Gvt ignored solutions on housing

Windhoek – In the last twenty years, little seems to have been achieved in Namibia to clear the housing backlog, despite government being aware of recommendations made by several institutions and researchers to come up with a housing policy that could speed up the provision of housing to the majority of its people.

Currently, over 500 000 Namibians, who constitute more than a quarter of the 2.2 million population, are living in shacks in urban areas while the current average house price in the country is around N$800 000, which is unaffordable to the majority of the population.

Like many developing nations, Namibia saw an abrupt increase of urban population from 28 percent at independence to 43 percent, without a corresponding housing delivery.

The government’s Vision 2030 set a deadline that in the next 15 years (by 2030) Namibians should all have access to adequate housing, with water and sanitation facilities.

It also states that 3000 houses need to be built each year to meet the population’s housing needs to deal with an estimated backlog of around 100 000 houses.

But the housing market is still not properly regulated with the necessary legal and institutional frameworks to ensure adequate and affordable home ownership and the situation seems to have taken a downward spiral, as recommendations are yet to be tested or implemented.

In 2011, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) presented recommendations to government on the housing backlog to, inter alia, provide serviced land, shorten and simplify the process of acquiring land and scale up the delivery of housing through the Targeted Intervention Programme for Employment and Economic Growth (TIPEEG).

TIPEEG was implemented in April 2011 to create 104 000 direct and indirect jobs as a three-year development initiative concentrating on transport infrastructure, agriculture and the housing sector at a cost of N$9,1 billion.

The key reason quoted in the IPPR report for the slow pace of housing delivery, is the lack of serviced land available in Namibia and although government was aware of the issue, little has changed over the last 20 years with the process of acquiring land taking years before development can start.

In addition, the IPPR also recommended that before private developers got approval to build houses, they be mandated to reserve 20 percent of their housing development budget towards providing affordable dwellings so that higher-income housing development could cross-subsidise housing for the lower-income segments.

The institution also recommended through the study that government direct local authorities to account for progress made on housing delivery in their annual reports, while the Ministry of Urban and Rural Development (formerly Ministry of Regional and Local Government, Housing and Rural Development) was asked to collate the data to include in their annual reporting.

Some of the key findings of the research were that there was little and ambiguous information available, slow delivery and questionable value for money, limited availability of serviced land, mismatch between supply and demand, limited use of alternative and local materials and technology, limited attention for integration, little use of private sector know-how and resources and limited access to banking.

A leading social commentator Herbert Jauch, said that housing has become a financial asset for the well-off, with the decline of State investment in the social housing sector making it difficult for the low income earner to ever own a house.

In 2013, former Namibian President, Hifikepunye launched the National Mass Housing Programme, that would have seen 185 000 houses built by 2030, but with the first phase of implementation between 2014 and 2016, there was a widespread consensus that the houses were too expensive for intended beneficiaries – the low income earners.

Jauch wrote in his book titled ‘Youth and Urban Land/Housing in Namibia that’ “The current system of awarding tenders to contractors who then outsource the work to various sub-contractors was widely criticized as inefficient and as a main source of inflated construction costs, reportedly resulting in square-metre prices of around N$6 600”.

The National Housing Policy (NHP) also proposed various modes of housing delivery, namely credit-linked housing by getting mortgages from financial institutions; rental accommodation provided by private developers or government by constructing low-cost housing for the poor who would then rent to buy.

Further to that, the NHP suggested that the social housing mode, which is the provision of subsidised housing for the benefit of those at the lower end of the income spectrum through the Build Together Programme (BTP) and the private sector initiative, be introduced so that houses are constructed by property developers and by individuals themselves.

To speed up the process of land delivery infrastructure, the NHP came up with the following strategies for the promotion of capital investment in local and regional authorities:

l Establish a Home Loan Credit Guarantee Trust to provide and facilitate accessibility to technical and financial resources for those who are unable to afford credit facilities offered by commercial and development financing institutions.

l Local and regional authorities be responsible for developing and providing land for public and low-cost housing development purposes, but central government to provide grants, subsidies and possibly soft loans to invest in local infrastructure.

l Shorten the proclamation, surveying, subdivision and registration of municipal land to a period of six months or less.

l Prescribe a minimum erf size of 300 square metre (m2), with possible exemptions for smaller erven.

l Mobilise domestic savings and affordable credit to provide and finance housing.

l Provide investment capital for housing that should serve as guarantee mechanisms to back home loan facilities of members of the Government Institutions Pension Fund (GIPF) and other private pension funds should.

l Provide subsidies and grants by government and development partners to support social housing.

l Provide basic shelter for individual citizens and families without income

l Include the Build Together Programme and community based initiatives.

l Create sustainable human settlements through an integrated housing development approach.

l Upgrade informal settlements.

l Extend housing to rural areas.

l Make housing an integral part of development efforts.

l Promote the use of appropriate and alternative technologies, methods and services in order to provide affordable housing solutions.

l Use alternative building materials and technologies, alternative housing types, alternative service levels and standards, and alternative forms of ownership.

l Focus on minimising cost and making housing more affordable

l Introduce a four-based housing mix: houses for sale, rental accommodation (including rent to buy option), social/subsidy housing and houses built by people themselves

l Strengthen the housing regulatory environment.

l Set up of a Namibia Housing Code and the Housing Industry Regulatory Council to regulate the housing sector, which include registration of all housing developers.

l Enhance institutional capacity and cohesion within the housing sector

l Organise national housing forums on an annual basis and national housing conferences.

The IPPR also found that the NHP could be used as a tool to facilitate integration between different income groups, where for example, the National Housing Enterprise (NHE) which mainly focuses on the lower income sector, could also combine housing from different income segments in one development.

In addition, through continued close cooperation with the Namibia Habitat Research and Development Centre (HRDC), the use of solar power and dry sewage systems for a certain percentage of governmental projects could further harvest alternative and local materials and technologies.

This, according to IPPR, might require a higher upfront investment, but it would have decreased the costs in the long term, such as the cost of servicing land, which in turn could increase the amount of land available for development.

Government could also have generated interest from the private sector to deliver affordable housing under the TIPEEG in a quick and efficient way for different income groups in housing development, the IPPR maintained.

Although a National Housing Advisory Committee (NHAC) was in place, it became clear during the consultative workshop for the IPPR report that the committee was not an active participant in the housing dialogue.

“It would therefore be a logical step to revive the NHAC and to ensure that it undertakes the actions as outlined in the National Housing Policy, such as organising annual housing forums and conferences and providing a platform for the various stakeholders to interact,” stated the report.

Overall, it was clear from various reports and researches that the approaches carried out have not delivered the results that are needed to achieve government’s objectives for housing.

“Government needs to review the focus of its programmes to address existing failures in the market, such as the provision of land, finance and infrastructure. 

“In addition, it needs to drastically increase the scale of its programmes if it is serious about delivering housing for its population and work closely together with the other actors in housing,” wrote IPPR’s Els Sweeny-Bindels.

July 2015
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