17 July 2012

Namibia: Government Urged to Up Provision of Urban Housing

A PARLIAMENTARY standing committee suggested that Government embark on a large-scale programme to deliver housing in towns.

The committee on human resources, social and community development compiled a report which was tabled in Parliament following a motion by All People's Party (APP) president Ignatius Shixwameni in July 2010 that urged Government to encourage employers to provide housing and transport subsidies to their workers.

He also suggested possible ways to solve the housing backlog, which stood at 92 000 at that stage.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) in 2009 said the backlog is primarily among low-income groups, of which the majority (56 per cent) earn a maximum of N$1 500 a month.

After consultation with various government and other institutions, including the City of Windhoek, the committee concluded that the backlog is due to a lack of serviced land, the high cost of building material, a limited capacity of local authorities to implement Government's programmes, and high unemployment.

The price of housing has skyrocketed since Independence.

The FNB Housing Index released this week shows that the median house price in Windhoek has increased by a whopping 57 per cent since 2007.

Property prices in Namibia are 30 per cent higher than its more developed southern neighbour, South Africa, and 64 per cent higher than in the USA.

The parliamentary committee said it is increasingly becoming clear that the participation of rich foreigners in multiple home ownership and the lack of protection for first-time buyers from unfair competition with rich developers are factors that hamper affordability of housing to middle-income groups.

And with the more than 50 per cent unemployment rate, many Namibians cannot own houses.

It is thus becoming critical that innovative approaches be devised to allow people to have access to housing.

The committee said Government should provide more resources to the National Housing Enterprise (NHE) and other organisations, including local authorities, to provide more serviced land and the provision of housing.

Seventy per cent of NHE customers are government employees. Government grants housing subsidies and provides collateral. The NHE houses are more affordable than those built by private developers.

From 2003 to 2007, NHE on average provided 220 houses, a much lower number than the period between 1990 to 2003, during which it provided 660 houses.

The decentralised Build Together Programme delivered 10 244 houses from 1992 to 1997, and 16 428 houses between 1998 and 2010.

Since 2008, the Shack Dwellers Association of Namibia built 260 houses per year at a cost to Government of N$3800 per house.

The FNB Housing Index of 2010 showed that the private sector delivered 50 000 houses.

Because the housing shortage is more pronounced among low-income groups, the parliamentary committee suggested that more access to financing be provided to this group through a home-loan guarantee trust, savings schemes and the introduction of a policy of 'rent to buy'.

The committee suggested that a moratorium be placed on foreign buyers, and importantly, to limit municipal auctions for first-time buyers to people of certain income groups.

Currently, these auctions in Windhoek are used by developers to snatch land from first-time buyers for the development of housing complexes.

Government is further encouraged to use alternative building materials, such as clay houses, and to promote the use of dry sewage systems.

As far as the provision of transport goes, the committee suggested that express trains be considered, especially between Windhoek, Rehoboth and Okahandja, for people commuting to the city daily.

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