Housing debacle: How can everyone live decently?

Wednesday July 3 2019

Houses for rent in a slum in Namuwongo. During

Houses for rent in a slum in Namuwongo. During the rainy season, houses and property are lost or destroyed. PHOTO BY RACHEL MABALA  

By Eric Kyama

According to Centre for Affordable Housing Finance in Africa (CAHFA), an affordable house may refer to a reasonably priced, decent home that costs less than 25 per cent of one’s monthly or annual income.

And a low-cost house-a single bedroom unit on less than 28 square metres can easily be described as a cheap and uncomfortable house. CAHFA’s annual book (2018) indicates that majority of Ugandans (about 60 per cent according to Uganda Bureau of Statistics) could be living in low-cost houses.

Muyenga and Namuwongo
I visited two neighbourhoods in Kampala which although they are on two extreme sides of financial stability, when compared side by side, paint a picture of the housing disparity in Uganda. Muyenga and Namuwongo are both located southeast of the central business district, Kampala.

Muyenga is regarded by many as an upscale area where some of the country’s well-to-do population resides while Namuwongo, even if it has some fairly good houses, is riddled with slum areas such as Soweto where most of the population barely makes a dollar a day.

Quality of housing
One of the distinct differences between these two places is the quality of housing. By just looking at Muyenga’s housing units, one can tell that they were designed with affluent customers in mind. In most parts of Namuwongo however, the biggest section of the people residing there cannot afford decent housing.

Their inability to afford decent housing comes with quite a number of challenges. Muhammed Mudasiri, a resident of Namuwongo, Soweto, narrates that one of the challenges he has had to deal with is flooding during the rainy season something he says ends up affecting his home.


“Sometimes rain water ends up in my house, other times a strong storm can end up removing the roof,” he narrates. Besides flooding, Mudasiri also says the area is infested with mosquitoes.
Despite Uganda having a total of six million households according to CAHFA, the housing challenge has continued to haunt Uganda whose housing deficit stands at 1.2 million units.

Policies in place
In trying to address this challenge, Dave Khayangayanga, the acting commissioner for human settlements, Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, Directorate of Housing, says the government has come up with two policies.

Apartments are increasingly becoming  the

Apartments are increasingly becoming the preferred choice for the middle class in Uganda . Photo by Rachel Mabala

These, he says, include the National Housing Policy, 2016 and the national slum upgrade strategy.
“We have a national housing policy that was passed in 2016. Apart from that, we also have the Uganda National Slum upgrade strategy.
Both policies hint at affordable housing as the way to go since most Ugandans can’t afford high-end housing.

The emphasis in both policies includes how to use efficient and affordable housing when constructing houses,” Khayangayanga explains.
He explains that the policies are also aimed at creating an enabling environment for all players in the housing sector like real estate developers and banks among others.
Asked whether the policies put in place have been helpful, Khayangayanga says the policies put in place are aimed at achieving long term goals.

He says for such policies to work, government is looking forward to using a multi-sector approach.
“Our findings have shown that giving a person a house without addressing other issues affecting them like health or even education is useless since they would sell off the house to address these challenges.

Khayangayanga also says that despite government efforts to counter the housing challenge, there have been number of obstacles for instance, the ever-increasing construction costs.
In regard to enabling different players within the sector, he says government has ensured there is political stability and has also put in place an open door policy for real estate developers who would love to consult the Ministry when it comes to property development.

Persistent challenge
The ever-increasing cost of construction is one of the reasons some real estate developers point out when trying to explain why the affordable housing challenge has persisted over the years.
Mr Shem Sabiti Bageine, the managing director, Bageine & Company Limited, a real estate agency and consultancy firm says, increasing construction costs usually dictate whether a real estate developer will get returns or not.
He says that in this case, when construction costs are high, the end result is that the houses on the market are also likely to end up being expensive.

“The cost of housing construction depends on the type materials used. But the approximate cost of building a residential house may range between Shs950,000 per square meter to Shs1,900,000 per square metre,” he says.
Mr Bageine also explains that there are cases were the costs of construction can be low yet not beneficial to the developers. This, he says, usually comes as a result of extremely low-income levels of individuals within a country.
“Third world countries like Uganda usually have very low-income levels. This in most cases affects the real estate industry since buyers are likely to pay less than expected,” he says.

Tenure system
Intricate land tenure system, according to Mr Bageine, can also be a challenge since it creates an unsafe environment for real estate developers. He says some of the things developers look at before setting foot in the country is the legal system of land ownership and the availability of land for various developments.
“Any Real Estate developer would be worried on sensing that the market they are setting foot in or already set foot in has issues regarding its land tenure system that may not be favourable to their investment choices,” he says.

Way forward
Khayangayanga says one of paths the government has chosen is to create an enabling environment for private players like real estate developers. Bageine agrees with him saying that this can easily help when it comes to development of housing structures.
“I think real estate developers are key players when it comes to solving this issue. It therefore important to involve them and create an enabling environment,” he says.
However, one of the other ways this challenge can be countered according to Khayangayanga is improving the income levels of most Ugandans.
This, he says, can only be possible through a multi-sector approach when dealing with an issue like that.

Cost of Building
According to Mr Bageine, the cost of housing construction depends on the type materials used.
But the approximate cost of building a residential house may range between Shs950,000 per square meter to Shs1,900,000 per square meter.

Renting a one bedroom house in Muyenga costs at least Shs1million
A one bedroom house in Kireka-Bweyogerere costs between Shs350 and Shs 600,000.
In Soweto, Namuwongo, one room made out of mud and wattle or wood planks costs between Shs10, 000- Shs15, 000 a month.
These houses (in Soweto) do not come with toilets. For one to use a latrine, they must pay Shs500- Sh1, 000 a day.
Such areas usually also have hygiene challenges.
“Poor rubbish disposal is a challenge that we grapple with especially when the area floods,” says Martin Ojako, a resident in Namuwongo, Soweto.