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Beyond bricks and mortar: Africa’s housing challenge

Understanding the dynamics of housing needs and demands is a major challenge Africa has to overcome in order to meet the continent’s housing supply shortfalls and, alleviate social and economic underdevelopment prevalent on the continent.

Over the years, housing has evolved from the traditional methods of building with bricks and mortar into a housing system. And like any system, it has an impact on the economy, infrastructure development, environmental sustainability, the financial market, living standards, and the health and wellbeing of a nation. In addition, it stores and distributes a nation’s wealth and is a major driver of the economy. Perhaps, more than any other factor, housing (where one lives) determines one’s life chances.

It is therefore essential for African countries to get the policies and strategies on housing right. Getting these right goes beyond bricks and mortar. It would mean embracing a new system thinking and a complete ‘housing re-engineering’ which would include producing holistic policies and strategies that focus not only on bricks and mortar but also on educational and employment opportunities, transportation, health and well-being.

It would mean making better use of available resources and embracing innovative building methods, which have been proven to work in other parts of the world along with traditional methods, and adapting such methods to housing development across Africa.

It means developing smarter houses, which rely less on the use of conventional energy, and building houses that enhance the economic development of our communities. It means creating opportunities for people to have access to home ownership at various income levels or gain fair access to decent affordable home rental. Additionally, it is about promoting equalities.

This means having an understanding that the sector needs and demands of communities vary and that these needs include the housing needs of older people and people living with disability and dementia, and developing the right mix of housing to meet such diverse needs.

This line of thinking is not the last slab in the development of the sector but the first step to be taken by Government and stakeholders to ensure that it is, in Africa, not constrained to brick and mortar but is fit for purpose in the 21st century and beyond.

With the dearth of relevant data, the emergence of an informal housing sector and the lack of understanding among policy makers on the evolving systemic nature of housing, there is a danger that it will continue to be (mis) represented in terms of bricks and mortars.

Recommendations

To ensure that this sector across Africa continues to be fit for purpose, it is essential that approaches to housing development and related infrastructure are robust. Notably, a new direction is needed, which will include the following. First, the funding/loan parameters used by funding bodies for assessing funding applications and awards to African countries should be reviewed and widened to include a comprehensive housing ‘package’ assessment which also considers factors beyond bricks and mortar in its assessment.

Second, governments and institutions across Africa should as a matter of high priority set up strategic housing as part of their housing institutions to set the strategic direction for housing based on evidence. Along this line investments should be made in data gathering and analysis to collate data on housing and related infrastructure.

This will not only inform policy making and investment decisions, it will also ensure that this sector in Africa benefits from the use of modern house technology, becomes more affordable while also addressing the needs of everyone including those with disability. These are the basic foundations for a better future which will ensure that housing is not constrained to the bins of bricks and mortar in Africa.

Author Bio

Tony Olowoyeye works with a Local Authority in the United Kingdom within the Housing Strategy and Performance Team. His areas of interests include strategic housing, affordable housing delivery, housing performance, innovative funding for development projects, urban creation and development, fuel poverty, energy efficiency in housing, data management and analysis for informed decision making and regeneration.

He can be contacted on [email protected] 

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