Proper planning key in housing development

29 Jan, 2020 - 00:01 0 Views
Proper planning key in housing development housing development (file picture)

The Herald

Housing shortages and plans for mass building have been talked about for decades, and while new homes have been built over the years, the number has been below what is required.

This has been blamed on a number of factors: the availability of land, cost of services, cost of building material, suspicion of private developers, and periodic devastation of mortgage markets.

Now, a more pragmatic policy is being put forward by Housing and Public Amenities Minister Daniel Garwe, who is dumping ideological purity in favour of practical schemes that involve the Government, local authorities and, critically, the private sector to craft development that actually works and delivers.

While his target of 100 000 homes a year is over-ambitious, as he himself acknowledged when he suggested round about a quarter that figure would be excellent progress, his basic idea of involving everyone in a new housing thrust is finally in the right direction.

The Government has land or access to land.

It however, lacks capital both for the servicing of the land, that is putting in the roads and the water, sewer and electricity connections, and the actual building of houses and flats.

But in the private sector there is some capital, not as much as there should be thanks to Zimbabwe’s bouts of inflation, but more than the Government can lay its hands on.

So the minister sees some sensible partnerships with the Government laying on the land and setting minimum standards and the private sector doing the actual development.

Even this policy needs fleshing out, and can be implemented in a number of ways, all of which will probably be required.

The critical bottleneck for those wanting their own home and lacking the large bank accounts needed to buy in upmarket schemes has always been serviced land.

As private developers have found, once you have stands with roads and services, you can find buyers, even if you cannot offer terms. With loans or time to pay you can get queues of buyers.

So this is one approach. Minister Garwe is right that standards need to be set. We do not need squatter settlements, even if the underlying land is serviced.

But, on the other hand, we need to be practical and recognise that many families might take several years to gradually build their dream home, one room at a time.

This is possible, while maintaining standards, if a build-it-yourself scheme has proper contracts of purchase and if there is a selection of approved plans, carefully drawn so that owners can develop in stages.

To avoid rows of identical boxes that can mar the more basic schemes, planners can follow the lead of middle-income private developers who offer a variety of standard house designs.

This approach, of selling the stand and letting the owner build, has been followed in several of the last major council projects in Harare.

Glen View saw buyers get a stand with a toilet and tap.

For Warren Park, there was a small core house, one or two rooms, which at least allowed the new owner to stay out of the rain and leave rented housing, thus devoting a modest income to building for themselves.

Budiriro was just stands, but with a number of loan schemes to get many started.

All approaches have their uses.

But no one should underestimate the sacrifices that many families will make and the immense effort they will put in if they are given a chance.

We have seen surprising amounts spent on housing on the land with no title or spurious title sold by land barons.

How much more and how much better would this housing have been if the owners had a real title deed, even if it was in a banker’s safe.

A second approach is for developers to actually build the homes, and if flats are desired then obviously a developer is needed.

That probably required in turn mortgage finance.

The Government needs to listen carefully to the basic requirements of potential investors and lenders when drawing up rules.

The old days when building societies were able to do the work regrettably ended with the hyperinflation of the 2000s, but it should be possible to put something else into place.

Again, the Government is more of the referee in this sort of case, ensuring fairness for both lenders and borrowers and listening closely to both as it sets practical rules.

We need to remember that major building programmes are possible.

Germany and Japan were both heavily bombed in the Second World War.

Among the ways they climbed out of the total poverty of utter defeat was rebuilding their cities, with Germany at one stage having 10 percent of its adult workforce in construction and related industries.

Digging ditches for sewers, making roads, making bricks, and building might not be the highest paid jobs around, but they can absorb a lot of labour and thus create real wealth.

We should not be dismissive about building for rent, or even of just skimming the better paid into home ownership.

Every family renting accommodation which moves into its own home releases space for the next person who wants to rent.

And as pressure eases through major building programmes, so the famine rents now being charged will fall as landlords are forced to become more reasonable.

The minister also needs to be careful about just how his standards are specified.

There are efforts every now and then to ban farm bricks and insist on Portland cement mortar.

Yet a lot of older buildings in Harare, that have survived more than a century without harm, are built with hand-moulded bricks set in lime mortar.

Other building technologies, such as adobe walls, are found in old buildings around the world.

Standards are needed, but they should be on durability and safety, not on particular technologies.

The minister and his officials need to flesh out their ideas, and involve the private sector in this planning process, but the basic thrust Minister Garwe is seeking, of combined efforts to convert the talk of decades into homes, is welcome and that makes the programme doable.

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