A Prescription For Africa's Housing Problems

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Recently I came across a UN study that suggested that Africa will overtake Asia as the world’s most rapidly urbanising region by 2025 of which 62% of city dwellers would reside in slums or informal settlements.
The scale of the challenge is worrying given that Sub-Saharan Africa is reported to have an estimated housing deficit of 30 million units and every year the backlog across Africa’s 54 countries collectively increases by 4 million houses. In addition urban migration in Africa today does not seem to correlate with economic growth and development.

It is astonishing when you hear the average cost of a house today in any of Africa's Top ten cites. I cannot imagine a young person who finished university today or a teacher who teaches our kids, a nurse who cares for us in hospital or the police officer who looks after our safety who can afford these houses.

Sometimes it makes me wonder if there is "lack of vision" in the industry today as majority of developers keep scouting for more land to build more high-end properties. When there are millions of families with modest incomes who will be happy to live in just simple, airy, spacious, well designed homes where their children can run around and grow up in safe environments.

So why are we not doing what we are supposed to be doing?

 Why are we not building affordable houses at a rate that will make significant change our housing problems. One reason that comes to mind is that the affordable housing value chain is broken. Most stakeholders are missing some piece of the puzzle, for instance a developer may have access to the technology but lack capital or on the other hand have access to both but lack understanding of branding and distribution. It also seems that most people don't associate providing affordable housing with economic development and if you have camps of people who think affordable house is not as profitable then there will be a lack of interest to do anything in that segment.

So while affordable housing remains a pressing social need and holds huge opportunity, the fact is there is a huge disconnect between capital and execution capabilities.

Is there something we are totally missing?

The world is going through a huge economic transformation where the success of cities will depend on their attractiveness to creative people who can inspire transformational ideas. So the success of Africa's cities future will not be determined by how the top ten percent are doing but by how we treat everyone. The common denominator for everyone needs to be that working together to have people living in a home of their own will benefit society at large and that the idea of providing access to affordable homes today will enable us to lift social burdens in future years. 

We need to wake up very very quickly and we need to move forward with a new mindset.

I founded SAPIS on the premise that no problem is insurmountable and I totally believe that we can overcome this challenge. It all begins by working together, and having all stakeholders in the same room talking to each other. Today at SAPIS we work diligently to bring organisations involved in the fields of planning, funding, designing and construction of real estate in the reign of the Sub-Sahara together to find practical solutions to the challenges we face in the industry.

Talking is not enough!

We need to adopt the just do it attitude, we can procrastinate forever and continue living with the terrible consequences of having a two class society or we can begin walking the walk to overcome this huge challenge. But to overcome it we need leadership, not just leaders that will talk and fade away but leadership that will have the ability to deliver.

So what will the African city of "2025" look like? Will the housing problem be too great to be overcome? Will we continue doing the same things year on year that are not producing significantly different results? Or will we recognise genuine demand and figure out a way to supply to meet that demand?

In my next article "Profitability of affordable housing in Africa" I will make a small distinction between affordable housing and what we call social housing and discuss how affordable housing which in my mind is a market based solution for housing middle to low income segments can offer superior returns to many other asset classes out there.

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