State of housing 54 years after independence

FILE: NEWLY completed housing units built for the Zambia Correctional Service at Mukobeko Correctional Facility in Kabwe. PICTURE: CHAMBO NG’UNI

HOUSING is a basic human development need.
Access to decent housing has been recognised as one key measurement to quality of life.
Decent housing not only signifies a developed society but more importantly, is vital to an individual’s economic, social and financial well-being.
Housing has a central importance to quality of life with considerable economic, social, cultural and personal significance.
Hence the contention that “mankind first of all must eat, drink, and have shelter and clothing, before he can pursue politics, art and religion etc.” (Frederick Engels, 1883).
Accordingly, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, states that everyone has the right to a standard of living in adequate housing conditions (The General Assembly of United Nations, 2009).
Despite the general recognition of housing as a human right, many people world over live in poor housing conditions. Globally, around one billion people live in slums, while in developing countries 881 million urban residents live in slum conditions (UN-HABITAT 2016:2).
In the Zambian context, it is common knowledge that our forefathers experienced discrimination in various forms during the colonial era.
One such form of discrimination was housing. Africans were considered as migrant workers and, therefore, not entitled to permanent housing.
For this reason Africans were forced to build shacks as their dwellings.
The main problem in the housing sector over the years has not so much been that decent houses are not available.
Rather, the problem is that decent houses are not affordable to the majority of the population. This is largely due to average low incomes in the country.
There are two possible alternatives to improving the access of the poor to decent housing in Zambia.
First, on the demand side, there is an urgent need to increase average incomes for the majority so that the average person is able to afford a decent place to rent or own.
Second, on the supply side, housing agencies such as the National Housing Authority (NHA) should reduce the cost of building the housing units earmarked for public consumption. Doing so will reduce the price of the houses that the authority provides to the people of Zambia, especially the low-income earners.
In practice, the first option is only feasible in the long term as it relates to embarking upon a transformative development agenda on housing.
This will demand the pursuit of rapid and high economic growth rates that should be decisively translated into re-distributive public goods and services, including increasing the income levels and expanding employment opportunities of the majority poor and vulnerable in Zambia.
In all this, it would be imperative for Government to put in place measures to ensure that there is a close connection between increased incomes and economic opportunities among the poor and improved access to decent housing. In addition, broad based growth would also mean the expansion of Government’s revenue base, thereby providing additional resources that could be used for public housing development.
Therefore, the positioning of this housing agenda on the overall national development portfolio will in large part be dependent on the level of significance or importance that Government attaches to housing in relation to other sectors.
The creation of the Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure Development shows that the Government recognises the value of housing to national development.
With respect to the second alternative, Zambia can adopt a two tier housing construction model by incorporating the use of alternative cheaper building materials to complement the conventional model that has been the norm since time immemorial.
If the alternative model of depending on cheaper but durable materials of building is adopted, the challenge of inaccessibility among the poor as well as the mushrooming of squatter settlements would be massively resolved.
In the case of Lusaka, this would help turn the tide where 70 percent of residents live in unplanned settlements.
Empirical evidence suggest that this model is useful especially for low-income earners. This model is being applied not only in other countries such as South Africa but right here in Zambia by an organisation called Peoples’ Process on Housing and Poverty Zambia (PPHPZ).
PPHPZ has been able to reduce the cost of production for its housing units by applying alternative housing material, thereby making its low-cost housing units affordable to low-income earners.
Unlike NHA, whose model is predominantly conventional, PPHPZ uses hydraform technology whose by-products are interlocking blocks which are 60 percent cheaper than concrete blocks.
It also utilises “sweat capital” by requesting prospective beneficiaries to contribute their labour. This further reduces the cost of building decent housing units by 40 percent.
For this reason, PPHPZ has been able to build show houses that cost only K51,000 for a one-bedroom house and K90,000 for a two-bedroom semidetached house. This can be contrasted to around K300,000 for the cheapest house offered by NHA.
1. Provision of Incentives for Private Sector Participation: Government should create an incentive framework in form of tax relief as a way of encouraging the private sector to assist NHA in building more affordable low-cost houses.
2. Adoption of low-cost housing technology: NHA should consider adopting low cost housing technology that makes use of cheaper building materials. This will help in cutting the cost of production thereby making its low-cost housing units affordable to low-income earners.
3. NHA should enhance its linkages with other players such as ZESCO, Lusaka Water and Sewerage Company (LWSC), Road Development Agency and Lusaka City Council, among others, whose activities impact on the housing sector. Once NHA has identified land for constructing houses, RDA should be compelled to provide access roads while LWSC and ZESCO should connect the site with water and electricity, respectively. This will significantly reduce the cost of housing provision on the part of NHA. With this reduction in housing cost, NHA will be able to provide more low-cost units at an affordable price. In addition, increased affordable NHA housing units will provide more competition to private sector housing providers, thereby leading to a general reduction in the price of housing. This will go a long way in addressing the problem of the slums and their proliferation, as people will have access to affordable decent housing.
The author is a lecturer at the University of Zambia.

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