The Financialization of Housing and Real Estate in Lebanon: An Exchange

This article is part of the TRAFO series “Emerging Topics. Insights from ‘Behind the Scenes’”. Today, we put the spotlight on the workshop „The Financialization of Housing and Real Estate in Lebanon: An Exchange.The event will take place on November 1-3, 2017 at the Orient Institut Beirut and is convened by Marieke Krijnen.

Marieke Krijnen is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Orient Institut Beirut. She holds a PhD from Ghent University, Belgium and an MA from the American University of Beirut. Her dissertation, titled “The Urban Transformation of Beirut: An Investigation into the Movement of Capital”, linked gentrification theory to economic and financial geography. Her current project focuses on the increasing connections between real estate and finance in Lebanon.

Marieke Krijnen. Picture: private.

What do you hope to achieve with the workshop “The Financialization of Housing and Real Estate in Lebanon: An Exchange”? Which questions do you want to raise and what kinds of discussions do you want to encourage?

The workshop departs from the premise that increasing connections between the housing, real estate and finance sectors are a global trend and that it is imperative to formulate a research agenda on these issues for Lebanon. We start with a keynote by Prof. Manuel Aalbers (Leuven University, Belgium) on “The Real Estate/Financial Complex” on the evening of November 1. The workshop aims to bring several foreign and local experts and academics together in order to discuss and exchange knowledge on the current housing and real estate markets in Lebanon, including their (increasing?) level of connectedness with the financial sector.

During the workshop, participants will discuss the causes and consequences of Lebanon’s emerging mortgage markets, the state and outlook of the country’s housing and real estate sectors, Lebanon’s relationship with the global economy and global financial crisis, and so on. I want to encourage discussions between academics and people who actually work in the government, banks and real estate development in Lebanon. Through giving a podium to contrasting voices and experiences, I hope to raise discussion on such questions as: How and why was the financial crisis a boom in Lebanon? Do Lebanon’s emerging mortgage markets constitute the beginning of more interconnections between housing and finance? Has the financial sector become increasingly involved in real estate development? Which capital flows can we identify in Lebanon and how do these relate to the European experience?

Your upcoming workshop will focus on Lebanon: What are the particularities of the housing and real estate there in comparison to other regions or countries?

In Lebanon, the housing and real estate sectors have largely grown through investment and demand from outside the country, in a way constituting a “capital sink”. This was possible because of the country’s large expatriate population working in well-paid jobs, sending their money to Lebanon’s banks and real estate sectors, and ample Gulf investment following 9/11 and the astronomical increase in oil prices until 2008. Lebanon’s banks were awash with deposits from these investors, which only grew larger after they escaped the financial crisis and could offer attractive interest rates. They escaped this crisis because they had not invested in risky products like securitized housing loans (their main investments were in lucrative government bonds).

Currently, mortgage markets are growing in the country, raising questions about the possible risks this might pose in terms of subprime lending. However, in Lebanon, the lack of statistics and reliable data, as well as common practices of not giving accurate prices or income data to banks when buying a property or obtaining a loan, means that it is hard to assess whether this risk is realistic. Secondary mortgage markets are so far absent, and the continued reliance on external capital flows means that the model so far continues to exist, albeit in the context of a stagnated market. It remains to be seen how these particularly Lebanese factors will determine the future of the housing and real estate, as well as financial, sectors.

Which research gaps will the workshops close and how could the debate continue?

There is very little research on the financialization of housing and real estate in the Middle East. Lebanon’s banks are continuously hailed as the “saviors” and backbone of the economy. However, critical research into how they perpetuate the existing, highly unstable, model based on using the built environment as a store of value is lacking. Also, research on Lebanon’s emerging mortgage markets is largely absent. I hope that this workshop brings professionals with a good knowledge of the field into contact with academics researching housing, real estate and finance, and through the questions posed develop a novel research agenda.

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Citation: The Financialization of Housing and Real Estate in Lebanon: An Exchange – Interview with Marieke Krijnen in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 28.09.2017, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/7934.


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