Africa’s housing crisis

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Few people disagree that Africa is entering the throes of a housing crisis as demand for decent housing far outstrips supply. This situation is as a result of a budgeoning population which has been exacerbated by a high migration of the population to urban centers.

Estimates suggest that by 2050 Africa’s population will have doubled reaching 2.4 billion which will stretch the cities to beyond breaking point due to inadequate housing and associated infrastructure needs such as roads and clean water. One just has to visit any major urban center in Africa to be met by roads that are chocker blocked with traffic, water rationing and the ever present power cuts.

 

Housing deficit

Take the case of Egypt with a population close to 90 million. The  government is racing to establish several housing projects set to meet the current housing deficit estimated conservatively at 3.5 million.

In Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country  the situation is not any better with only 100,000 new houses being built annually compared to an annual demand of 700,000 and an accumulated deficit of some 17 million houses.
In South Africa the government has made inroads into meeting housing needs by building over 3 million housing units on a subsidized basis since 1994 however demand is still on the higher end and current estimates of the deficit stands at about 2 million houses.

In East Africa a look at Kenya suggests the picture is the same. A woefully inadequate housing stock with reports placing annual demand at 200,000 while supply is at only 50,000. The 2013 Housing Survey by the Ministry of Lands and Housing in Kenya estimated the deficit at 2 million houses over the next 10 years.

These statistics paint a grim picture of an ever increasing deficit that will push more of Africa’s population to slums and informal settlements especially given the current population boom.

Urbanisation

In the next 2 decades UN-Habitat estimates that there will be more people living in towns than those in the rural areas. This is due in no small measure to Africa’s booming economies that has resulted in an increasing  middle class population with higher aspirations and appetite for modern living. An African Development Bank report places the continents middle class population at 34.3% in 2010 far higher than the figure of 26.2% in 1980. The result is a rapid rise in urbanization, consumer spending and not to be left behind – higher housing expectations. The rate of urbanisation is so high that UN-Habitat has estimated that 40,000 people move to cities in Africa every day, some would place this figure much higher.

The result of the combined influences of a ballooning population, housing deficit and urbanization have created what some would call a perfect storm which if not curbed could result in a reversal of economic gains in the decades ahead because quality of life is intrinsic to economic development.

Affordable housing

The solution lies in providing affordable housing for Africa’s population. But several socioeconomic factors are playing against the realization of this dream.

For instance, the term affordable housing technology has long been associated with housing the poor and considered inferior and the African house buyer today is still irrevocably sold on traditional brick and mortar as the materials of choice for construction whose cost has continued to rise steeply year on year. In addition mortgages are either unavailable or out of reach for most of the population. Land prices on the other hand have sky rocketed as has the cost of building materials  placing most homes out of reach for most of Africa’s would be first time home owners.

Transport systems

A look at most developed countries shows a direct correlation between the development of good roads and rail transport as a key ingredient to providing housing in the suburbs where prices will be lower given the lower demand for land. Currently African cities have poor transport facilities which forces the working population to stay close to the cities  if they have any hope of getting to and from work in under 2 hours courtesy of massive traffic snarl ups. The consequent high demand for land around the cities pushing housing prices up.

Government policies

In some countries government policies relating to land make home ownership a very expensive affair that can take up a large slice of the actual house price. Nigeria is a good example where extreme over-regulation and land ownership systems means that up to 20% of the house cost goes towards paying for regulatory costs.

Mortgages

The World Bank points out that in sub-Saharan Africa only 3% of the population can afford a mortgage and the emphasis is a mortgage for the current house prices on offer. It follows that lower house prices would result in a higher percentage of the population being able to afford the houses.

Additionally put simply housing finance instruments need to become more responsive to the buying ability of normal households as is the case with

Alternative building Technologies

There is no double that the wider adoption of more contemporary technologies will yield greater success in the battle to lower house prices. Sticking to the traditional brick and mortar for its sake will continue to ensure that house prices remain out of reach of the vast majority of  households.

Despite the enormous challenges facing the adoption of ABTs, some countries have embraced this technology in their housing projects. In South Africa for instance, Moladi Building Technology has completed a number of affordable housing projects using the reusable modular plastic formwork known as Moladi where brick-less walls are built by pouring mould (mortar – stone-less concrete – and a special concrete additive) onto the formwork –which is then removed and reused up to 50 times hence lowering construction costs.

The technology is being promoted in a bid to deliver 1.5 million new homes by 2019. The project is being boosted by banks, mining companies, and developers, who will give a contribution of $20 billion in five years for the project.

The Social Contract for the Development of Sustainable Human Settlements project will help transfer skills to locals for mass production.

“Once labourers construct three houses using this system they will master the use of the technique. We use local workforce to construct this sample houses,” explains Yang while showing off a prototype, adding that most materials can be sourced locally.

The South African technology has been unveiled in Nigeria which has a housing deficit of 17 million units.

In Kenya, International Green Structures (IGS) is using compressed agriculture fiber as a basis for their low-cost prefabricated housing technology solutions.

“The technology itself is called compressed agriculture fiber. It began in the 1940s and was originally patented in Sweden and developed in the UK and was utilized in housing where a many houses were  rebuilt in Europe using this technology,” said Richard China.

Another technology being used in Kenya is known as expanded polystyrene panels (EPS). The technology uses cheaper materials than conventional stones, yet they are strong enough to withstand a bullet and improvised explosion devices attacks. It is expected that the emerging innovations would help reduce the 250,000 thousand housing units deficit per annum.

Other initiatives in Kenya  were reviewed when it was announced that the government will begin the  production of Appropriate Building Materials (ABMT) by building a regional center for ABMTs to capitalize on hydraform technology, a technique that has gained popularity in South Africa. The Ministry of Housing said it would set up a regional ABMT in Mavoko, Machakos County, 9 provincial centers and centers in 52 constituencies around the country. Appropriate Building Materials and Technologies (ABMT) do not only lower cost of construction but are also safe, environmental-friendly to use-and result in high-quality structures that also reduce construction time.

In Uganda plastic wastes are being recycled to make floor and roof materials.

Elsewhere, the Niger government is financing low-cost housing through Sari Koubou Project. The Infrastructure Development Bank of Zimbabwe (IDBZ) is planning to raise US$100 million to help build low-cost houses across the country.

One of the key results of Africa’s housing crisis is the degradation of human dignity as the population is pushed to the informal settlements where water and basic necessities are scarce. This young urbanites have in recent years become restless resulting in flare-ups and clashes that can be in part attributed to frustrations at their living conditions. Politicians need to address this housing crisis with a long term view if they are to successfully alleviate it and not cosmetically attend to it and leave the problem to successive governments as they short term projects that give better political mileage.