Oman will allocate OMR80m (US$207.7m) annually for affordable housing projects in a bid to ease the Gulf state’s low-cost housing shortage, the undersecretary at the Ministry of Housing has said. The Gulf state awarded OMR60m to 3,174 people through housing assistance programmes and approved 400 interest-free affordable housing loans totaling OMR7m during 2011 and the first three months of 2012, said Saif bin Amir bin Sulaiman Al Shaqsi. “The government, represented by the Ministry of Housing, has worked on supporting and financing affordable programmes for low-income and social security families through social housing programmes.” Al Shaqsi said at the inauguration of Oman’s Affordable Housing Development Summit. Living costs were a key issue in the wave of political unrest that swept Bahrain and other Arab states last year, toppling rulers in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. The MENA region has an estimated affordable housing shortfall of 3.5 million, pricing homes out of the reach of many citizens. Saudi Arabia has the largest shortfall in the Gulf of 400,000 homes followed by 40,000 homes in Bahrain, 20,000 in the UAE and 15,000 in Oman, according to consultancy Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL). Hundreds of protestors took to the streets in Oman last February, inspired by pro-democracy revolts that toppled the rulers of Egypt and Tunisia before spreading to Gulf Arab region. Several Gulf states have pledged to ramp up spending on housing in the wake of the Arab Spring revolutions, in a bid to secure quality housing for their growing populations. Saudi has pledged to spend $130bn on social projects such as building low-cost housing and creating jobs, while King Abdullah in March said he would spend $67bn on 500,000 new homes. Oman’s Housing Assistance Programme aims to build and restore houses for families whose monthly income is less than OMR300 while its Housing Loan Programme provides interest-free loans not exceeding OMR20,000 for Omani families.