Shift focus from housing to tenure
Shift focus from housing to tenure

Shift focus from housing to tenure

Thoughts of the state providing everyone with a complete house should be abandoned in favour of providing property ownership and basic services, an analyst recommends.
Jana-Mari Smith
An urgent reframing on the way the authorities are addressing the issue of housing in order to address informal settlement growth is needed.

In a review published by John Mendelsohn of Raison on the recently published results of a study on the supply of land and homes to low-income residents by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR), the author highlights that discussions on the crucial topic need to shift focus, especially when it comes to the “pervasive use of the term housing.”

Mendelsohn argues that the term is misdirected, and immediately “invokes aspirations, or conversely, misgivings that housing programmes aim to provide everyone with a complete house”.

This, he says, is an unrealistic goal.

“The cost of doing that would be unaffordable if the taxpayer is to foot the bill, or beyond the reach of the homeless people. Quite simply, thoughts of the state providing everyone with housing should be put to rest.”

Mendelsohn writes that another problem of focusing on the term housing is that it attracts property developers “and all those who stand to gain commissions and profits from large amounts of money being directed to public housing development”.

Mendelsohn's review argues that ultimately the “focus on housing may have significant disadvantages, and the implementation of a 'Right to Housing' programme is probably unrealistic”.

Look at it this way

Instead, a more practical and achievable way to address the issue would be a step-by-step strategy that begins with the right to property ownership.

Secondly, the problem should be addressed with a strong focus on the right to basic services: first water, then sewage, waste removal, electricity and education, Mendelsohn writes.

“With a practical and attainable approach on land and services, land owners would then be able to build and develop both their houses and their homes. This is what policy and programmes should facilitate.

“Like everyone else, lower-income families require social and financial capital, food and cash security, and resilience. Getting those assets is more likely to come from building a home, rather than being handed a state-built concrete box.”

He adds that land ownership is linked to multiple benefits, not just collateral, which he argues is “either over-valued or under-valued by commentators, depending on their leaning”.

As reflected in the IPPR housing study, land ownership provides the value of secure tenure, the role of tenure property in gaining access to public services and the use of property for investment.

Mendelsohn argues that the value of ownership of property should be “widely aired and understood in Namibia, not least because they help disarm some of the prejudice that bedevils our thinking on property for low-income Namibians.”

He further notes that the cumulative value of these benefits “helps improve living conditions at the household level”.

Other benefits on a social level are that ownership provides “confidence, a sense of permanence and greater options to plan for the future”.

A pervasive issue

Mendelsohn's review is based on the recently published 'Namibia – the Right to Housing' study by the IPPR.

Mendelsohn states in his review that there is optimism that the enactment of the new Urban and Regional Planning Bill would increase the efficiency of low-income housing development, as indicated in the IPPR's housing study.

He agrees with the IPPR's findings that “some new procedures may not improve on the old stifling measures which have attracted much criticism”.

The IPPR's findings indicate that in total 59 000 houses, beneficiaries and plots have been provided since 1998.

Of those, 30 4000 were provided by the government, at a rate of almost 1 100 per year.

Mendelsohn points out that this is 14 times lower than the annual growth of informal housing in urban areas, which now amounts to about 15 000 new informal shacks per year.

“The numbers demonstrate how little government has achieved with public funds,” he writes.

In contrast to “the rather modest performance of government, a number of local authorities have been innovative and energetic in seeking ways to increase the availability of land and housing” for low income communities, Mendelsohn notes, reflecting similar findings in the IPPR's housing study.

A critical task is to review more of these local efforts, Mendelsohn notes, in order to gain an understanding of the “underlying motives and incentives that led to these initiatives”.



Namibian Sun 2023-03-30

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