Zimbabwe’s housing woes
. . . dishing out stands not solution
Roselyne Sachiti Features Editor —
Government recently announced that it will be allocating housing stands to more than 100 000 civil servants around the country in both urban and rural areas.
The move, while noble and welcome, particularly at a time accommodation shortage is spiralling due to increased rural to urban migration, presents a number of grey areas which if ignored may result in serious challenges in future.
There are also concerns over the sustainability of such a decision and whether it is the best to address current housing challenges.
Land is a finite resource, which if not managed effectively, may result in Government only meeting the needs of the current generation and ignoring those of the future.
If anything, a sizeable number of the over 113 000 civil servants expected to benefit from this scheme already
own housing stands and houses they obtained through other Government schemes rolled out in the past.
Currently, Harare has 23 483 potential beneficiaries, Manicaland 14 275, Midlands 12 887, Mashonaland East 10 125, Bulawayo 9 352, Mashonaland West 9 098, Masvingo 5 938, and Mashonaland Central 9 061. Matabeleland North and South Provinces have a combine 18 733 registered potential beneficiaries.
Numbers of beneficiaries are also expected to balloon because Government is taking on board every civil servant, including those not members of the Apex Council.
Potential beneficiaries will buy the land at a cost of $4 per square metre in high density suburbs and for between $20 and $25 in low density areas. The cost is lower in places like Kadoma where a square metre will cost $2 in high density areas and $5 in low density areas. An additional $1 administration fee will be paid through the Salary Services Bureau (SSB).
Civil servants will get their title deeds after making all payments depending on the size of stand. It is for this reason that the whole issue is worrying. Yes, Government is playing its role of providing a public good by making available housing, which may lead to improved livelihoods, but the sustainability of this is not guaranteed.
Instead of giving out land to meet the housing needs of civil servants, why can’t Government use the same land to develop and build public housing where civil servants will stay on a subsidised rent basis?
These buildings should be in form of flats and apartments for both low and high earners. Building upwards will certainly save land.
Picture this, in about three to 40 years from today, the people who benefit today could have left the civil service with new individuals coming in. The new groups of civil servants might also demand housing land and the cycle will go on and on.
Not to be outdone, in many other parts of Zimbabwe are millions of other Zimbabweans; youths, women and other minority groups seeking housing land through other channels like local authorities, Urban Development Corporation (Udcorp) and private developers.
The question is, does Zimbabwe have enough land or is there a danger of continued destruction of the environment to create space? Are we not at risk of creating slum like settlements in trying to quickly fulfil the appetites of people?
Are all these people first-time or multiple homeowners? Have the potential beneficiaries declared other housing land they already own? What should be on the Government’s top 10 list to develop housing settlements in a sustainable way without a negative impact on the environment and future of the country?
Urban Planning and Local Government practitioner Mr Percy Toriro said as a practitioner interested and working in the area of cities and how people live in them, he appreciates the effort Government is putting in an attempt to alleviate housing challenges for the people of Zimbabwe.
However, what concerns him most is the high number of unserviced stands that have become part of the housing stock in and around cities.
“As an example, researchers estimate that as many as 100 000 stands in and around Harare are not fully serviced with roads, water and reticulated sewerage.
“This poses for me two significant challenges; firstly, those people are deprived of decent lives and are exposed to communicable diseases. Secondly, that indirectly places an additional burden of infrastructure costs on the rest of the residents since the problem will at some point have to be borne by everyone.
“I am, however, comforted by the pronouncement of the Ministry of Local Government permanent secretary that Government will no longer give out unserviced land.
“We support this move as planners because it translates to liveable and sustainable urban settlements. We urge authorities to strictly adhere to the intention,” he said.
He also urged authorities to practice equity in allocating the land.
“Public resources are supposed to be allocated in a fair manner on a need basis. In that vein, measures must be taken to ensure the same beneficiaries don’t continue to benefit from different Government schemes. Land is a finite resource and we must disabuse ourselves of the notion that the resource is inexhaustible,” he added.
Past experiences tell a story of housing settlements in conflict with the environment. In most new settlements, housing clearly has a negative impact on the environment. People are building houses on wetlands disrupting the natural habitat. Wetlands act as a sponge which absorbs excess water and releases it in the dry seasons.
With many boreholes also being drilled in the new residential areas which do not get water supplies from council, the water table is being compromised each day affecting water levels in sources like Lake Chivero.
Sanitation issues also arise as most people building in these areas use septic tanks and blair toilets, and even open defecation, a hazard on its own.
Mr Toriro explained that there are also technical issues that require attention and the need to guard against urban sprawl.
“Let’s build compact sustainable cities where we implement our policy on vertical development. The sizes of our stands are unsustainable because everyone wants a big stand. There are many competing needs for land.
“Care must also be taken to make ecological considerations and come up with green cities that have breathing spaces. Green belts are the lungs through which cities breathe. Lastly, let’s take care to create residential areas with employment or economic opportunities. We shouldn’t just create dormitory towns without opportunities for employment. A delicate balance is required,” he emphasised.
Housing, poverty and industrialisation Poverty Reduction Forum Trust programmes coordinator and social economist Mr Tafara Chiremba said the collapse of industries and loss of formal employment had pushed people to look for cheaper housing or stands for home ownership in peri-urban areas.
