Short supply of affordable housing has become a major challenge for residents of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's largest urban center. The overwhelmingly rising demand, particularly by low and middle income groups necessitates the need to come up with alternative low-cost housing projects.
The government has been implementing condominium housing projects for more than a decade. Yet, there is a huge gap between the number of people registered in the programs and the houses that have been built and transferred so far. With the current pace, it is doubtful that nation would meet the demand in the foreseeable future, unless quick remedy and alternative schemes are introduced.
"The 10/90, 80/20, and 40/60 housing projects are the major options the government has come up with so far" says Aregote Alemu, Addis Ababa Housing Development Project Office head. "But there are citizens who cannot afford the down payment for these programs. So there are pilot projects to construct rental houses for lower income groups and civil servants, which could be scaled up based on feasibility."
Besides, it is also salient to pursue innovative low-cost housing programs. "Different stakeholders such as the Addis Ababa University's Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction and City Development (EiABC) in collaboration with foreign universities have come up with excellent and innovative ideas to construct low-cost housings. But the question is whether or not they are scalable and applicable," Aregote says adding such initiatives require institutions, strategies and executive procedures.
The government has planned 450,000 houses would be built in the capital during GTP II, half of which by itself and the remaining half by cooperatives, private developers and other alternative projects.
Though the 50/50 cooperative housing scheme as a concept is held as an alternative program, it by no means would address the demands of low and middle income groups as the price of the houses is in the range of 600,000 to 900, 000 birr.
According to the information from the Ministry of Urban and Housing Development, there is not yet any organized plan on the table at federal level for alternative low-cost housing schemes. Yet, there is an initiative to expand to other areas the experience in Tigray State where 11,400 civil servants are organized and received land to construct houses. By initially depositing 53,000 birr at Dedebit Saving and Credit Association, the civil servants would access loan from the association and disburse it in 15 years.
Fasil Giorgies, is assistant professor at the EiABC. He says there have been pilot projects and attempts in the institution to come up with low-cost and time efficient innovative housing schemes using local construction materials in old slums.
"One thing that needs to be underlined is the fact that housing development goes in line with urban development. It should not be seen as a separate concept as it is the case sometimes. When we talk about housing development, it has to be seen from the perspective of infrastructural supply, transportation development, settlement patterns, urban design and the likes."
The main problem according to him is in the weak exchange of information and knowledge. "In our institute, there is a research and consultancy unit. There are several experts (both students and teachers) with huge potential and we have to use that. For instance, if we take the case of China, consultants in universities and educational institutes involve in many building designs and studies," Fasil underlines.
There is still low level of commitment in implementing new ideas. "For instance, at EiABC, we have been given the task of preparing an urban design for the Balcha Welde Chelote area around Arat Kilo. Based on our study, we came up with a new design to construct condos in the future with cost efficient system. However, it was rejected by the concerned authorities because it requires extra commitment and adds huge managerial burden and workload on them. It is sad because we prepared the designs by taking the area's landscape into consideration. There is lack of commitment in embracing new ideas," he expresses his concern.
It is vital to look for alternatives all the time and improve the management system, public-private partnership and commitment to share knowledge and implement new ideas, he advises.
Housing is not a temporary problem which demands temporary solutions. It is a challenge that a city or a nation has to confront with all the time and hence it demands a long-term strategy says Dirk Doath, an architect from Germany's Bauhaus University who took part in a collaborative pilot low cost housing project in Addis a couple of years ago.
"We have to understand fairly the challenge and the problem behind. It is time now to evaluate what has been achieved, what went wrong and why (e.g. the condominium program), what can be improved and what shall be completely changed," he tells The Ethiopian Herald. "A lot of those experiments have been produced already and are just running without this reflection."
_Regarding the role of architecture in resolving Addis Ababa's housing problem, he says architecture and engineering is only one factor out of all of those general issues. "Architecture cannot be understood as an impulsive reaction focused on physical realisation of buildings /infrastructure to a problem. It is necessary to understand the context and full dimension as the problem is not only related with lack of materials, capacity etc. The problem can also emerge from challenge in the culture of production and management."
As a long term strategy, Dirk suggests decentralization of urban centres and development of small and medium sized towns with proper economy, service, public and cultural infrastructure as stated in GTP II where it is planned to establish 8000 rural urban centres.
There is also need for research development such as the EiABC's four year "integrated infrastructure" and "Terms of Towns" project. "In this research, we are going for experiments and prototypes too. This gives the real and graspable opportunity to evaluate and simulate further industrial processes and products. It is an important research methodology in architecture/engineering field," he says.