Part II: How to build affordable, quality and sustainable housing?

Author: Delphine Sangodeyi, AHI Senior Urban Planning Associate

[Continued from Part 1]

The equation is not simple, and demands a new approach. Expertise, research and knowledge should be invested and there should be high social and environmental impacts as well as an economical gain. Housing quality is not only dependent on construction costs, but also related to the quality of housing conception, to social responsibility and to a new business ethic and mindset. A new business model is required.

      Reaching affordability

The term “affordability” applies not only to building costs but to maintenance costs as well. The recommended percentage of income to be paid for housing is generally capped at 30% of income. Higher mortgage payments impact a family’s ability to afford food, medicine and other necessities of life. Even if a family can afford mortgage payments on a house there may be other impediments to home ownership. These include difficulty in finding appropriate land, cash for a down payment and closing costs in order to keep expenses affordable.

In each country, region and city, the affordable housing market needs to be studied, since it covers various socio-economical categories. In many locations, the population living in poverty and working in the informal sector is still excluded from accessing mortgages through the formal banking system.

      Qualitative architecture, in coherence to local identity

Evans Essienyi in his AHI blog highlighted well the problem of quality of affordable housing in Africa, and that cultural and identity factor were insufficiently taken into account.

Affordable housing is most of the time treated in its most basic form, by constructing standardized block houses or apartments of 45 m² with 2 bedrooms. Compared to the degraded situation of dwellers, these types of constructions could look a fortiori as a situation of progress, but it can’t be seen as a correct solution, in a sustainable vision.

      Promoting mixed neighborhoods

Social and architectural diversity is very important in the construction of cities and neighborhoods. For instance, each affordable housing project can include different types of housing, and affordable for different social categories: from low income households to the middle class.  Less benefit can be made to build very economic housing since the global project is at a financial equilibrium.

      Access to the City

Due to the rising price of land, the tendency is to build affordable housing projects in the far periphery of cities. It implies problems of social exclusion, problem of access to transportation, services, education and employment.

For this reason, any affordable housing project has to be conceived in partnership with local authorities. A good option would be to determine available lands at a discounted price compared to the market, to avoid territorial inequalities. Taking into account the costs for local authorities for trunk infrastructures to cover the growing periphery of cities and megalopolis, road constructions and services, as well as the negative effects of segregated urbanization and high environmental impacts of urban sprawl; instead, participating to develop affordable housing through urban renewal and discounted land price closer to the city centers and employments poles should be regarded as a more sustainable urban strategy.

The international and multidisciplinary perspectives of the Affordable Housing Institute help in developing alternative and concrete solutions for a more sustainable vision of affordable housing.

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