Harare needs lots of new houses and flats for its fast-rising population, and many of these new homes, especially those for ordinary people rather than the wealthy, will have to be built on land owned by the Harare City Council.
Several systems have been tried over the decades: The council servicing the land and building complete homes; the council servicing the land and building core houses; the council servicing stands that buyers build on; housing cooperatives doing both; and private developers working in partnership with the council.
The most successful have been schemes where the council serviced the stands and buyers built homes, and the schemes where private developers serviced stands, built the houses and took their major profits from associated commercial development.
Some cooperatives have worked, but many took money from members and never did anything. So the decision of the Government, now implemented by the council, to wind these up was necessary. It appears that where State land or council land is concerned it is vital that the Government or the council takes a more active role simply to ensure honesty and fairness.
But the switch in policy does mean that the council has to now return to becoming a prime developer, although obviously carefully drawn up partnerships with the private sector can accelerate progress. We probably do need multiple ways of getting vitally needed homes built.
This should not be that difficult, and there can be many benefits from a combined assault on the problem. A good example is to look at what Germany and Japan achieved after their defeat in the Second World War with vast swathes of their cities devastated by air attack. A good chunk of their economic miracles came from putting a lot of their workforce into building, and the rise of the necessary industries that provided the materials.
The people who want homes can often find finance. We have seen a lot of people being cheated by those who take their money and sell unserviced land or just take the cash and run. A steady stream of serviced stands can be put on the market for people who can show they afford to build. Often transferring rent payments to buying materials can finance a home.
Others will want proper flats and houses built by developers, the council or private companies, and will need some sort of finance plan. This too appears to be possible, from pilot schemes that have worked. The only problems that have arisen with these is the council finding out a bit late that not all inspections and approvals have taken place.
A more active council policy would ensure that everyone automatically went through each of the required steps, which are not onerous, but are simply there to ensure minimum building and safety standards are met.
These would also be required by private individuals building a home on a vacant plot in an old suburb, or those attracted to several private schemes on private land in parts of Harare. Such purely private schemes do not need much council input, but it has to be made clear to developers and builders that the regulations must be followed and that they cannot hand over the homes and collect final payments until the council has granted certificates of occupancy.
Some may complain that any major housing programme does not benefit the poorest who cannot afford a new home. But even they benefit as those who can pay move out of rented rooms and rents start falling as a result of diminishing demand.
We now hope that the Government, the city council and the private sector will push housing up the list of priorities. We will get homes for those who need them, a lot of jobs for those who build the homes and a lot of business and associated jobs for those who make the materials. More homes, more jobs and more business sounds like a good way of solving a lot of Harare’s social and economic problems.