Thinking About Housing Backlog in Zimbabwe


One day I drove through a part of Glen View in Harare late at night and was shocked at the number of people walking around that late. The streets were full at a time when I expected people to be sleeping. On discussion with a colleague he suggested that it could be due to overcrowding people may take turns to sleep as there may be more people that room available in the house. Whether this explanation is true or not I cannot tell. However it does raise the issue of the housing deficit which according to ZIMMASSET is about 1.5 -2 million in Zimbabwe.

The expansion of the larger cities has resulted in substandard housing conditions, overcrowding of households, inadequate and unreliable infrastructure and services. Consequently, the inadequacy and substandard nature of urban housing has spawned squatter or informal and illegal settlements, illegal backyard structures, unauthorized extensions, slums and backyard shacks.

While thinking about this I remembered that years ago before Independence and shortly after independence the local authorities used to be responsible for providing housing for the people. They either  built houses which people on the waiting list would be given on a rent to buy basis or soemtimesd would buy outright. Some units and falts were developed for rental. This made sure there was revenue coming to the City Council through rentals and house sales. The other benefit was that since they were delivered by the local government the cost of house acquisition was both cheaper and affordable to the low end. That is how lots of floor level factory workers owned houses in Mabvuku Tafara etc. I remember that at that time it was mostly those of foreign origin (read Malawi) who went onto the housing list because unwise Shona  professionals (then teachers and nurses) would laugh at them saying they are the ones who should apply for housing schemes as they had no rural homes. I wonder who is laughing last since rural homes have no meaningful asset value.

Unfortunately the city councils have now resorted to developing land and selling it to land barons, land developers etc who further process and then sell houses or stands to individuals. This convoluted process with too many middle men is causing an escalation of housing costs in Zimbabwe. I am wondering why in the first place that ZIMASSET does not seek to restore the housing responsibility to government both local and central. What happened to the Ministry of Public Construction and National Housing? Obviously government alone cannot provide housing but it definitely should do more than sell land. Strategies should be sought to empower local government through municipality into housing delivery. They should not renege on this important social service. While there is room for private developers and questionably for land barons the primary responsibility for housing should lie with government. This makes them affordable. As long as the private sector is the primary provider of low cost housing we will have a backlog and secondly the costs of housing units will be unaffordable. An example is a recent news article last week which explained that Old Mutual in partnership with municipalities has developed/ is developing about 15000 units but managed only to sell about 400 units. What explains this slow uptake is the costs of funding from CABS which is too high for these units. I understand from that article that a deposit of about $8000 is required plus a significant monthly payment above the average wage earner in Zimbabwe.

Without socially responsible municipal housing schemes most of the municipal housing lists are useless. I maybe dreaming. But a day when this will be possible this allowing for affordable houses again. But then there is no harm dreaming about any of the ZIMASSET goals. Since we do not have the money for any of eth goals anyway why not dream of a possibility of raising enough money to have housing provided by government.

In most countries private construction companies are growing because they tender to build houses for the local government schemes. The major driver of both construction industry and industry in general is significant government projects. Our government should begin to make plans along these lines as well. It helps boost the economy as well as the well being of the nation. The downstream industries will also be revived as government works on this.

In this blog I posit that it is possible and should be expected for government to play a  role in housing delivery as a direct player if we are serious about reducing the housing backlog and push forward the MDG on housing. What do you think?

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4 thoughts on “Thinking About Housing Backlog in Zimbabwe”

  1. Hello Doc, nice post.

    I do agree with you on some aspects, chiefly that government should play a role in facilitating affordable houses. I disagree though, that government should be the primary party in such an excise.

    There are a few reasons behind this, all which ultimately are related to government efficiency.

    If government is directly responsible for the delivery of affordable housing, given that the funds are available for this exercise, what is the potential for collusion and corruption in both the current and ideal leadership? Very high, I think.

    Another point is that (in the ideal) with enough competition for tenders to build and also land zoned for such projects, the market for affordable housing, and housing in general will eventually regulate itself – affordable housing will be affordable.

    My view is that government’s role should be restricted to providing bare-bone services (things no one else can profit out of.) And if perhaps they can do this first and efficiently, then maybe, move into the affordable housing market.

    In this instance, as you have rightly identified, government’s role is to provide the blueprint as well as the direction and control to achieve the goals.

    1. Thank you for your contribution Norman. I hear you. However if I may ask who is the main provider of housing on RSA? Is it not government for the low end of the market? As I stated for years high density suburbs historically have been primarily houses developed by City Councils. It is still their responsibility. As to corruption it seems to me as someone industry there is equally high corruption and collusion in the private sector.

  2. Greetings Doc.Great article and quite thoughtful.I attended Totally Construction Exhibition 2014 in South Africa and was shocked to learn a Zimbabwean even heads up a National Housing Development Association.I came away from the meetings having learnt that South African municipal authorities are earnestly seeking to redress the housing backlog in their nation…to that end jobs are created as local companies get first preference in the projects and materials sourcing.I recall moving into our basic two roomed house in 1979 (Yes we are the Malawians who took up the opportunities) but that was then. We have for vast tracts of land adjacent to major cities which are being held for speculative means whilst the masses are struggling.As a matter of urgency we need to rid our society of the evil of corruption (mbudzi inoguta payakasungirwa culture).A great way will be to revisit the public work strategy implemented long back – seeing we have so many people unemployed who could be renumerated via food or tokens etc anything to get our people off the streets.

    1. Thank you for your contribution. I believe it can be done. What we may forget is that the local municipalities do have a mandate to provide housing and thus employ local companies. Thanks for the example from RSA. Zimbabwe is rising again.

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