Affordability – not volumes – is the answer to housing problem

To address the housing problem central government needs to implement its budgeted expenditures at a rate at which it can delivers the most tangible result: truly affordable housing at required volumes.

Local government authorities, which are closer to the people in search of housing, ought to chip in by doing the groundwork of monitoring and evaluation of what is really needed in their towns.

Too much emphasis on the implementation rate alone, of how many housing units would be or are constructed in each town, without proper monitoring and evaluation, could lead to the country incurring wasteful expenditures year-on-year.

The first phase of the mass housing project has already taught us this lesson. This initiative aimed at reducing the housing backlog in the country has indeed delivered a number of houses in various towns across the country. The numbers of the newly built houses are there for all to see.

Yet, at this very moment a good portion of those houses stand empty and desolate in towns across Namibia. Not because of bureaucratic delays on allocation formula, but purely because the aspiring homeowners on the waiting lists at local authorities are unable to afford the houses constructed in their towns.

The urban and rural development ministry, which has publicly admitted that fact, ought to carry out an immediate evaluation of the exercise before ploughing ahead with the disbursement of more funds for the construction of houses.

There is no question that Namibia has a huge and growing demand for housing. But it can also be argued that at this rapid rate of constructing expensive mass houses, the supply-demand curve would shift towards having empty ‘ghosthouses’ that no one can afford in towns where many people would continue to be in search of houses that they can afford.

It is becoming increasingly clear that it is no longer solely about how many housing units are needed in the market, but also about how affordable are the available housing units. And there government needs to start costing its housing spending appropriately.

Availing billions of taxpayers’ dollars to contractors will only enrich the contractors and their middlemen, but will not provide affordable housing to those who truly need shelter. It is time that the central government, together with local authorities, plan together to ensure that every dollar spent on housing goes towards providing affordable housing options.

It is time to plan and roll out a housing initiative that addresses the real issue of affordability, while also delivering housing units in the numbers that the market wants. But delivering houses by the numbers alone could turn out to be a wasteful expenditure.

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