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Ghana’s affordable housing challenge – the juncture of populism and inertia

Leading to the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat 3) in Quito in 2016, I wrote about taking advantage of the conference to re-set the conversation about affordable housing. Since then the clamour to deliver “affordable housing” is reaching a crescendo as more and more voices push for the government to become proactive in developing affordable housing for the majority low-income. Key actors are bemoaning the inertia of the state in “creating the enabling environment” for ramping up production. It has also become very obvious that the poor (and substantial proportion of the middle income) have been completely left out and left to their own means to house themselves, most often in precarious ways.

Coming full cycle with the new administration

The new government’s response to date has been so wide ranging it begs the question of strategy, moreso when the manifesto, on whose back it came into power, was succinct in its diagnosis and propositions. The compulsion for the government to tackle the affordable housing is pronounced for two reasons. The NPP administration kickstarted the process of developing the national housing policy in 2005 during their previous tenure (2000 – 2008). Their term also saw the hosting of an international dialogue on government enablement of private sector lending for affordable housing and the inception of the “Affordable Housing Program”, an ambitious program to deliver …….. housing units across the country. The country has come full circle over ten years and after the flurry of activities on affordable housing, with very little to show except the national housing policy document and several uncompleted public housing projects scattered across the country.

An unabated problem

In the intervening period, the houses were not delivered, the housing challenge worsened and the economy tanked.

Picture: (a) Transportation of kiosks                  (b) Slum in Accra

kiosk-on-wheels-2       accra-slum

Source: (a) Author © 2017; (b) http://infoboxdaily.com/embracing-the-new-kiosk-technology/

There is a burgeoning trade in squatting facilities featuring timber kiosks and locally produced shipping containers, Korean small cargo trucks known in the local parlance as “Abossey Okai Macho” and the nightly transportation of shacks, ostensibly to avoid police and land owners. A multi-layering of informal slum land leasing systems has mushroomed at every nook and crany of our cities but more pronounced in Accra, Kumasi and Sekondi-Takoradi metropolises.

The new administration

So far, the pronouncements by the new administration span from the usual politicking to some outlandish suggestions that could only be characterised as grandstanding. We have heard accusation against the previous government for abandoning earlier public housing projects; promises of completing the previous government’s projects, variously by the President, the Minister for Works and Housing, the Ashanti Regional Minister; expressions of determination to close the housing deficit by the Minister;  and critical calls asking Chiefs to provide land for housing; and pledge to boost rural housing scheme with the aim of easing the pressure for accommodation in urban areas. At best uninspiring to say the least. The signing of agreements, long established practice by successive government that rarely yielded actual housing delivery, proceeds unabated such as the recent one with MR Housing for 50,000 affordable housing units.

New thinking required

Time has come for more strategic thinking and concerted efforts at robustly confronting and resolving the housing crisis the country is facing or risk complete breakdown in our cities. There is the need to identify the critical levers for change. In this regard, there are some existing capacities and elements that can be drawn upon to expedite action.

Policy Instruments

The existence of the National Housing Policy (2015) in combination with the National Urban Policy and Action Plan (2012) are jointly an essential organising platform upon which an affordable housing development program can be anchored. However, the National Housing Policy needs further articulation in terms of strategy and action plan.

Housing Departments at the local level

Linked to the policy measures, there is the consideration of the level on which these programmes will materialise. Despite the global reach and regional influence, all housing is (largely, still driven by the) local. Demand management and supply activities cannot remain the primary responsibility of the central government. Rather, cities and towns run by local governments are the stage on which real transformation or deterioration in housing and the built environment take place.

The geographies of housing, not recognised in the past as important, has led to the massive low-density developments and sprawls affecting our cities. To curtail this, the reforms in 2016 of the local government law to cater for the establishment of Housing Departments at the local level is one of the welcome elements that can be utilised. What remains to be done is the outlining of their primary responsibilities to ensure the facilitating role in meeting local housing needs and reinforcing sustainable land use planning, is not overlooked. Furthermore, the value of making housing development, and therefore the housing department, the centre of local development planning is essential for a coordinated programme of local job creation, micro- to medium scale industry development, and strengthened financial intermediation.

