Affordable Housing in Zambia: A Myth or Reality

Daniel Apton Phiri, Associate – AHI Zambia/Southern Africa

In the last 20 years, Zambia, like many other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, has experienced a “housing boom” albeit driven mainly by the private sector and individual developers using their own resources.  During the same period very few social housing and upgrading schemes have been implemented implying that nearly 70 percent of the population – mainly the urban and rural poor – have not benefited from this “housing boom”. The government has largely paid lip-service to housing provision, especially for the poor, as reflected in meager budgetary allocations and low prioritization of the sector. The poor have to fend for themselves and use their initiatives to construct homes in informal unplanned settlements which results in a plethora of urban challenges such as poor services and basic infrastructure.

Low Cost Houses built by NGO (Courtesy of Habitat for Humanity Zambia)

Affordability is a key issue although the definition of “affordable housing” is clear. There are several on-going housing projects ranging from low cost institutional tied housing to high cost gated estates but most of these schemes are not affordable to the average Zambian. Constructing a simple low cost house requires a minimum investment of US$10,000 (UN Habitat estimate, 2012) while currently a formal low cost house is selling between US$20,000-US$50,000 on the Zambian Market. House prices in new estates are pegged from US$50,000 upwards while incomes for potential home owners remain on average are very low.

Typical House for the Urban Poor in unplanned areas

The demand for “affordable housing” in Zambia still remains very high with an estimated 1, 3 million housing units required to meet the shortfall by 2025- a big challenge for our government. The question that begs answers is “what should be done in terms of policy and other measures to make housing affordable to two-thirds of the population who urgently need decent affordable shelter?”

Low Cost Formal Housing

9 thoughts on “Affordable Housing in Zambia: A Myth or Reality

  1. Kanha, Urban Planner, National Institute of Urban Affairs, India

    Providing Affordable Housing to the mass is the world-wide issue. but i think it’s more myth then reality. I belong to India. 99% of the housing demand comes from LIG/EWS. but Government is not making appropriate plan for them.

    Recently i have completed one research Study for Same. I took Small City as case study. the city has population of 4 to 5 Lakh in Census of India 2011. I found that 70% of the peoples can afford the houses within their Affordability but its market price who throw the mass numbers of the community.

    When i Calculated Housing prices. i consider land prices on the basis of Government listed. i calculated the prices of the houses of 500 Sqm and its comes between 5 to 6 Lakh. i compare the prices with Market prices of house in same area. which is too high and which is out of affordability the community.

    I come with the conclusion that Affordable Houses in reality is not a issue but its Government policy who created another world where common man cant enter. However, gating Affordable House within Affordability of mass community is a day dream.

    (I have also written a book on “Housing policy for Small Indian Cities, India” i book have other option to find the policy solution to make Housing as more affordable to the mass communities of Small Indian Cities)

    1. Daniel

      Great response Kanha, from my own assessments so far I find affordable housing for the masses more of a myth than reality in developing countries. What really is interesting is how the urban poor incremently using meagre resources at their disposal build structures that even Local Urban Councils could pass for decent shelter. Meaning that there is great potential in what the poor can do – if only they were properly supported in their aspirations. Kanha I am interested to have a copy of your book on Housing Policy in Small Towns

      1. Kanha

        Sir, Kindly send your Address, i will ask my publisher, he will send you the copy of the book…


  2. Barbra

    What is required is POLITICAL WILL. Consider the number of workshops/seminars you have attended to to try and find answers to this question, the number of presentations you have made and how we have all come out of these meetings with answers. Polcy must translate into programmes /action plans which must be implemented and to do this somebody i.e. the Government of the day , must make a deliberate and conscious decision to allocate funds to make this happen because we know that affordable housing for the 70% masses you talking about will not be provided by the market. The current housing market in Zambia or any other african country in this region is vibrant and functions without the participation of the 70% of the urban poor so really arguments about subsidies and social housing solutions distorting this so called housing market is irrelevant for the lower end of the pyramid, until this huge gap is narrowed down.
    Secondly the stripping of powers from local authorties , cannibalisation of local authority assets and sources of revenue by central governments that has vritually turned the Directors of Housing departments in local authroties into mere clerical departments is ridiculous , promotes corrupt practises and open to political manipulation makes a mockery of the whole talk about decentralisation. Throw in the whole piece on technical assistance/experts/consultants/mutilateral and bilateral support .,well………………………..this is a topic for another day!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Daniel

    Great contribution, Barbra, I fully agree with you on the need for political will and concerted deliberate efforts by the government of the day to provide housing for the lower end of the market. We should as you point out by lobbying more for the restoration of greater local authority roles in provision of rental housing for the masses. There are also a number of other factors that affect affordability, apart from political will, as you know, and so it is healthy to debate the issues.

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  5. John

    Hi Daniel, I’m a foreigner interested in doing something like habitat for humanity but on a much smaller scale and in a bit more a renewable fashion. I would like to secure land and create individual plots to develop modest homes for families in Zambia in need. The homes would be built by volunteers and funded by donations but only the cost of the building materials would be eventually paid back(interest free)… The idea is to start with a few houses, built and financed by myself and a few volunteers to keep costs at a minimum. Cultivate each plot to so each family can grow and/or produce their own food supply as well as offer product or service so they can become financially stable. Only once this is achieved they begin paying the cost of the building materials back interest free. I figure with labor costs almost nil and eventually once the “interest free loan” begins to be paid back we invest it into news homes for other families in need. With enough space on each plot to grow their own food and and possibly offer another service or product for financial gain I don’t see why this could not be achieved.
    Would you at all be interested in getting involved in something like this or do you know of anybody that might be?


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