The all-elusive Namibian house

Namibia’s proposed revised National Housing Policy shifts the focus from the government-led provision of houses to enabling a broad spectrum of stakeholders to deliver housing opportunities.
Jo-Mare Duddy Booysen
Jo-Maré Duddy – Government will have to spend and invest more than N$2 billion every year so that especially ultra-low- and low-income Namibians, currently making up about 88% of households nationally, have adequate and affordable housing by 2030.

This rough estimate is contained in a draft of the Revised National Housing Policy (NHP) 2022, published by the Integrated Land Management Institute at the Namibia University of Science and Technology (Nust), and open for public consultation.

In 2018, the Second National Land Conference called for the amendment of the Namibian Constitution to include the right to adequate housing as a fundamental human right, in line with internationally recognised and protected practices.

Once changed, ensuring that Namibians can indeed claim adequate housing as a basic constitutional right will be no mean feat.

United Nations’ projections estimate that by 2050, some 2.5 million people will live in urban areas in the country – more than Namibia’s overall population at present. Research by the Namibia Statistics Agency (NSA) has shown the country’s rapid rate of urbanisation is because people are flocking to the city and towns in search of jobs.

Two out of three people in urban areas currently live in informal settlements, most without access to adequate sanitation.

MASSIVE NUMBERS

According to the 38-page draft revised NHP, preliminary estimates show that there is an annual need of about 30 000 housing units to replace existing and future substandard housing from 2021 until 2030.

At the moment, about 88% of households have a monthly household income of less than N$10 000.

“Even employees in Namibia’s public service sector who are considered middle income, including nurses, teachers, police officers and military personnel experience difficulties in accessing adequate housing,” the document states.

It continues: “The most vulnerable sectors of Namibia’s labour force, such as domestic workers, security guards or construction workers, as well as those working in the informal economy, are much further removed from accessing adequate housing.

“Currently, only about 2% of households have a monthly income above N$20 000, which is not a guarantee of being able to afford the median house price.”

The average cost of servicing a 300m²-plot – the established minimum size for single erven of residential land – is around N$86 000, but “can rise considerably in areas with challenging terrain and soil types, amongst other factors”, the draft revised NHP states.

GOVERNMENT SUPPORT

It points out that government-led housing provision since Independence has not reached the required scale, partly because budget allocations to housing development have historically ranged around 0.1% of the gross domestic product (GDP), despite the NHP - adopted in 1991 - which called for 5% of GDP to be expended on housing.

“This is far below international figures such 0.6% of GDP (European Union member states in 2015), 0.3% for OECD countries, 0.5% in Zambia or up to 3.7% of GDP in South Africa,” the draft revised NHP elaborates.

Local authorities (LAs) have some of the key responsibilities in urban development, which makes their financial sustainability central in achieving their local development mandate, the document states.

“While regional councils are fully funded by central government, LAs are expected to source their funds locally, with only minimal intervention from the line ministry. However, there are only few LAs that are able to fully sustain their functions; and even fewer that are able to undertake housing initiatives, as per their legal mandate,” it adds.

2009 VERSUS 2022

Namibia’s NHP 1991 was revised in 2009.

The latter placed emphasis on homeownership as economic driver. “The ensuing predominant focus on credit-linked housing during the Mass Housing Development Programme (MHDP) pilot phase did not create the envisioned impact as the houses remained unaffordable to the majority,” the latest draft revised NHP states.

“Understanding housing primarily as a human right, instead of foregrounding its function as economic asset as the 2009 NHP did, is the basis for a more holistic approach envisioned in this policy review,” the draft clarifies.

The new draft policy is the result of a task team formed last year. It consisted of representatives of the ministries of urban and rural development (MURD) and finance (MoF), the National Planning Commission (NPC), the National Housing Enterprise (NHE), the Namibia Housing Action Group (NHAG), the Shack Dwellers Federation of Namibia (SDFN) and Nust. The process was led by Dr Phillip Lühl, head of the department of architecture and spatial planning at the university.

