Thursday, March 4, 2021

HOMELESSNESS IS A DISASTER…BUT IT’S NOT GIVEN PRIORITY, WHY?

The subject of housing and land ownership remains close to my heart. That I have to declare from the onset. It explains why often than not, in this space I keep re-visiting the issue of land allocation and by extension housing.

I am not supporting home ownership because I believe everyone needs to own a home the way they need to own a nice car or good clothes. I support home ownership because there is a broad public benefit to home ownership and its contribution to the development of good citizenship.

It is unfortunate that in 2019 – thirty seven years after Botswana’s first housing policy that was drafted the dream of a decent home has become even more elusive than ever for the country’s low and middle income earners.

In 1982 as history books will show, Botswana drafted a policy meant to encourage the building of new urban housing for all income levels to avoid illegal settlement and to improve housing in rural areas.

The expectation was that this would deliver what real estate gurus normally refer to as ‘affordable housing’.

Other goals outlined in the 1982 policy included gradual reduction of housing subsidies and redirecting them to middle and lower income housing to the rural areas. There is also a mention of a withdrawal by the Government from construction of higher cost housing by strengthening the private sector to undertake this responsibility as well as encouragement to commercial banks to lend money to lower income and rural households.

As it stands, Botswana’s Affordable Housing Market is essentially non-existent.  The targeted group being the low to middle income prospective purchasers of houses have been shut out of the market as evidenced by the exponential increase in house prices.

Prospective buyers in both rural and urban areas are fatigued due to a sustained increase in property prices over the last few years.

A quick estimate shows that a state owned property developer – Botswana Housing Corporation (BHC) sells its low cost units in Gaborone for over P900, 000. This is compared to the estimated cost of the same house in 2009 that one can peg at around P300, 000. In an inactive market like Lobatse the low cost house sells for above P500, 000.

Where does this leave low and middle income earners? Your answer is as good mine – in the streets or at the mercy of landlords. This group of Batswana are now like the poor members of our society, who of late find they waiting to acquire a house through the National Housing appeal that was launched by former President Ian Khama some few years back. These potential homeowners are falling through the cracks. Not only on account of government/BHC failure, but also on the failure by collective players in this area.

But this doesn’t mean that the property market is not thirsty for affordable housing. From where we stand there is huge demand for affordable housing but unfortunately there is nowhere these growing group of people go when they want to stop renting and start buying homes.

This then leaves one with no option but to once again plea with the Government, commercial banks, private developers and pension funds to consider making deliberate efforts that will see 1982 Policy goal of affordable housing being attained.

These key players need to start “talking and acting” because affordable housing can only be affordable in the real sense if all players participate. On the society side, we must have within our mist active supporters of affordable housing in the form of advocacy groups whose aim will be to steer the implementation of the 1982 policy.

One easy way given our level of wealth, could be a consideration by the government to subsidies property developers who in turn should sell houses to the targeted group at a lowest possible price.

For her part, the government need to look at a wide range of policies as well as regulatory constraints that are making it difficult for thousands of Batswana to own homes.

We cannot be talking about inclusive growth when our policies and legislation do not ensure that houses are affordable to each and every Motswana. It is quite evident that the citizens of this country need knowledge, financial support, services and opportunities in order to thrive economically.

In the past decade or so much has been made of the depth of public disillusionment with current economic situation that the locals find themselves in. That is why we are of the view that if there is anything that any given government should be more concerned about and swiftly act on is affordable housing.

The #Bottomline therefore is that those with powers should, urgently amend programmes, mobilize large amounts of capital, and create support systems and financial incentives to assist the low and middle income earners to also own a piece of land/houses.

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