Sunday, June 16, 2024

Are we comfortable as a “renting out” nation?

A few years ago, on an occasion that marked the announcement of what should by now have radically changed the shape of home ownership in our country, the Government said that one of the functions of SIHA (Single Housing Authority), mandated to the Botswana Housing Corporation in 2012 will be the provision of ‘affordable’ and ‘adequate’ housing for all income categories.

The establishment of SIHA, as we might be aware came as a result of numerous complaints by many Batswana over the past years of high cost of acquiring houses. The upward trend resulted in some of them opting to purchase depreciating assets such as motor vehicles while others opted to purchase their houses from private firms which they considered cheaper than the subsidised BHC.

However, donkey years down the line the question that remains unanswered for aspiring home owners, especially young Batswana who just joined the labour market is whether the introduction of a single housing authority will result in improved home ownership at affordable prices; or it will it get even tougher to acquire a house.

As we all are aware, our country is set to celebrate its 50 years of independence in late September 2016. This much anticipated celebration cannot be done without a look-back on our shortfalls as much as we also look at the so called economic prosperity. We need to re-examine the prosperity of our economy and by extension the wealth of our people from all walks of life. This commentary therefore seeks to reignite debate on home ownership in our country. 

The core Welfare Index Survey published by Statistics Botswana mid last year paints a rather disturbing picture when it comes to house ownership amongst our people. The data contained in this survey shows that only 3.3 percent of the working population of Botswana lives (or lived) in purchased housing units by 2010. This is a marginal increase from 1.3 percent recorded in 2002. This can only mean that large number of our populace lives in rented out houses. Sadly in 2016, the year of our vision, we are a “renting out” nation. 

 From this official statistics one can clearly tell that for our 50 years of independence we cannot celebrate as much when it comes to home ownership, atleast in urban areas. It seems, even after 50 years of independence property ownership remain restricted only to a small “rich” portion population while the “poor” will likely pay rent to their graves. 

Even the much appreciated reduction of rates by the Bank of Botswana over the last two years has proved meaningless to the renting class, whose number continues to grow. Property acquisition is just out of its reach for these masses. We appreciate recent efforts by Lands and Housing Minister Prince Maele on his housing schemes mostly targeted at the youth. 

However given the fact that our middle income prospective home owners have been shut out of the said scheme, and by the extension out of the market it is fait that one could even conclude that only a few of our youth will benefit from it. Like the poor who of late find themselves waiting to acquire a house through the President Housing appeal, there is nowhere for this growing group of people to go when they want to stop renting and start buying homes.

In 2014, BHC also “excited” the market through the launch of their ‘Sitting tenants’ sales campaign. We are yet to be told how much change it has brought to the landscape of home ownership for our people. Just like Maele’s scheme, our suspicion is that only a few managed to make use of the BHC scheme. 

We therefore need to remind the Government, commercial banks, private developers and pension funds of the need to start ‘talking and acting’.
In our mist, active supporters of affordable housing such as the Real Estate Institute Botswana (REIB) can help steer affordable housing policy. These could include the government’s consideration to subsidise property developers who in turn should sell houses to low income earners at a lower price.
Private land developers should also look for creative solutions because land prices and construction costs will remain high.
They must create a new community-led business model that enables them to build quality homes at a fraction of the cost of their luxury ones whilst also maintaining profitability.
We are not supporting home ownership because we believe everyone needs to own a home the way everyone needs to own a nice car or good clothes. We support home ownership because there is a broad public benefit to it and what it contributes to the development of good citizenship.
That Batswana aspire to homeownership is clear. While they may postpone acting on that desire, as they almost certainly have over the past several years, a change in policy that would make house affordable could readily change that.
It is quite evident that most of them have been prevented from acting on their desire to buy by underwriting standards or decided not to even ask for credit from financial institutions out of fear of being denied a loan.
Although it is a prime conviction of the BHC to overcome these tides and hurdles, the corporation would need assistance, precisely political one as the #Bottomline remains the urgent need for ‘affordable housing’. While there might be a bitter pill to swallow the suggested interventions might prove to be just what the doctor has ordered.

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