Affordable housing in Africa

By: Evans Essienyi, AHI West Africa Associate

Population experts predict that Africa’s population will double from 1,037,524,058 in 2011 to 1,998,465,920 by 2050.The increase in population has been attributed to high birth rate, the decline in infant mortality, and an increase in life expectancy across the continent.

Population growth, coupled with rises in rural to urban migration has resulted in over populated cities. The growth of cities appears to have taken many city mangers by surprise, as they appear to have very little idea about how to manage the seemingly inevitable growth. City infrastructure gravely lags behind the population growth.

Housing is one of the resources that come under intense pressure when there is population explosion. Housing shortage in most African cities have reached worrying levels. This is evident in the increasing number of slums that are so visible in most cities. People who migrate to the city from rural areas construct their own shelter when there is no supply to meet their needs. These shelters are usually not adequate structurally or physically because owners meant them to be only temporary homes.

Kibera slums, Nairobi, Kenya

In most cities, affordable housing for the urban poor is non-existent. The lack of affordable housing supply and the high demand for affordable housing in Africa has been seen as a business opportunity by a number of business people in the West. For example, there are a lot of businesses in the US promoting prefabricated building methods as a means of providing affordable housing for the urban poor in Africa.

Lagos’s famous floating slums, Nigeria, where the government has recently taken first steps towards total demolition and eviction

On the face of it, these prefabricated buildings seem to be a way out of the housing situation. What is missed by most of the proponents of prefab houses is that, houses serve more than the function of sheltering people in Africa. For most Africans, houses are an expression of their status in society. Houses are regarded as properties that must be passed on to future generations. As a result of this very important function of a house, mass produced houses that look alike, and lack any aesthetics does not serve the African vision of home ownership.

Some of the prefab houses being designed today have been estimated to cost between $10,000 -$20,000. By Western standards these houses may seem suitable and affordable. But by African standards these are not suitable even if they are affordable. Most Africans would not mind living in tin houses temporarily while they spend $20,000 over the long term to build their own suitable homes.

Some of the prefab houses would pass for boxes, and I feel even though their intended recipients are poor and are supposed to be content, the houses are lacking in an important way: they are not reflective of the identity of the owner. Instead, they are mass produced, cookie-cutter houses. Most people will be reluctant to buy these houses.

A row of barren prefabricated apartments

I feel the solution in meeting the grave demand is to empower the poor in the cities economically. When their incomes grow, they will save to build their own houses.

A cubic non-descriptive prefabricated affordable home

Incremental building is the common method among the poor and the middle class. This is the prevalent method due to limited access to mortgage services in many parts of Africa. By economic empowerment either through job creation or funding of houses through Housing Microfinance, capital will be made available to the poor and the middle class for them to construct suitable houses over a relatively shorter time frame.

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4 thoughts on “Affordable housing in Africa

  1. Liza

    I think perhaps there is a need, in most African cities, to look more critically at the supply, demand, and regulatory dynamics at play. There is affordable housing in African cities; it just may not be of adequate stnd.

    Statements such as “I feel the solution in meeting the grave demand is to empower the poor in the cities economically. When their incomes grow, they will save to build their own houses.” makes little reference to complex issues around affordability, most of which can only be addressed in the medium term by addressing distorted supply chains for land, materials, services etc. Maybe there is a need for a longer discussion about the drivers of the crisis here or elsewhere.

    Reply
    1. Evans Essienyi

      I think perhaps there is a need, in most African cities, to look more critically at the supply, demand, and regulatory dynamics at play. There is affordable housing in African cities; it just may not be of adequate stnd.

      Statements such as “I feel the solution in meeting the grave demand is to empower the poor in the cities economically. When their incomes grow, they will save to build their own houses.” makes little reference to complex issues around affordability, most of which can only be addressed in the medium term by addressing distorted supply chains for land, materials, services etc. Maybe there is a need for a longer discussion about the drivers of the crisis here or elsewhere.

      I do agree that the issues surrounding affordable housing delivery in developing countries are complex. However, I hesitate to suggest that land, materials, and services are the major factors hindering the delivery of adequate affordable houses. In developed countries like the US, and the UK where issues of land, materials, and services have been relatively simplified, there is still housing shortage for poor citizens.
      The issues of land, materials and services were identified by John Turner in the twentieth century, and the concept of site services was proposed and championed by the World Bank as a way to address the delivery of adequate affordable housing. The site and services had some success, but has not been able to fully address the problem.
      One of the challenges with the site and services concept was that governments could not recover their investment from the housing projects. The low income beneficiaries of housing projects could not make good on their payments – because the POOR DID NOT have the money.
      In my experience, ability to pay for houses by beneficiaries is one of the biggest challenges to the delivery of houses. If people do not earn enough to meet their most basic needs, they will not spend on housing no matter the cost of the houses. Poor people would usually spend on their basic needs such as food and health before they spend on housing.

      Reply

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