Africa’s housing deficit a grim social reality

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Good housing is a key economic indicator and an enabler for a more productive society. However, massive housing deficit reveal that housing continues to be a challenge in the continent, with majority of its population living in sub-standard housing conditions. The challenge is further compounded by the exploding population growth with most of Africa’s cities awash with slum dwellings which are overpopulated and lack sanitation and drainage.

Uganda has a population of 23 million people, 70 percent of whom live in wanting housing conditions. Uganda’s current housing deficit stands at 500,000 units and Kampala region alone has a deficit of 100,000 units. This has left dozens of Ugandans grappling for decent housing. Experts suggest that the population is likely to reach a staggering 55million by 2020 and the key question in light of this revelation is what is being done to effectively manage the country’s resources and address the housing deficit effectively.

Perhaps to try and bridge the housing deficit,Uganda’s National Social Security Fund (NSSF) has unveiled a U.S$400 million master plan for the construction of 2, 741 housing units in Lubowa estate, which it acquired 10 years ago. The development which will start in 2014 will be the first investment on the estate. The project is planned as a mixed use development with residential housing, commercial facilities inclusive of office parks, retail, school, hospital among other developments. The units that will be constructed are apartments, town houses, Bungalows and Villas, which are suitable for middle to high income earners.

In Kenya, the country grapples with huge housing deficits in urban and rural areas currently estimated at 200,000 and 350,000 units respectively. The Egyptian government is yet to meet demand for housing which stands at 360,000 units per year.

Elsewhere, as the Nigerian government plans to build one million units annually in a bid to achieve the housing target in the Vision 2020, the country sits on a growing housing deficit estimated at 17 million units with most Nigerians living in either substandard or sub-human accommodations. The Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria notes that the country will need a whooping US$371.1 billion to provide the housing needs of its citizenry. South Africa’s housing deficits stands at about 2.1 to 2.5 million units and the deficit continues to grow. The country has made some initiatives to alleviate the massive housing deficit.

Most African countries boast of major real estate developers all of which have catered for the needs of the high end and middle income bracket while most of the low end clients are left with few or no alternatives. Most of these real developer‘s mandate is to increase the housing stock in the countries, rehabilitate the housing industry and encourage people to own homes in an organized environment.

Some African countries like Uganda have seen interventions from humanitarian organizations like Habitat for Humanity which has over so many years promoted housing in Uganda through construction of low cost houses, which has alleviated housing deficit to some extent, but the continent’s governments need to rise to the occasion and cater for the housing needs of their people.

The housing deficits above are just the tip of the iceberg as most African countries are in dire need of housing resolutions. Key market players, especially real estate developers and banks have attempted to address the challenge but there are clear flaws in some of these efforts. Mortgage interests still remain high and real estate developers focus on the high and middle income earners with the low cost consumers being largely ignored.

It is crucial for African governments and other stakeholders to make decent, low cost housing a priority while trying to alleviate housing deficits, and demonstrate such commitment with the necessary policy instruments and budget allocations to boost the continent’s housing sector.