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In Egypt, Affordable Housing is the Price of Love

21 June 2011

Ragui Assaad discusses the linkage between affordable housing and marriage in Egypt, noting a positive change in the age of marriage prior to the recent revolution and assessing the possibility of continuing improvements in the future. This article was originally published by Marketplace and is reposted here. The views expressed in this article are those of the published author.

Think affordable housing is just a matter of number crunching and government regulation? How about sex?

OK, so maybe not just “sex,” but in Egypt, experts say the connection is clear.

“In this country… people, they live together when they get married,” prominent Egyptian urban planner Dr. Mamdouh Hamza told us. “So housing is not only finding a shelter, but housing is a pivot for building a family.”

In other words, you’re trapped with your parents — and they’re trapped with you — until you can pay for a place of your own.

Economist Ragui Assaad of the University of Minnesota has studied the results. He found that Egyptians in recent years were marrying later, for the simple reason that they couldn’t afford to buy a house. Marriage age, in other words, was actually a real estate indicator.

The recent revolution tapped Egyptian dissatisfaction across a lot of domains. The unmarried and un-housed are a part of that. When we spoke to Dr. Hamza in Cairo, he told us: “Ten million young people, ten million women, and ten million young men, who wants to get married and they can’t. That is a statistic. Ten million families of action.”

By action, Hamza means a real political force. In the wake of the revolution, Egyptian officials have promised to respond to that force in the form of a million affordable housing units, built over the next five years.

It’s a bold goal, but Professor Assaad says he saw positive trends even before the revolution. He saw one in his unusual housing indicator, marriage age, which he says peaked at 29 and is now down at around 27. “That is a good sign that started a few years ago,” he says, “and I hope it can continue.”

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