Housing is one of the basic human needs. Nevertheless, it is regarded as affordable when its cost (mortgage or rent) is below 30 percent of the household income. The East African community is a regional intergovernmental organization bringing together different states. Close to 22 percent of the region’s population resides in urban areas and has been steadily increasing over the years. Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya have the highest economic growth in the region. Housing affordability has remained a challenge in the region largely due to a myriad of reasons such as finance, supply of materials and lack of alternative technologies used in the construction process.
Challenges facing housing in East African markets
Some of the key challenges facing most of the East African markets is rapid urbanization. Between the year 2000 and 2018, urbanization in the region grew by 4.5 percent. It is projected that half of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050. As such, there is a need to develop structures that can meet the growing demand. Unfortunately, despite these damning statistics, unaffordable housing finance, lack of urban planning, prohibitive urban land costs and high cost of construction cripple this sector as such making it a pipe dream. So deep is this wound that if unregulated will leave an egg spat on the face of East African countries resulting in increased slum settlement, higher crime and worse off, under development of the respective states.
This then begs the question, what innovative solutions can be developed to address this looming crisis? First and foremost, creation of new funding mechanisms. This could be the development of mortgage rates suitable for our markets. Most mortgage rates in East Africa range between 10 -15 percent per annum of the cost of the house rendering many mortgages expensive and unavailable to most. As a result, we have witnessed partnerships between the World Bank through the IFC collaborating with governments by developing mortgage refinance corporations to offer concessional loans to banks that result in the mortgage rates dropping to under 10 percent, which is more tenable for some of the urban dwellers.
Secondly, a clear linkage between manufacturing GDP and Affordable housing needs to be set up. In Kenya, for example, the government is focusing on encouraging growth in the manufacturing sector that would support the development of the housing agenda. This will be achieved by incentivizing concrete manufacturers and construction materials to develop a strong supply chain and thus have stable demand. Ultimately, this would result in a reduction in the cost of input material for the housing program. Lastly, reduction of development costs and risks. This has seen many East African countries offer-connecting infrastructure to different project sites despite provision of the land for development. Standardized and pre-approved designs allow for rapid planning approvals.
Modular housing using alternative building technologies is part of the solution
In Europe, for instance, modular projects accelerate project timelines by 20 – 50 percent. As a result, there are savings in time, and cost which make the pricing of the units reasonable while ensuring that sound quality is achieved for the units. Alternative building technologies provide a gateway through which cost reduction can be achieved by employing the use of different building materials as well as new building practices. This could range from the use of precast material to the application of 3D printing.
My take on affordable housing in East Africa
In conclusion, the solution to housing in East Africa lies not in the ingenuity of the innovations developed through alternative building technologies nor the sophistication of the public policies and economic growth spurs but in the consistent quest to provide a decent living for all. There exist numerous opportunities to transform our societies through the construction sector and housing serves as one of the key pillars of each nation.
For governments to achieve substantive progress in their housing agendas there is a need to ensure both supply and demand in the housing sector are addressed consultatively. From the technical professionals, Architects, Engineers and Quantity surveyors, property developers, governments and financiers. All must sit at the same table and address the monster in the mirror. Change will be realized by market aggregation. As always, I am convinced without a doubt that plenty is found within our borders.