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Fri 29 Aug 2014 01:38 AM

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Over 600,000 Saudis eligible for housing aid - ministry

New scheme designed to ease shortage of homes which has depressed living standards in kingdom

Over 600,000 Saudis eligible for housing aid - ministry
Cranes stand beside new high rise buildings under construction in the King Abdullah financial district of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Monday, April 9, 2012. Saudi Arabias gross domestic product expanded 6.64 percent in the fourth quarter from a year ago, the kingdoms statistics agency said. (Bloomberg)

More than 600,000 Saudi Arabian families have been found eligible for housing aid under a new scheme designed to ease a shortage of homes which has depressed living standards and is politically sensitive for the government.

Out of a total of 960,397 applications under the scheme, known as ESKAN, 620,889 were found eligible, the Ministry of Housing said in a statement on Thursday.

The announcement may herald a new, government-backed surge of housing construction, if authorities can overcome obstacles that have held back past efforts to ease the shortage, including sluggish bureaucracy and problems in obtaining suitable land.

Families obtaining assistance from ESKAN are to receive state-subsidised home loans or subsidised sales of land or housing units.

Analysts estimate roughly 60 percent of Saudi families among the country's population of about 20 million citizens do not own their own homes, a high ratio for a rich country. Rising rents make it hard for even the middle class to afford housing; many Saudis do not meet qualifications for housing loans from banks.

After social discontent prompted uprisings elsewhere in the Arab world in 2011, Saudi King Abdullah announced a plan to build 500,000 homes in the country over several years. Some $67 billion of state funds were earmarked for the plan.

But there has been only slow progress in fulfilling that promise; ESKAN was launched in March this year in an effort to accelerate progress by creating a straightforward, transparent system for allocating aid.

Applicants to ESKAN were given two months to register on a website; among conditions for receiving aid, they could not own a house or have received aid from a state-subsidised housing programme in the past. Applicants were given priority through a points system based on factors such as family size, monthly income and age, favouring the most needy people.

Families will pay for their subsidised homes or land, or pay off their loans, in monthly instalments over 10 years through a 25 percent deduction of their monthly income.

The ministry did not say on Thursday how quickly aid would be extended to successful applicants. 

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