He said an in-depth analysis clearly attributes the recent urban — peri-urban migrations to Government’s policy on land distribution in urban areas.
“Processes of urban sprawl into rural farmlands are taking place around all urban areas. Places such as Seke and Caldonia in Harare were once rural farm lands but have since been converted into peri-urban settlements following Government’s policy to avail more land to local authorities for housing development,” he said.
Government is trying to address shortages of housing for the poor. Through the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (Zim-Asset) under the Social Service and Poverty Eradication cluster, Government committed to improve the standard of living by constructing 300 000 houses under the National Housing Programme by 2018.
“The Government has not been following urban development and national spatial plans as vigorously as what it used to do before 2000. Many peri-urban settlements have been informally produced and this has ultimately generated infrastructure deficits especially for water and sanitation, health and education services, as well as electricity, high levels of congestion on the limited transport infrastructure,” he said.
He added that more residents travelled long distances to access basic services such as water and that this was disproportionately affecting children and women.
“The risks of environmentally related health hazards including cholera are very high and Government risks incurring high costs of medication to maintain the health of the residents. The high infrastructure deficit is also exerting pressure on few resources available for water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programme,” he noted.
A review of literature shows that Zimbabwe requires up to $325 million per year for at least a decade for WASH alone to cover the infrastructure deficit. Yet, in 2010 for example, the WASH sector allocation was a mere $15 million or 16 percent of total spending.
Mr Chiremba said a major weakness was that most the beneficiaries did not have resources to build houses.
“The distribution of a public resource like land is always good as it presents an opportunity to address social injustices in house ownership. However, distributing land for example to unemployed youths without initiatives to economically empower them to pay for the development of the land and construction of a proper house derails efforts to fight poverty and social injustice in a sustainable manner.
“The most common outcome is reselling of the stand or development of a substandard house and this is not what real social and economic empowerment should mean for the poor urban population,” he said.
He added that most of the residents cannot meet the requirements to access financial assistance from banks to build houses. He said Government and local authorities tend to lose potential revenue sources through rates payment when a large proportion of beneficiaries of land were not in a position to build houses.
He suggests that there must be a balance between distribution of land to fill the immediate social justice needs of the homeless and improving productivity of land for industrialisation.
“The Government through the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing should prioritise upgrading of existing slums and peri-urban settlements and provide essential social services infrastructure such as water and sanitation,” he said.
He also pointed out that Government through the Ministry of Energy and Power Development should invest more in energy generation and improve access to clean and affordable energy in urban areas.
“On land distribution and housing development, there is need for Government to take a holistic and sustainable approach in responding to social injustice in urban areas.
“The Government must think broadly on how it can make use of land as a source for industrialisation. Land must be productive for it to contribute to both economic growth and poverty reduction. The Government should harness the two way linkages between land development and industrialisation.
“A sustainable land development should be backed by improvement in opportunities in the manufacturing sector while land development can be a source of economic resources such as savings, taxes for the country and the operations of local authorities.
“To achieve a balanced growth that will enhance poverty reduction and eliminate inequality, the country needs a domestic resource mobilisation strategy which is anchored on harnessing all possible sources of savings and taxes especially those that are linked to immovable property,” he said.
Making PPPs and agriculture work
In addition, Mr Chiremba proposed that Government and local authorities should accelerate the implementation of low cost PPPs in housing development to reduce the costs of land development.
“This can provide a win-win situation as the approach reduces the cost of developing land for home ownership and it makes it possible for councils to benefit from well-constructed and completed structures through rates payments,” he said.
He further recommended that Government should speed up efforts to revive rural agriculture to improve food security for both rural and urban population.
“The Government through the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development should be concerned about financing climate change resilience measures going forward. There is need to establish more irrigation initiatives to combat the effects of climate change.
“There is also need for Government to invest in rural infrastructure (roads) and agricultural value chains through resuscitation of rural development agencies such as District Development Fund (DDF) and Agricultural Rural Development Agency,” explained Mr Chiremba.
Zimbabwe’s commitment to SDGs
Zimbabwe is a signatory to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda which was adopted by the United Nations on September 15, 2015. The new global agenda presents a much wider framework in that it incorporates a specific and unique goal to address the challenges of cities and urban population.
The need to put more energy on this goal comes from the observation that growth of cities in Africa has been happening with increased social and economic challenges faced by the urban population and Zimbabwe is not an exception.
SDG 11 speaks about the need to ensure that cities and human settlements are inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable between 2015 and 2030. Its fulfilment provides a greater potential for the realisation of leaving no one behind principle and broad-based human development.
Some of the specific targets that this agenda intends to achieve are as follows:
- Enhancing inclusive and sustainable urbanisation and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries
- Ensuring access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums
- Provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons.
Although the Government of Zimbabwe commits to the implementation of all 17 Sustainable Development Goals, it has prioritised only 10. By prioritising the 10 SDGs, the likelihood is that more focus and resources will be availed to this priority list first.
However, goal (number 11) that speaks to the need to ensure that cities and human settlements are inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable is becoming more critical and the country has to deliberately target its fulfilment to achieve broad-based results on its priority goals such as inclusive and sustainable growth, poverty reduction and elimination of all forms of inequality.