Eco-building vital for Jeddah's housing projects

Social housing projects must implement green building initiatives

Jeddah desperately needs a major push in to social housing. Photo: Construction Week.
Jeddah desperately needs a major push in to social housing. Photo: Construction Week.

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Moving to affordable housing can be an enabler of social stability in the Middle East, and green building can help give money back to communities, according to an executive of a leading ecological project investor.

Khaled Awad, founder and head of property development at Grenea, said implementing sustainable building methods to the 500,000 new houses that are due to be built in Saudi Arabia after the formation on Friday of the new Ministry of Housing, will produce the kind of savings to directly benefit the eventual owners.

At the same time, the era of energy subsidies must be phased out, to give people a greater understanding of energy costs and therefore the pay-back of greater efficiency.

“Saudi Arabia has a unique opportunity in the Middle East to put construction on the right path, without the spiral of a financial burden of subsidies,” he said at ConstructionWeek’s Building Sustainability conference in Jeddah on Saturday.

“People spend $50 a month on their phones, yet water is bought at 100th of the cost of producing it. Oil is still sold at 5% of the market price, meaning that the government is paying for 95% of the operating costs. So it’s important that people understand what these actual costs are.”

Government mandates for affordable housing have arisen in different areas of the Gulf since the beginning of the year, with the importance to service citizens rising since the civil unrest throughout the region that is mainly rooted in demands for higher living standards and more job oppotunities. Last month, Bahrain launched a $6.6 billion plan to provide social housing.

He explained that a green building actually helps towards jobs growth, estimating that eight to eleven jobs are created for every US$1million invested in sustainability, with a resulting stream of jobs in the resulting “green supply chain”.

By implementing sustainable methods to the half-million houses to be built over the next decade, whole communities will be able to benefit from the shared water management and wastewater systems in residential areas. This will mean people “will get money for owning a house every year”.

The Saudi government’s new ministry of housing was created mostly from members of other ministries and will be headed by Shuwaish Al-Duwaihi, formerly governor of the General Housing Corporation.

Awad explained that there is a major shift going on in real estate away from trend for the high-end, investor-targeted buildings that spread from the US to Europe, Dubai and now China, to projects with a social target. Green building, he argued, can actually be cheaper than traditional building methods – “not just in the future of a building but in the initial capital investment”.

Green buildings that limit energy waste are even more needed as the country struggles to meet rising energy demands, which Saudi Electricity Company – the state-backed supplier - has recently estimated at between 7-8%. Awad said that SEC must play a role in establishing a system of certification.

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