By Hilary Mare
THE housing sector is often described as a major contributor to the national economy. Besides the financial impact on the economy, housing also impacts on social, political and environmental fabrics of the Namibian society. Sustained and increasing housing development output therefore presents a great potential for various spin-off effects. At the level of general development policy there is a consensus that a properly functioning market economy, underpinned by a dense network of civic associations and overseen by a strong and accountable Government, is the best framework for economic growth and social development.
Positioning housing as one of the main enablers of Namibia’s economic growth in complementing other economic sectors forms the basis of the core housing development strategy. Housing has the potential to play an important role as a means of reducing poverty in both urban and rural areas, hence the emphasis to extend housing to rural areas as an integral part of the Government rural development efforts as well as to upgrade and formalise the informal settlements. Therefore, Namibia’s housing vision is to see the housing sector become one of the key contributors to Namibia’s economic growth and the creation of sustainable communities throughout Namibia.
However, Namibia’s housing crisis has reached enormous proportions. Well over 500 000 Namibians are already living in shacks and the current average house prices in the country are unaffordable for over 90 percent of the population.
Overall, it is clear that Government needs to drastically change both the scale and focus of its programmes if it is serious about delivering affordable housing for its population. Government should focus on areas where the market is currently not delivering, such as providing serviced land, reaching the lowest income sectors and using housing as a tool for integration.
Notably and in order to arrest the escalating housing situation, the Government has been leading national efforts aimed at accelerating the delivery of land and housing in the country with special focus on the needs of the lower and middle income groups.
In 2013, Government adopted the Mass Housing Development Programme (MHDP), following the approval of the programme’s blueprint by Cabinet in that same year. Through the programme, the Government seeks to rally national efforts in order to bring about an accelerated production and supply of the housing stock in the country through increased investment in the housing sector in general and particularly to meet the needs of the lower income groups. In terms of the blueprint, the programme targets the construction and delivery of a total of 185 000 housing units by the year 2030. This translates into an average of 10 300 houses per annum. The first phase of the programme which kicked off in 2014 however only involves the construction of some 4 204 housing units. This indicates a huge shortfall. The funding that has been secured through the national budget is also far below the estimated financing requirement of N$2,5 billion.
Given the complex nature of the housing situation as well as the direct link between the housing and land delivery, the Mass Housing Development Programme proposes an integrated and multi-pronged approach consisting of the following interrelated sub-programmes inclusive of land delivery – Land use planning, design and infrastructure development (reinforced through the introduction of the Massive Urban Land Servicing Project), development of credit-linked or conventional housing products, development of social/ subsidised housing, informal settlement upgrading, community-based housing development, rural housing and sanitation; and reform of the legislative, regulatory and policy environment as well as capacity building related to housing and land delivery.
It is imperative to note that the Government has shown and continues to show renewed interest in addressing the housing needs of the country. This is evident through continuous allocation of resources to land servicing and housing development, including grant funding to community-based housing initiatives and groups such as the Shack Dwellers Federation of Namibia, budgetary allocation to local authorities, regional councils and the National Housing Enterprise to scale up land and urban infrastructure development and housing and ensuring a conducive policy, legal and regulatory environment and framework for investment in land and housing delivery through national development and policy instruments such as the National Development Plans (NDPs), the Harambee Prosperity Plan (HPP), the Mass Housing Development Programme (MHDP) and the Massive Urban Land Servicing Project (MULSP).
In response to the identified lengthy and cumbersome administrative and approval bottlenecks, the Government, as part of national legal an administrative reform initiative that has been sanctioned by Cabinet in 2015 and through the ministries of Urban & Rural Development and Land Reform, has initiated a review and reform of policies and laws dealing with land and housing. Among this is the repealing of the outdated urban and regional planning laws and replacing them with a single planning legislation (Urban and Regional Planning Bill), which provides for a single administrative body as well as the delegation of some of the approval functions that are currently performed at the centre down to local and regional government levels.
“It is a recognised fact that even with the resolve that it has, the Government does not have and will not be in a position to provide all the resources that are needed to address the backlog in land and housing delivery. As such, there is a greater role for the private sector and viable public-private partnerships. This however requires a business unusual and innovative approach and solutions.
“As far as housing is concerned, there is a huge shortage of housing products in terms of both number and type. As I have indicated earlier, private developers have been acquiring land from local authorities (serviced and unserviced) and have been constructing various accommodation units, but majority of homeless Namibians are still struggling to access houses that they can afford. When I spoke on the Mass Housing Development programme, I also referred to a range of housing products that are required, and that there is segment of the needy population that is left out as the types and prices of the houses that are being built are not affordable to them. A discerning investor can turn this situation into an opportunity investment.
“The National Housing Enterprise (NHE) and local authorities have long waiting lists of clients and residents who are in need of affordable housing, and they together with the Ministry of Urban and Rural Development will be happy to engage serious investors who want to make reasonable profits and also assist the Government to address the housing backlog by coming with housing products that will be affordable to the lower income groups. The NHE alone has a waiting list of over 80 000 applicants for houses countrywide as at October 2016,” Sophia Shaningwa, Minister of Urban and Rural Development said at the recent Invest in Namibia conference reflecting on the huge investments opportunities available in the housing sector.
Local authorities and the NHE have large tracks of unserviced and partially serviced land for which they are seeking affordable private funding and partnerships. In terms of their establishing Act (Local Authorities Act, 1992), local authorities are empowered to engage and venture into joint venture agreements with the private sector for purposes of servicing land and developing affordable housing. The central Government, through the Ministry of Urban and Rural Development and the Office of Attorney General, has been providing and will continue to provide the requisite technical and legal support. In addition the Ministry of Urban and Rural and the Ministry of Finance have also developed a PPP concept for affordable housing.
Among others, the company in partnership with the City of Windhoek and private investors has submitted a project seeking a US$1 billion investment.
In terms of the Harambee Prosperity Plan, Government needs to deliver at least 6 500 serviced residential plots and 5 000 housing units per annum.
Conclusively, the role of the Government therefore at this stage should be to ensure that the housing development process is inclusive for all and that those households excluded from the market and conventional housing development mechanism are given the opportunity to access land, housing and services as well as creating an enabling environment for a vibrant housing market.
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015