Paradigm shift needed for housing

The housing crisis in the country can be solved but, the experts say we need to change our approach.

04 February 2019 | Infrastructure

If the government is sincere about tackling Namibia's chronic lack of affordable housing, experts say a complete overhaul of current practices, policies and attitudes is needed.

“All those involved in informal settlement upgrading need to refrain from escalating costs, corruption, kickbacks and misuse of the housing programme. I urge all to be genuine and to take the poorest of the poor into account, and affordability,” says Heinrich Amushila of the Namibian Housing Action Group (NHAG), the support NGO for the Shack Dwellers Federation of Namibia (SDFN).

Affordability is crucial, Amushila says.

He adds that the SDFN applauds the president for declaring informal settlements a humanitarian crisis, but warns that several issues that have long hampered delivery of housing for the poor must be dealt with first.

“The process should address sustainability.”

To date, the SDFN has constructed 5 000 homes in all 14 regions, and they plan to help another 600 families acquire decent homes in the coming year.

Bad planning

Martin Mendelsohn of Raison, who has long worked on identifying solutions to the problem, says the “best way for them to move forward would be to focus on speeding up the process of land delivery and easing the requirements related to this”.

He says there is a need for a “complete paradigm shift towards creating dense, mixed-use, walkable environments”, elements of urban design that have to date been completely ignored in Namibia.

A major impediment is that the City of Windhoek and the Townships Board do not allow streets narrower than 13 metres, and plots smaller than 300 square metres.

“How can Windhoek be serious about providing land when they institute such absurd policies to actively retain a density lower than ten times that of Barcelona but expect to create an economically viable city and provide land to everyone?”

He says such restrictions will continue to hamper delivery of land and tackling the informal housing crisis.

Beat Weber of the Development Workshop Namibia (DWN), which has partnered with a few local authorities to implement affordable housing plans in poor urban areas, says how the problem is approached is crucial.

“If we look at informal settlements as one single category, it is too big and complex to be addressed effectively.”

Weber says eradicating informal settlements within five years is possible in many towns and should be the benchmark.

But it's unrealistic for the more problematic towns, including Windhoek.

For more challenging towns, the benchmark should be “to get informal settlement growth under control within the same period, and initiate the formalisation of existing informal settlements at the same time,” Weber says.

One approach recommended by the DWN is to categorise towns according to the size of the informal settlement and the challenges they face.

Easy to difficult

The first category consists of towns that have very small informal settlements and are on track to eliminate them. The second category is those towns that have bigger informal settlements but have taken steps to address the issue; and the third category is towns, such as Windhoek, which are “completely out of control”. He says many category one and two towns are led by local authorities that have already made serious efforts to improve housing conditions for the poor.

These towns can be supported with a twofold approach: the provision of sufficient land for low-cost housing to prevent further informal settlement growth, and formalising existing informal settlements.

Support can be sought through partnerships with organisations such as the SDFN and DWN and can be scaled up and provide effective assistance to government efforts.

Weber says in the case of category three towns, the same approach is needed, but “without a doubt more funding and a complete revision of existing and ineffective programmes and policies”.

He agrees with many others, including the SDFN, that Windhoek is the “most challenging of all cases.”

He says category three towns would require special management and financial arrangements to “ensure that they receive special and tailored attention”.

Recent studies have found that Namibia had approximately 10 500 urban shacks in 1991.

By the end of 2018, it was estimated there were around 150 000 urban shacks with roughly 12 000 shacks being added each year.

At that rate of growth, there will be more urban shacks than all formal urban houses and all rural houses by 2025, just eight years from now, John Mendelsohn of Raison estimated last year.

A March 2018 housing study by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) showed that over the past 28 years various government programmes aimed at low-cost housing, such as the Build Together Programme (BTP), the National Housing Enterprise (NHE) and Mass Housing Development Programme (MHDP), culminated in just over 30 000 houses or plots for the poorest of the poor.

This figure is about 14 times lower than the annual growth rate of informal housing in urban areas, according to experts.


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