After two years in the planning, Bahrain’s landmark social housing public-private partnership (PPP) is finally close to reaching a conclusion. However, when financing is signed and work starts on site, it will not herald the beginning of a wave of new housing projects as promised.
Much has changed since the housing PPP was launched in 2010. The project has been cut in size from more than 4,000 housing units to about 3,000. Obtaining financing has been a major challenge and the scheme does not really resemble a PPP any more. The chances of it being the start of a 20,000-unit housing programme look decidedly slim.
“Of the $10bn of aid promised to Manama, much of it is set to be focused on housing”
Politically too, Bahrain is a different place now. The housing PPP was launched by the Economic Development Board (EDB), Crown Prince Salman’s reform vehicle, which was in ascendancy at the time. Its reformist goals were reaching into every part of the state. New ideas of letting the private sector handle delivery of housing after the government’s failure to significantly reduce waiting times, which could stretch to 15 years, attracted attention around the region as countries worried that shortages in housing and jobs threatened to upset the delicate stability enjoyed around the region.
That balance was soon upset by the Arab uprisings. The time for new delivery methods of housing for nationals had quickly passed. In Bahrain, the political clout of the EDB was substantially weakened as conservatives took back the reins of government from the crown prince.
Of the $10bn of aid promised to Manama by the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, much of it is set to be focused on building houses. With its Shia population still restive, Bahrain’s focus is now quick delivery rather than efficiency. It also needs to realise attracting foreign private investment into its real estate sector will be tricky until political stability has returned and the economy is stable. That may be some way off.