Completed Research

Neighbourhood Upgrading in Tunisia: Connecting Informal Housing with Basic Services

University of Toronto

As a result of illegal subdivision of land by landowners, people in Tunisia continue to self-construct homes on plots of land that are not designated for residential buildings. In response to these informal neighborhoods, Tunisia looked to upgrade the neighborhoods by adding access to basic services like water and sanitation.

The Hard to Reach

Residents of ‘informal’ neighbourhoods in Tunisia – without access to basic household services and community infrastructure.

Key Takeaways

In 2016, Tunisia was recognized as one of the countries that has been most successful at upgrading neighborhoods. The scope of Tunisian neighborhood upgrading continues to evolve.

  1. Although the Tunisian Urban Rehabilitation and Renewal Agency (ARRU) has been very effective at implementing the neighborhood-upgrading programs, new informal neighborhoods still arise and old ones continue to grow.
  2. The lack of reliable data makes it difficult to understand the neighborhood-upgrading programs’ outcomes and impact. While ARRU’s output data are reliable, it is unclear how many residents now live with access to basic services. It is also unclear whether access to infrastructure, like roads, has improved economic and social well-being, or how residents’ health has been affected by the upgrades.
  3. The 2011 revolution initiated a series of profound changes to Tunisia’s institutional environment, including a process of decentralization and the creation of new opportunities for public participation in decision making. Local governments will need time to build their capacity as they assume new roles in the upgrading programs.
  4. The importance of effective coordination is most visible in situations where it has been absent—where lack of coordination on maintenance has led to the deterioration of infrastructure, limiting the benefits of the programs’ reach and requiring more money to be spent on repeated upgrades.


This research was made possible through the Reach Alliance, a partnership between the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy and the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth. Research was also funded by the Canada Research Chairs program and the Ralph and Roz Halbert Professorship of Innovation at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy. We express our gratitude and appreciation to those we met and interviewed in Tunisia, specifically those in the government agencies, civil society NGOs, academia, and others who are involved in or provided insights on the neighborhood-upgrading programs. We also deeply value the support of our translators and research assistants.

This research was vetted and received approval from the Ethics Review Board at the University of Toronto.