some of that housing is informal, government decisions influence where it is built, how much it costs, how close it is to transportation and public amenities, and its quality.
Most developed nations use both supply-side subsidies, such as waivers or exemption from VAT, and demand-side measures. The US and the UK give rent subsidies to top up what low-income people can afford to pay for rent.
According to Tagma, the Moroccan government uses price caps for affordable housing, making it illegal for developers to sell affordable housing units for more than MAD 250,000, excluding VAT.
Beyond the price caps, Morocco also uses a broader range of policy tools, from allocating public land for housing projects to giving tax exemptions to developers who build affordable housing and making credit guarantees for housing loans to people with low to moderate incomes.
Like any other product in the marketplace, housing costs respond to the laws of supply and demand. For some time, the production of housing in Morocco was limited by the capacity of private sector developers to keep up with growing demand while operating within legal parameters.
When providing affordable housing may not be a good idea
Now that Morocco has a powerful real estate industry, the supply of affordable homes depends on access to land that is zoned for residential development. It also depends on having the appropriate infrastructure for housing development.
Although Morocco has reduced the housing gap, now the challenge is quality.
The market also provides housing that is densely-packed and remote during housing shortages. This less-desirable housing is in demand by renters and buyers because of housing shortages. The housing may be affordable, but it may do damage to children, families, and ultimately, social cohesion.
To provide affordable housing, Moroccans must think beyond the housing unit. Quality housing also means accessibility to transportation and services.
Housing is crucial to the development of any society
A common expression in the housing industry is that “housing is where jobs go to sleep at night.”
If people are not housed decently, they cannot be as productive at work. If home is too remote from work, people are spending considerable time and money on their commute at the expense of something else: Both financially and in time spent with family.
In Morocco, the right to decent housing is stated in the 2011 Constitution. Even before that, housing was a national priority.
In 2004, Morocco launched Cities without Slums (“Villes sans bidonvilles”), a project that aimed to eliminate slums in cities by 2010. The program eliminated slums in 59 cities and gave more than 277,000 households decent housing.
The challenge of affordable housing persisted, however, partly because the project focused on slums as physical structures, not as visible symptoms of more complicated social challenges.
Government-private sector partnership is a must
According to Tagma, work starts with the government, because no country has ever produced enough affordable housing purely through market mechanisms. Government shapes the enabling environment and it is the only party that can enact laws that can significantly improve housing ecosystems.
The government also has the legitimacy and authority to change legal frameworks and enforce regulations on housing quality and the rights of homeowners or renters. The government also acts as a natural market regulator.
Tagma, who has worked for Al Omrane, the Moroccan government’s main housing and urban development agency, believes it is the government’s responsibility to improve the ecosystem so that investment in affordable housing becomes attractive to market players.
No government in the world has ever produced all the affordable housing its population needs without a strong working partnership with the private sector, however, she says.
Over the years, many of these private players have developed expertise and a moral commitment to quality affordable housing as a product that does not just make money, it also makes a public good.