Cletus Mushanawani Senior Writer
People wishing to own their own homes and those paying rentals face three challenges: they cannot buy council stands, they cannot afford building materials and they cannot secure a mortgage from the banks.
Yet these are families spending up to $1 000 a month on rent, often for substandard rooms along the back wall of a more fortunate person who managed to buy a property when it was possible to do so with help from a building society or through a council scheme of rent to buy.
Most high-density housing is on council or Government land.
The development of these suburbs was done on pure cost recovery, with no profit allowed. The council or Government would use its own land or buy the needed farm and then put in the roads, sewer, water and electricity infrastructure then formally subdivide and sell. Usually at least a core house was included and then prospective owners on housing waiting lists who had the necessary minimum income to service the required loan would be invited to take up the offer.
Others could go into the private development sector, where a private developer would buy land, put in the services like roads and sewers, then subdivide and sell. Usually the developer had already made arrangements with a building society to provide 75 percent of the funding through mortgages, so prospective homeowners only needed the 25 percent deposit plus an adequate income to meet the minimum repayments set by the building society. The building societies would also lend for the actual building.
Nothing much of this remains, largely because as has now been revealed by a judge-led inquiry, the available land earmarked for housing was corruptly and illegally sold. At the same time the hyperinflation of the first decade of the 21st century destroyed the mortgage market and while there was a very limited recovery, liquidity problems associated with needed economic reforms have dried up this long-term loan finance.
Demand is still rising in Zimbabwe although birth rates have stabilised at just over replacement levels, the demographic bonus from that means that there are rapidly increasing numbers of young and young middle aged adults who want to buy or build their own homes. This is where the housing waiting lists come from.
Estimates of how many houses and flats are needed vary. Many people register on more than one housing waiting list. Others already have a property but want to upgrade. On private schemes they can own extra, but the council and Government schemes normally require beneficiaries to sell their old house once they move into the bigger or better new house.
According to the National Report for Habitat 111 of 2015, Zimbabwe had a housing backlog of 1,25 million houses and flats and no local authority has come even close to providing enough, even though with cost recovery schemes it should be possible for authorities to borrow the required capital and pay it back as beneficiaries pay back the council.
So shortage of housing has been manifesting itself in high occupation rates, development of backyard shacks, slums and poor housing conditions as well as the mushrooming of land barons who end up ripping off desperate home-seekers.
According to the Commission of Inquiry into the sale of State Land in and around urban areas since 2005, generally sale of urban State land, planning and development took place on 91 farms which were acquired by the Lands Ministry and handed over to the Ministry of Local Government and Public Works for urban development.
Sale of urban State land, planning and development also took place on 79 farms which were acquired by Government before such farms were handed over for urban development.
This makes a total of 170 farms in and around urban areas where development is taking place, but almost none of it planned and approved. So, people find themselves living without basic needs such as access to portable water, proper sanitation and access roads. Yet they paid good money for this land.
This is how the near disaster that is Epworth grew and unless something is done swiftly we could end up with another many Epworths. Problematic housing schemes in Harare South, Caledonia and Hopley grew out of similar situations.
With land barons wreaking havoc, dreams of owning a house for many people are fading with each passing day.
Building materials are the second challenge.
Bricks sold by industrial brick makers are rising in price with inflation. Farm bricks are cheaper, but local authorities demand expensive standards testing before these can be accepted. Under the building by-laws hand-made bricks cannot be banned, but do have to meet minimum standards and the testing is the problem because no one has developed simple tests that would pass or fail a batch of bricks. Older buildings in Harare are in fact built of hand-made bricks and use lime mortar, and are still standing firm a century later. But it is now difficult to copy those simple technologies.
On average, the cheapest bag of cement hovers around US$6,50 to US$8 when sold illegally by dealers, while common bricks cost between $1 500 to $2 000 per 1 000 depending on the supplier. Quarry dust is being charged between $300 and $1 000 a cubic metre minus transport.
Locally available products like quarry stones are also being illegally sold in forex and a cubic metre ranges between US$25 and US$50 while pit and river sand are charged at $120 and $150 per cubic metre.
In some instances people are also having to buy bulk water at upwards of $1 000 per 5 000 litres since the Harare City Council cannot even deliver water down the pipes.
This makes it hard for those just wanting a modest house of their own.
“I have been a lodger for more than 15 years and I am hoping to own a house someday, but with the high costs of acquiring land as well as building costs, I am between a rock and hard place.
“I joined the housing development co-operatives bandwagon, but it seems nothing is materialising save for never-ending meetings filled with empty promises. We are no longer sure whether we will realise our dreams or someone is wining and dinning with the proceeds of our sweat, while we continue wallowing in poverty. I am just confused and have just resigned to fate,” said Ms Alice Phiri, a member of one of the mushrooming co-operatives in Harare.
She is not alone in this predicament.
Everyone is now yearning for cheaper alternatives from the land to the final structure. Rushinga Rural District Council planning officer, Mr Kudakwashe Jonasi, said the provision of cheap accommodation starts from the planning process by local authorities.
“If a person is able to acquire land, he or she is expected to develop it. All things being equal, a person is able to develop even a core house. For this to be achieved, Government should consider availing grants to local authorities to enable them to service land before allocating it to beneficiaries.
“The bureaucratic process of approving layout plans should be decentralised to provincial levels. This has created loopholes for land barons’ plans to be approved faster compared to those of local authorities that serve the poor,” said Mr Jonasi.
A quantity surveyor, Tatenda Precious Ngwari, said finance is the critical resource that is required in housing development.
“Housing finance for the poor needs to be enhanced, creating a variety of options under State and financial services sector initiatives. Ensuring effective and efficient administering of housing subsidies is important so as to avoid any loopholes and targeting the wrong beneficiaries,” said Ngwari.
Long-term home loans would have to be targeted at the beginning and would probably need State support as private lenders are unwilling to tie up loan funds for decades.
Ngwari was keen on looking at available technologies that provided a range of options to meet the two requirements of affordability and durability.
“Engineers have ideas on quick ways to build houses, but the chances of seeing an architectural competition that doesn’t propose a new form of modular low-cost housing are slim these days. So rather than having a completely new proposal, it is much better to filter these options by analysing the constraints and opportunities around low cost and informal housing,” said Ngwari.
She cited the use of the South African low cost housing model, Moladi construction system.
The system was introduced in 1986 as a method of casting a building on site. The Moladi technology was developed as a means of alleviating many of the cumbersome and costly aspects associated with conventional construction methods without compromising the quality or integrity of the structure.
It constitutes the use of removable, reusable, recycled and lightweight plastic framework mould which have South Africa Bureau of Standards approval to form wall structures of a house in as little as one day. Each set of Moladi framework panels can be re-used 50 times making the technology cost effective due to the repetitive application scheme, reducing the cost of construction and transportation significantly.
Besides the Moladi technology, Ngwari said the use of timber is a better option considering that the resource is locally available.
“However, there is need to look into the costs involved with treating the timber for durability. The option is worth looking into because timber is also used for construction in some developed countries. Prefabricated structures can be a good alternative if constructed in areas that are not normally affected by cyclones,” said Ngwari.
She called for the promotion of densification.
This is the term for either smaller stands with subdivision allowed where necessary, or a switch to cluster housing, garden flats or blocks of flats. A block of 30 flats might use the same length of access road, sewer pipe and water pipe as a single house, but the costs of that infrastructure would be shared by 30 families. In almost all housing development, the actual land is cheap; the price of the stand is largely the cost of putting in the needed services.