Housing Data

The usefulness of the policy instruments and the appropriate governance levels and geographic sites for any housing program can materialise only if there is adequate data. However, there is limited data for informed policy making, program development and project designs to ensure sustainable affordable housing. The World Bank (2015) notes how large-scale housing development in sub-Saharan Africa is constrained by the lack of relevant data. The solution to this problem comprise (a) resourcing the Ghana Statistical Service and the local governments to (b) strengthening the partnerships between and (c) establishing industry-reporting standards to help practitioners collate information on their performance

Housing cooperatives

The Ghanaian society’s penchant for communitarian relationships is well known. This social ethos manifests in so many cooperatives and associations that form around virtually uncountable rationale, the principal ones being ethnicity, trades, professions and vocations, and neighbourhoods. Most of these groups are involved in welfare-related activities with one of the rituals being financial contributions towards land acquisition for housing. A survey we conducted this year of 18 groups in Accra found a collective land holding of 760 hectares at the peripheries of the city in various stages of development, laid out according to an inefficient land sub-sub-division. This is significant potential capacity for affordable housing, albeit under-utilised and it beggars belief that to date they have been ignored in policy. This situation must be corrected if we really mean to solve the affordable housing crisis.

Dialogue Platforms

There is the numerous platforms for stakeholder engagement and business networking, such as provided by IBAN over the last 2 years that could galvanise a strong delivery program in affordable housing. There are so many actors in the housing space with so little connections to the right partners or information to become credible agents in the affordable housing stream.

Picture: IBAN Affordable Housing Sector Dialogues in (a) 2016 and (b) 2017 MoU signing

iban-affordable-housing-sector-dialogue-2016  iban-affordable-housing-sector-dialogue-2017-mou-signing

 

Source: IBAN © 2016, 2017.

 

The private sector

Ghana has experienced growth in the real estate development sector over the last three decades as more and more actors enter the fray. Presently, the sector has both local and international developers involved. Virtually all the developers and their developments are based in the metropolitan area of the capital, Accra. Unfortunately, most of these actors have focused exclusively on upscale developments where margins have been higher and risks have been lower. It has been generally acknowledged by the likes of the Oxford Business Group,  that the boom of the real estate residential development peaked with the discovery of oil in 2007. At the peak, the obvious targets were resident non-Ghanaians and non-resident Ghanaians with high purchasing power from employment with international organisations. The penchant of wealthy West Africans, particularly Nigerians, making Accra their weekend and short-stay destination fuelled the upscale housing boom. A decade later the boom in upscale market has clearly passed as more developers experience longer selling periods and investors suffer declining rents. An unintended consequence of the decision by the Nigerian government to exert stricter controls on foreign exchange transactions is the contraction in the demand by Nigerian buyers for residential properties in Ghana, which I label the “Buhari crunch”. Admittedly, we don’t have empirical data but anecdotes from industry players speak to this reality.  

The real estate businesses are faced with an existential threat and need to re-design their business model to find new markets in the lower income classes or die. There are some already making efforts to provide affordable housing and more players are needed to meet the needs. It will take the crafting of innovations as well as the use of combinations of the elements alluded to earlier to drive developers successfully towards housing for lower income households successfully. Dialogue platforms, housing data, partnerships with local housing departments, and an enabling regime of housing policy and programs are the only way to go.

Conclusion

The responsibility for affordable housing is a shared one – central and local governments, the private sector, the local research and academic community, civil society and traditional authorities, and all must engage and engage properly. This is no time to fiddle around.

august-themeThis blog is a part of the August 2017 series on Affordable Housing in partnership with Business Call to Action.

Read the full series for more innovative inclusive business models, lessons learnt by practitioners, and the unique challenges of understanding and measuring impact in the housing sector.

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