First Lady enters shack fray

20 February 2019 | Infrastructure

First Lady Monica Geingos has reached out to experts to bring their ideas on how to solve the housing crisis to the attention of policymakers.

A visit to an informal housing upgrading project at Freedom Square in Gobabis, followed by a discussion hosted by Geingos, renewed hope that the government will fast-track innovative solutions to address what President Hage Geingob has described as a humanitarian crisis.

The delegates, including the Shack Dwellers Federation of Namibia (SDFN), Slum Dwellers International (SDI) and City of Windhoek officials, met with the president prior to the conference.

A subsequent statement issued by the First Lady said there was “a clear disconnect between what the poor need and what politicians want”.

For example, town-planning guidelines were cited as often unnecessary hurdles that prevent communities and stakeholders from providing affordable housing.

Other barriers included affordability and misunderstanding the needs of communities.

“For the past 13 years instructions on meeting the requirements for individual titles in people-driven development caused stagnation in the access of land for organised communities in the City of Windhoek, which brought housing construction to a standstill,” read a statement by the One Economy Foundation, SDFN and SDI prior to the discussion.

Recently, Martin Mendelsohn of Research and Information Services of Namibia (RASION) said the best way for the government to show serious intent to solve the crisis was to “focus on speeding up the process of land delivery and easing the requirements related to this”.

He said there was a need for a “complete paradigm shift towards creating dense, mixed-use, walkable environments” - elements of urban design that have been ignored.

Unique solutions

Jane Weru, executive director of the Akiba Mashinani Trust in Kenya, said unless the problems unique to informal settlements were understood, they could not be solved.

She said community-led research was crucial, and warned that “developmental problems cannot be solved using conventional methods and an alternative developmental model is needed for unique problems”.

Heinrich Amushila, co-director of the Namibia Housing Action Group (NHAG), the funding partner of the SDFN, said the involvement of the Office of the First Lady could help speed up recognition that “programmes, guidelines and standards need to respond to the real situation on the ground and the needs of the people”.

He said ignoring community input could lead to “dreaming up solutions that work for the middle class and end up being no solutions at all because our financial means and capacity cannot reach those dreams”.

Many have accused the City of Windhoek of being a difficult partner when it concerns upgrading informal settlements with partners such as the SDFN.

Amushila said the presence of City of Windhoek officials at the roundtable discussion was a positive step and would hopefully lead to a constructive relationship.

He said their partnership should focus on “a collaborative and less complicated approach”.

Rose Molokoane, chairperson of Shack Dwellers International, emphasised the organisation's ethos “to make poor people partners and not see them as just charity”.

The First Lady's office emphasised the need for removing bottlenecks to implement approaches that have been proven to work.


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