Botswana Housing Corporation - Decent housing by 2016

Guardian :: Decent housing by 2016: A pipedream ::

Long queues for plot allocation haunt Land Boards across the width and breadth of the country while Botswana Housing Corporation (BHC) is unable to meet housing demands for the urban and major village populations. In the meantime, the gulf between the rich and poor continues to grow diminishing all prospects for the attainment of the lofty Vision 2016 ideals. JUSTICE KAVAHEMATUI reports

The government says it is committed that by the year 2016 all Batswana will have decent shelter.Specifically it states: “By the Year 2016, all Batswana will be able to obtain access to good basic shelter.” Shelter is a basic human need. Lands and Housing minister Nonofo Molefhi reiterated this commitment at the recent Housing Pitso. This albeit the stretching queues of people waiting to be allocated plots while some want to buy houses from the Botswana Housing Corporation (BHC) or rent. The nation has also lost trust in the government’s provision of housing and land as some have been waiting for more than 10 years. According to the Vision 2016 Council’s household opinion survey, 55 percent of the 1200 people surveyed are of the view that government’s housing provision is poor while 75 percent perceived government’s performance in land allocation as poor.While most land and houses seem to go to the rich, the low and middle lower income households sweat to access loans from financial services to buy houses. When responding to the State of the Nation delivered by President Ian Khama, the Botswana National Front (BNF) president Duma Boko took a potshot at the former, saying he failed to present any credible answer to landlessness among Batswana. “He (Khama) fails to acknowledge that his government, taking cue from his predecessors, has never appreciated land as an economic resource that our people must have and enjoy. There is little wonder then that with the same crusading zeal that Khama is busy making moral exhortations about poverty, his Minister of Lands and Housing is busy repossessing land that these same poor people so desperately need resources to develop for residence.” BHC’s Public and Corporate Affairs Manager, Mookodi Seisa, concedes that it is difficult for an ordinary Motswana to buy a BHC house. “Batswana buy our houses but with difficulties.” He points to the infrastructure development cost as the major hindrance. “We work on cost recovery and when we value our houses we include infrastructure development which will include the roads we have built, drainage systems and lighting,” he argued. However, according to the minister, increased resources by the government have been expended towards housing for low and middle lower income households. For the low-income earners, they have turned to the government’s Self Help Housing Agency (SHHA) and Turnkey programmes. The demand for these two programmes is overwhelming. “The demand for funding and plots far exceed the financial provision and plots availed,” said Molefhi at the Pitso. In the 2009/2010 financial year, P94.5 million for 1564 beneficiaries was requested but only P54.9 million was disbursed for 916 turnkey projects due to budgetary constraints. An additional P30 million is budgeted for the current financial year for SHHA. As the year 2016 approaches fast the waiting list for those who want to have a roof over their heads gets longer. In fact, the Gaborone City Council in 2006 stopped maintaining a waiting list for the SHHA programme due to unavailability of plots. At the time, the waiting list stood at 21000. On the other hand, Seisa argues that for Batswana to be able to buy BHC houses with ease government should subsidise BHC. “We have engaged government on the challenges we face and we hope that government will engage other stakeholders such as Water Utilities Corporation and others, otherwise our houses will remain unaffordable to Batswana,” he said in an interview with the Botswana Guardian. He said BHC’s clients include individuals, government, parastatals and the private sector. BHC no longer keeps the waiting list for both rental and sale due to high demand. Seisa notes that the waiting list was discarded in 1996 because it was not sustainable because of the high demand. “What happens nowadays is that after we complete a project we advertise and then sell the houses on a first-come-first-served basis, which I think is more transparent,” he said. Seisa revealed that for this financial year they have so far delivered 107 houses out of a possible 505 which were supposed to be completed in the first quarter of the year. The corporation is expected to complete over 1000 units during this financial year. In his State of the Nation address, Khama said the corporation would raise P2 billion from the private market through a bond issue to build 10, 200 houses over the next three years. Khama also talked about the President’s Housing Appeal for the Needy – one of his initiatives, which he said is meant to augment government’s efforts.So far individuals and companies have pledged to build 281 houses under the initiative, 35 of which will be completed at the end of this year. Government has now turned to the private sector to help in the provision of houses. Molefhi said that government has recognised that it cannot continue to be the sole provider of housing and therefore recognises the importance of actively forging partnerships with stakeholders. “Government now emphasises on facilitation as its major role, while other stakeholders including the private sector are involved in the servicing and development of land,” he said, adding that the private sector also has a pivotal role in implementation of the National Policy on Housing of 2000 and provision of housing. Government now emphasises on facilitation as its major role, while other stakeholders including the private sector are involved in the servicing and development of land.But some commentators feel this will not be a good idea. University of Botswana (UB) Architecture and Planning lecturer, Dr. Chadzimula Molebatsi, has warned government to be careful when engaging the private sector in the provision of housing.Dr. Molebatsi argued that the private sector is profit driven and thus the government should take cognisance of that fact. “If we accept that housing is a basic human need and everyone deserves to have a decent shelter, we should then be careful of who we bring in to provide housing,” he said. Trade Unions have on the other hand entered the fray and now want to provide what they call, “affordable houses” to their members. The Botswana Land Boards and Local Authorities Workers’ Union (BLLAWU) in conjunction with other public sector trade unions have proposed a housing project which will help their members buy houses at cheaper prices. The unions are currently looking for a financier for the project while on the other hand negotiating with Molefhi’s ministry to avail them land to develop for their members. “This is a special project which will help our members invest in houses at affordable prices, because as things stand they can’t afford to buy houses in the current market,” said BLLAWU’s Secretary General, Moshe Noga. Meanwhile, home seekers are forced to grapple with the high cost of construction and high property prices in the private market which most of the times are beyond reach by the middle and low-income groups. According to Alfred Busang from Universal Builders (developers of life-style oriented property for all sectors of society) on average, the design and construction of residential buildings are higher per square metre, as compared to commercial buildings. “Development of affordable housing is not an attractive investment for many investors because the return on residential investment is much less than commercial developments,” he said, adding that for instance, income from sale of commercial is more that the residential. Busang noted that it takes much longer to achieve a return on investment in residential development as compared to commercial development. Busang said going forward as the private sector and the government in their joint interest of providing dignified affordable housing, the government and financial institutions should provide incentives to first-time homeowners. “These incentives included tax breaks, reduction of transfer of duties, grants, low interest on mortgages. These incentives have been tried and tested in countries such as Australia and Canada and have a high success rate.” He also called for government to cut down the cost of virgin land.

Keywords - Botswana Housing Corporation, Decent housing, 2016, Batswana, Moshe Noga, BLLAWU, Development, affordable housing, Dr. Chadzimula Molebatsi, Nonofo Molefhi

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