Housing misery

The government's housing initiatives have not been able to cope with the extensive and increasing demand for housing, a new study has found.

14 March 2018 | Infrastructure

A new study on housing provision and affordability in Namibia has delivered a scathing indictment of the government's flawed efforts to address the housing crisis in the country where an estimated 26% of citizens live in shacks.

The comprehensive study, titled 'Housing in Namibia: Rights, Challenges and Opportunities', conducted by Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) researchers Pauline Ndhlovu and Dietrich Remmert, found that “a large proportion of citizens in the country have few or no possibilities of accessing affordable, secure and adequate housing”.

The report notes that although many government housing initiatives “are certainly commendable” they have not been able to cope with the extensive and increasing housing demands.

“Overall, central government and especially local authorities find themselves unable and oftentimes unwilling to effectively address the nationwide housing crisis,” Ndhlovu and Remmert write.

“Namibia's public housing initiatives continue to underperform in terms of meeting ambitious construction targets as well as dwelling backlog estimates.”





In addition, although most role players including the government “demonstrate a good grasp of the issues” that limit access to affordable housing and serviced land, opinions on how to tackle these issues “differ considerably”, and the lack of consensus has significantly hampered progress.

Another finding of the report is that for many Namibians, access to land trumps access to a house.





“At the heart of the urban housing crisis stood the issue of adequate, affordable and timely land provision as opposed to the construction of dwelling units,” it summarises.

Ndhlovu and Remmert write that “perhaps the most crucial conclusion from this study is the near absence of a comprehensive, practical and realistic vision for Namibia's housing sector.”

The report notes that policymakers and stakeholders “have given too little attention to how Namibia's urban settlements should broadly look.”

While elements of such a vision are contained in the Namibia Housing Policy, they argue “these sensible elements are neither consistently implemented nor broadly endorsed.”

A key recommendation is the development of a national integrated spatial planning framework plus the reassigning of specific town planning powers to lower levels of government, an opportunity to “review and restructure existing regulatory frameworks around housing and urban land”.

The report further recommends that the government allocate more funds to the housing sector and urban land development, while simultaneously strengthening oversight, management and utilisation of budgets for housing initiatives and related activities.

“While government has made the provision of adequate housing a national priority, this is not necessarily reflected in the state's budget over the years,” and the relatively minor allocations to housing budgets “neither reflects the scale of the problem the country faces in this regard, nor its often-claimed priority status.”



Local authorities should be armed with “tangible resources and practical support” to help improve their work on a practical level, the report recommends.



Wary about progress

Although the Mass Housing Initiative (MHI) and Namibia Housing Enterprise (NHE) programmes were “touted as low-cost options”, many residents described these homes as unaffordable.

The “continued mismatch between dwelling units that are supplied by the private and public market and the demand of housing” was a key finding in the report.

Although this has been a “long-running issue … to date [it] has seen very little acknowledgment from policymakers,” the authors write.

Housing targets have been tweaked frequently, and conclusive and reliable reports on the number of houses constructed under various programmes, including the Harambee Prosperity Plan, are difficult to pin down and verify.

Many respondents in the study also “expressed reservations regarding the effective utilisation of funding for public housing initiatives”.

Concerns ranged from inflated construction costs, poor quality, inefficient building plans and concepts and ineffective allocation procedures for new houses.

“While it is difficult to pin down and quantify the extent and negative impact on housing initiatives of these problems, there is ample evidence that they are fairly prevalent and disruptive,” the report concludes.



Barriers to proper homes

The 13 chief findings of the report indicate that the sluggish delivery of housing is linked to a variety of problems, not all related to current poor economic conditions.

Eight of these findings were highlighted in a similar IPPR housing study in 2011, but were never meaningfully addressed, the authors note.

These findings include overtly bureaucratic, outdated and cumbersome regulations and laws that hamper innovation in the sector.

Lack of capacity and know-how at local authority level, in addition to the “maladministration and poor financial control among a number of local authorities”, continue to undermine housing plans.

The study highlights exceptions, however, and notes that towns such as Otjiwarongo, Gobabis and Walvis Bay have taken proactive approaches, with few resources, to find solutions at the local level.

“While these strategies have not always brought success, they demonstrate that even with few resources and the current constricted regulatory framework, new solutions to the housing crisis can be pursued.”

The study also criticises the lack of formal communication platforms to exchange ideas and discuss issues, noting that “stakeholders find it difficult to exchange information, pursue synergies and to tackle sector challenges jointly.”

Another issue is a lack of information, which is often “fragmented, outdated, conflicting, unverified or difficult to access,” the authors note.

A key barrier remains the lack of serviced land in urban areas.

Another key finding is the lack of innovation and willingness to explore alternative building technologies and materials.

JANA-MARI SMITH

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