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May Ali

Khartoum's real estate prices are becoming unaffordable

Khartoum is Sudan's largest city and capital [AFP]

Date of publication: 6 April, 2015

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Feature: After a massive flight of South Sudanese from Khartoum, an influx of Ethiopians has helped push up rent prices in the capital.

The fifty-something man appeared completely indifferent to my visible fatigue. I threw myself on the chair directly opposite his desk. He raised his eyes and greeted me, then returned to his mobile phone.

"Do you have a two-bedroom apartment?" I asked. Unexpectedly, he said "yes", and then proceeded to list the features of what has become a scarce commodity in Khartoum these days.

"It is a brand-new apartment. No one has lived in it yet," he says.

How much was the landlord asking to lease it?

"$500 a month,” the well-known broker replied.

I responded with a tinge of outrage, "A month?"

"Absolutely, per month. And my fee, which is one month's rent," he responded coldly.

This was the fifth broker we had visited that day as we hunted for a flat in Khartoum, Sudan's capital. Today, many residents of the city find it increasingly difficult to find affordable accommodation in their own city, unlike non-Sudanese tenants.

Mission: Impossible

Finding a flat at an affordable fee has become almost impossible these days. Housing shortages have been compounded by an influx of Ethiopians over the past five years who have come looking for work.

Ethiopian migrants tend to share houses and apartments, with as many as a dozen living in the same house. Splitting the rent, this means they are prepared to pay higher prices than the market average.

Higher rents have tempted many landlords to go for the easy profit, appearing indifferent to the damage that results from so many people living in one place.

Hiwot, an Ethiopian woman, has a stall selling tea and coffee on a main street in Khartoum. Hundreds like her make their living selling tea in Sudan.

I approached her as she finished work at sundown, as she was packing up her wares.

"Where do you live?" I asked her.

She said she lived in the Sahafa southern suburb of Khartoum.

"Alone?"

"No," she answered with a sense of indignation. "I live with friends, around ten, sometimes more, when others come."

The rent at Hiwot’s two-bedroom home is $260 a month. It comes with a small yard and Hiwot and her friends divide the rent among themselves evenly.

Hiwot is one example of thousands of migrant tenants in Sudan. Salah Ahmed, a real estate agent in the Mazad district in Khartoum's northern suburbs, says the reason for the skyrocketing rents is this foreign demand.

Ahmed explained that foreign tenants pay huge rents to landlords. The average rent of a two-bedroom apartment has risen to record levels recently, reaching up to as much as $500 a month, compared to $250 five years ago.

"Property owners now prefer to rent to foreigners, and even ask us to find them foreign tenants," Ahmed told al-Araby al-Jadeed.

"Foreigners, specifically Ethiopians, pay more and do not try to haggle like the Sudanese do."

Ahmed says that another attraction of foreign tenants is that landlords find it much easier to evict them than Sudanese.

Ethiopian demand for flats in the city has increased so much that flats in many buildings under construction have already been reserved.

Ahmed said the difficult economic situation has made property owners resort to this path, preferring migrants over locals, regardless of any adverse effects in the long term.

     The trend of renting out properties to Ethiopians in groups has many adverse consequences.

- Ibrahim Mohammed, estate agent


Ibrahim Mohammed is a estate agent in another district of the suburb of Khartoum. "The trend among citizens of renting out properties to Ethiopians in groups has many adverse consequences," he says.

"In addition to driving up rents, living in groups in small homes designed for single families causes great pressure on homes and damages their fixtures and structures."

Ethiopian migration

Many landlords have to clean septic tanks much more frequently than they would otherwise need to due to pressure from the tenants.

"More than five families live in a single flat usually. Sometimes, they even divide a room to accommodate two families, making many flats unsuitable in the future except after major maintenance," he says.

The budget of many Sudanese households, particularly in light of the current economic crisis in the country, is tight, forcing many to rely on raising revenues from renting property.

But the Sudanese who cannot afford their own homes, and have to rent, are suffering.

Kamal, an employee in the private sector, says he sought accommodation in Khartoum Bahri suburbs as it was easy to commute from there to his workplace.

The suburb, he says, is also quiet and safe. However, he spent more than a month looking in the neighbourhood for a flat to no avail.

Kamal says that the real problem is the exorbitant property prices. He blames this on "greedy real estate agents", saying they seek higher commissions to persuade landlords to rent their property to them.

There are no accurate statistics regarding the number of Ethiopians who are in Sudan, but some estimates put the number as high as one million.

     Foreigners have  driven rents up, especially highly-paid foreigners.

-Mohammed al-Nayer, economist


Ethiopians are said to find it easy to cross the porous border into Sudan, where human traffickers are known to be active.

Mohammed al-Nayer, an economist, says the "horizontal" expansion of the city is one of the causes for rising rents.

This means that there are bigger distances now between the urban areas of the capital, with the highest rents being found closer to the city centre, where markets, government buildings and businesses are concentrated.

Therefore, he argues, "vertical" expansion, that is building higher buildings, can solve part of the problem.

"Foreigners of various backgrounds have also driven rents up, especially highly-paid foreigners who can afford to pay for expensive accommodation, or low-paid foreigners who have the culture of collective living and share rent, and so don't mind higher prices."

Nayer also explained that some landlords used to ask foreigners working with NGOs to pay rents in US dollars, which he said had also driven prices up in certain areas between 2000 and 2011, the year the South seceded, when there were many more foreigners in the country.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

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