Reduced home rents bolster Senegal's middle class

By Sadibou Marone, Sunday, March 02, 2014

DAKAR – In the Sacre Coeur neighborhood of Senegalese capital Dakar, Souleymane Fall, a 42-year-old mechanical engineer, is smiling – for the first time – after paying the monthly rent on his small apartment.

"I saved $58 this month," Fall, who works for a car maintenance company and lives alone in the capital, told AA.

He used to pay 100,000 CFA francs (roughly $200) every month for his four-square-meter single-room apartment, which comes with a modest bathroom and kitchen.

"Can you imagine I used to pay $200 [a month] for this?" Fall asked. "I also have to pay water and electricity bills every two months."

But thanks to a new law enacted by Senegal`s parliament on January 15, monthly rents across the country have been drastically reduced.

According to the law, rents of less than $300 a month have been reduced by 29 percent. The law also slashed monthly rents of between $300 and $1000 by 14 percent.

Reigning in skyrocketing apartment rents had been a priority for the government.

In a national address last December, President Macky Sall admitted that rent prices had become excessive due to "speculative practices" that had put entire families at risk.

According to an August 2012 survey by Senegal`s national statistics agency, 51.6 percent of households countrywide rented their homes while 42.1 percent owned them.

If the trend persisted, the report warned, it could become a source of "social destabilization."

In a bid to ease the problem, President Sall set up a commission – consisting of MPs, government representatives, consumers associations, real estate agencies and others – to advise the government on possible means of reducing rents.

Since 2000, Dakar has become a hub of political and social stability in West Africa. This has motivated many international agencies, NGOs, UN bodies and private investors to open offices in the country.

-Better life-

The reduced rents are expected to help citizens cope with the high cost of living in the West African nation, where 50kg of rice, the main food staple, costs roughly $40, while a liter of vegetable oil sells for roughly $1.50.

"I`m very happy with the law," said a jubilant Fall. "Reductions of house rents will definitely help improve the quality of life."

Aminata Sané, a widow who lives in a two-room apartment in Dakar`s popular Medina neighborhood along with her three children, agrees.

"Since my husband died two years ago, I`ve had to find the means of paying the $300 rent on my apartment," she told AA.

Sané, a college teacher, said her salary wasn`t enough to make ends meet.

"I have to work hard at my official college – and at several other private colleges – in order to earn enough," she said. "I hardly have time to rest."

"From now on, I can say the new rent will boost my income," Sané said with a smile.

"This month I saved nearly $100, part of which I used to improve my living conditions," she added.

On February 7, Sané joined a peaceful rally called for by MPs and consumer groups to show support for the law.

But not everybody is happy about the new legislation.

Alpha Bathily, a landlord, says the new law that forced him to cut rents should have also reduced property taxes.

"People usually think we [landlords] don`t pay taxes," he told AA. "That`s not true. We have to pay taxes to the government."

Bathily said most rented apartments had been built using bank loans.

"Every month I have to reimburse more than $1000 to the bank, not to mention taxes," he lamented.

Real estate agent Ndiawar Diop said the government should have taken measures to help landlords as well.

According to local media, one landlord who refused to apply the law recently assaulted a tenant in a Dakar suburb.

Momar Ndao, spokesman for President Sall`s commission, insisted the law would be applied to everyone.

"Tenants who are facing resistance from landlords must report it to the police," Ndao told AA.

"The only important thing is respect for the law," he said. "Every landlord must abide by the law."

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