High rise housing: Demystifying the myth Government has been building flats in major cities, such as Willowvale Flats in Harare

Pardon Gotora Correspondent
If a researcher was to do a convenience sampling on the ordinary citizen’s perception regarding staying in high rise apartments, it will be unsurprising to get such rudimentary responses as “Handigare mudenga seshiri”.

Which literally means an apartment is equated to a bird’s nest, and one would need wings to access his/her bedroom.

Is there any myth about staying in apartments or it is just our perception, or it is simply ignorance on our part as citizens?

Zimbabwe’s population pyramid has a broad base, implying that the younger generation has more people compared to their elder counterparts.

Under normal circumstances, one graduates from college at the age of between 23 and 25 years.

He/she expects first employment soon after graduation.

Concurrently, he/she expects to rent an apartment near the central business district (CBD) for convenience purposes, while trying to establish his or her footing and traction.

However, the majority of these are convinced that renting a flat should be a temporary measure while serving enough to buy a stand and build own house.

There is no eternity in staying in the flat. High rise is designated for the “birds”.

In my view, it is perceived as a taboo for someone to reach pensionable age while staying in a flat.

It is weird for one’s hair to turn grey/white while staying upstairs.

Our society regards it as a sign of ineptitude or improper planning on your part.

It merely infers that you are not smart enough “upstairs”.

Ironically, it is the norm as well if you were to reach retirement age without building a retiring homestead back in the village, a subject for discussion some other day.

A quick scan on any other developed country reveals that people live in high rise buildings.

Singapore, for instance, is a city-state where people live in high rise apartments, and land is a scarce commodity to such an extent that they are reclaiming land from the sea.

You also look at Dubai, Hong Kong, United Kingdom and the United States of America, to mention just a few, people stay in flats.

The CBD is awash with high rise buildings, but they are for office use.

Very few are designated for mixed use, inclusive of housing.

In Zimbabwe, staying in an apartment is just a “FAW” (For-a-while).

Government has been building some flats in the major cities, such as Khumalo Flats in Bulawayo, Willowvale Flats in Harare, Third Street and Mutapa in Gweru and Florida in Mutare, again to mention a few.

The regulation is that only up to one plus three floors are walk-up flats.

Five floors and above should have elevators.

Elevators and escalators require constant supply of energy; can we guarantee that as a nation.

Authorities worry much about the cost of the unit at disposal, which is bound to skyrocket once elevators are installed.

In addition, flats also require constant water supply with enough pressure to serve all the floors and an efficient sewerage reticulation system.

If we were to do an analysis of people staying in blocks of flats, chances are high that the occupants are not the original owners.

More often than not, they are subletting. People buy the few flats available for investment purposes rather than based on the need for shelter.

Some are comfortable to rent a flat rather than own one, while looking for a stand elsewhere to build own house.

The challenge emanates from the homeownership policy adopted by Government at Independence.

Everyone wants to own a property with own title deeds, a backyard garden or orchard, children’s play centre and a car park.

In the plush suburbs, they need a tennis court, a swimming pool and a servants’ quarter, all in one stand.

The property is seen as an investment, a store of value or a status emblem by many. Zimbabwe has a population of over 12 million people as of 2012; how practical is it to have close to 12 million housing units where each and everyone own a piece of land with four walls and a few sheets of asbestos on top.

Land is a finite resource. Not all land is housing land. As a country, we have been developing laterally/flat, thereby causing massive urban sprawl and chewing prime agricultural land, especially in Harare and its peri-urban areas.

It is costly in terms of providing requisite infrastructure for water, sewer, electricity and urban transport among other social amenity requirements.

The housing units keep drifting away from existing infrastructure.

That explains why such areas as Harare South remain unserviced.

Going forward, since most local authorities are running out of land for urban expansion, there is need for a massive mindset shift from both authorities and members of the public.

Starting with the houses in the proximity of the CBD, which are also fast being converted into offices, there is need to make a declaration that all the spaces above your roof and below your foundation belong to the authorities, be it Government or council.

You then construct state-of-the-art high rise apartments of mixed use.

The underground is used for parking, the ground floor is used for shops’ space, the first and second floors are used for office space and the rest for accommodation.

In that instance, the only person permitted to own a property on that block is the original land owner whose property would have been “renovated and refurbished”, while the rest are for rental housing.

This will represent “the advantage of the incumbent”.

There is need to first target those within the vicinity of the CBD, and construct walk-pathways that accommodate even wheelchairs and cycle tracks to allow people to use non-motorised modes of transport for a healthy lifestyle.

People should be encouraged to use such modes out of design not out of desperation.

Then, introduce talking-traffic lights to guide the visually impaired pedestrians and the elderly. The concept should be gradual and guided by a comprehensive master plan.

There is strong evidence that investors are willing to embark on massive housing projects, but there is shortage of land as the off-site infrastructure has remained the stumbling block for ages.

Authorities should introduce the build operate and transfer (BOT) facilities, where the investor collects rentals for an agreed timeframe to recoup the money expended on the project, thereafter, the property is then handed over to the authorities for administration and management.

In that way, it gives the authorities ample time to disenfranchise home-ownership for rental and social housing.

Admittedly, the process requires strong systems to be in place as there are issues to do with maintenance and repairs.

Investors, especially foreigners, require guarantees that they will be able to repatriate the money as and when necessary.

Zimbabwe is open for business; this could be another prospect for investment worth of consideration.

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