According to the new draft: “The policy shifts the focus from the government-led provision of houses to enabling a broad spectrum of stakeholders to deliver housing opportunities. It emphasises the need for increased public spending on urban amenities to render neighbourhoods more liveable and allow residents to access the spatial opportunities - in other words the opportunities for social and economic empowerment, public spaces and transportation networks, educational and healthcare facilities, and the generally increased density of social interactions - that urban areas offer.”

BRICK BY BRICK

The draft revised policy aims to “incrementally enable access to secure tenure and service infrastructure, and to financially support the construction and incremental improvement of housing units, in the process harnessing communities’ own contributions towards the improvement of their living environment”.

The range of housing opportunities include greenfield plots, formalised plots, core houses, improved houses, credit-linked houses and rental dwellings.

The draft revised NHP comprises of five strategies, the first being to upscale participatory informal settlement upgrading.

Although living conditions in informal settlements are often inadequate, they do provide shelter and livelihoods to a majority of urban dwellers, the document states, adding: “Self-organised community groups have proven their capacity to plan neighbourhoods and incrementally develop service infrastructure through alliances with various stakeholders including local authorities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). It is widely recognised that public resources are better spent on improving existing forms of shelter, including those in informal settlements.”

GREENFIELD DEVELOPMENT

The next strategy is to mainstream incremental greenfield development.

“Rapid urbanisation rates, limited technical and financial capacities at local authority level, and prohibitive costs of upfront full land servicing have resulted in large backlogs of serviced land country-wide, leading to the rapid expansion of informal settlements,” the draft document states.

“Cumbersome and lengthy statutory township establishment procedures” to date have further added to the delay in accelerating land delivery, leaving residents in informal settlements without security of tenure and development rights on the land they occupy.

“To avoid further informal settlement formation, some LAs have developed innovative ways of ensuring that new urban residents settle in planned settlement layouts with basic services which conform to town planning requirements for future upgrading and provide residents with a locally recognised form of tenure security, such as Certificates of Occupancy (COs) of a certain portion of land,” the document explains.

REALIGNMENT

The third strategy in the draft policy will prioritise incremental improvements in housing adequacy over the construction of complete houses in order to serve the greatest possible majority.

“Therefore, the success of the policy is not measured in terms of number of ‘houses’ produced, but instead on housing opportunities enabled, and urban amenities developed over a period of time,” the draft revised NHP spells out.

The document proposes that all land servicing- and housing-related programmes and projects administered by MURD and its related budgetary provisions be reviewed, and aligned with the revised policy in relation to income group proportions.

It further proposes that a structured grant system for urban land and housing guide the allocation of budgets according to proven demographic needs, incentivising LAs to provide security of tenure and basic services in order to access funding for urban amenities.

INCENTIVISE PRIVATE INVESTMENT

The current model followed by private investors in the housing sector can lead to enclave development with increased spatial segregation along income lines, the document states. This counters the policy principle to redress historical social and spatial inequities.

“To include target groups that would usually not meet the income requirements for mortgage lending, especially in cases where LAs availed land or other public resources for such developments, requires clear incentives and PPP [private-public partnerships] guidelines for housing and land development to be developed.

“Incentives could include additional bulk or higher net densities, relaxation of parking requirements, development fees, of-site provision of affordable housing amongst others. Increasing residential densities further requires reviewing and aligning various statutory town planning documents,” the draft suggests.

PROMOTE INCLUSIVITY, SUSTAINABILITY

The common perception that Namibia has abundant land available is misleading if the cost for servicing per household and low long-term rates base are considered, according to the draft revised NHP.

“Alternative housing models such as social rental, rent-to-buy, and housing cooperatives need to be explored through on-going experimentation, and monitoring and evaluation of the outcomes.

“Such housing innovation could be encouraged through design competitions and availing land for the purpose of pilot project implementation. Town planning and engineering standards should be responsive to the needs and affordability levels of specific target groups.

“They should respond to incremental development according to expressed community needs and not blindly apply existing standards that increase costs and thus make servicing costs prohibitive,” it as its fifth strategy.

Members of the public has until 21 February 2022 to give their input on the draft revised NHP. The full document can be downloaded here: https://ilmi.nust.na/sites/default/files/National%20Housing%20Policy-2022%20Revision-Draft%20for%20Stakeholder%20Consultation.pdf

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Namibian Sun 2022-11-27

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