Real estate downturn boosts Morocco slum clearance

Thu Apr 23, 2009 8:44pm EDT
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By Tom Pfeiffer and Zakia Abdennebi

SIDI MOUMEN, Morocco (Reuters) - A slumping world real estate market has given new impetus to Morocco's plans to demolish its shanty towns, where decades of state neglect have bred despair and religious extremism.

As demand for luxury homes and tourist facilities falls in the wake of the global financial crisis, Morocco's property firms are making the most of a state-backed scheme to rehouse 4 million slum dwellers in new flats.

Developers are offered cut-price land if they sell some floors of their apartment blocks to slum families below the market price. The families receive grants to help them pay.

Thirty towns have been cleared of slum areas since 2004 and 50,000 shacks were destroyed last year, Housing Minister Taoufiq Hejira said in January. He is aiming for similar numbers in 2009.

Zahidi Elarbi, a member of a voluntary development association in the Casablanca suburb of Sidi Moumen, said about half the residents of its most notorious slums -- Thoma and Douar Esquila -- have been rehoused.

"Sidi Moumen has completely changed, although there is still a severe lack of services," said Zahidi.

Poverty and joblessness were still a serious problem, he said, "but better to be idle in a new apartment than a slum."

King Mohammed has announced the construction of 130,000 social housing units worth $1.83 billion by 2012 and several firms including Morocco's biggest real estate developer Addoha have announced a new focus on low-income housing.   Continued...

<p>Children play in Sidi Moumen slum in Casablanca February 20, 2009. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante</p>