In Nablus, calls to accelerate affordable housingThursday, Jun 11, 2015 in Office of the Quartet Representative
The panel on affordable housing (from left to right): Ms. Maha Ziedan, Head of Planning Department, Nablus Municipality; Ms. Lana Abu-Hijleh, Country Director-West Bank/Gaza, Global Communities; Mr. Ghassan W. Shaka’a, Mayor of Nablus; Mr. Nick Gardner, OQR Construction and Building Materials Advisor; Mr. Hani Naser, Assistant General Manager, Bank of Palestine.
In Nablus last week, some 60 people attended the latest workshop organized by OQR to look at ways to increase access to affordable housing. Participants arrived from throughout the West Bank and included developers, banks, donors, Public Works and Housing, and the Nablus Chamber of Commerce. The event was hosted at the Bank of Palestine and was opened by the mayor of Nablus, Mr. Ghassan W. Shaka’a.
The mayor emphasized that initiatives driven by the local municipalities are key to the future of Palestine, though municipalities face numerous challenges. Mr Shaka’a suggested some ideas on how to make affordable housing a reality in Nablus, such as developing unused state land for affordable housing, or that developers be given options to rehabilitate old apartments in need of renovation. He also expressed his concern over a growing trend to buy apartments and leave them unoccupied until retirement, which drives up the cost of housing. The mayor stressed that it is imperative to find ways to maximize the use of existing housing stock to facilitate the construction of housing that the majority of Nablus’s population can afford
Nick Gardner, OQR Construction and Building Materials Advisor explained that the goal of the event was to discuss the situation of housing in Nablus, the feasibility of unlocking a more affordable housing segment and highlight the opportunities that exist for developers prepared to work in this sector. “It is clear that many households in Palestine would be happy to live in smaller units, close to 100 square metres, provided they are appropriately priced. This means that there are significant untapped opportunities for developers in this market sector.”
The workshop highlighted the fact that affordable housing remains a critical issue for the economic growth and the well-being of Palestinians, with many partners on the ground working diligently to find ways to address this issue. Discussions centered around housing needs and issues particular to Nablus, and included presentations on the effective demand survey, urban planning interventions in the city, and other key elements in supporting affordable housing. Lana Abu-Hijleh, Country Director for West Bank and Gaza at Global Communities spoke about the importance of integrated master planning and updating of out of date laws and regulations, in order to facilitate developers’ ability to build housing for the lower and middle income earners
Several interventions emphasized the importance of the private sector in bringing about a significant change in the housing market. Björn Phillip, Senior Urban Specialist at the World Bank stated “Affordable housing prices will not be resolved without private sector involvement,” and he went to stress the need for connectivity across types of planning, including economic, infrastructure, etc. Johan Berggren, OQR Economic Development Advisor also encouraged a private sector-led shift in the housing market towards more affordable housing. He added, “OQR and other key stakeholders can help with access to finance, access to land, expertise in affordable design, and regulatory changes, in support of facilitating lower construction costs. Bringing affordable housing to Palestine is very doable, but requires everyone to do their part.”
Transportation was highlighted as a key cost factor for developers, as was the importance of considering the life-time costs to owners associated with buying housing in a particular area. Stakeholders agreed they must take into account proximity to services, schools, medical care, etc. when choosing land for development..
As part of the follow up to the workshop, the OQR is working with individual developers to identify potential pilot projects, and identify/mitigate obstacles to meeting affordability criteria. The target is to launch a pilot project by the end of 2015.