Government needs to bridge housing gap

Sunday December 15 2019

 

By Ivan Matthias Mulumba

Every year, statics about the housing shortage in Uganda are published together with images of the filthiest of slums. These are intended to give us a picture of how dire the situation is and for the fact to sink in our minds so that we do something about it. Some individuals with modest means often rise to the occasion, buying chunks of land several miles from the city centre and dissecting it into smaller plots that low income earners can buy and hopefully develop one day.

But without a push to put services in such areas in form of education institutions, health facilities, tap water, power supply and industries, what results is a sprawling housing estate where commuters stay. The next stories we read will be of the endless morning traffic jam snaking into the city and the number of hours lost in transit.
Efforts to construct homes, have at times led to an oversupply of properties, which are out of reach for majority Ugandans yearning for a home.

Without subsidies, many real estate developers do not grow beyond the few houses they construct before they switch to other sectors that appear to be more profitable. They leave behind pockets of beautiful estates that did not grow beyond a few acres, that become the envy of all those who drive or walk past them.

A look at a countries like Singapore where public housing has greatly reduced the housing shortage in the country makes one wonder why Uganda does not borrow a leaf. The government, being the biggest investor in infrastructure, should extend its arm to the housing sector to curb the shortage that seems to worsen with each year. The current statistics show that Kampala has a housing deficit of 550,000 units.

Two decades from now, if nothing is done to alleviate the situation, projections show that Uganda will have a housing deficit of eight million units, of which 2.5 million units will be in urban areas. If the government provides public housing, it can dictate the suitable zoning for different regions, the desirable number of bedrooms a family home should have and the standard of living for all Ugandans.

A portion of the budget every year can be directed to the construction of housing estates across the country. It is possible to construct 20,000 units each year and sell them to Ugandans to reduce the shortage. High rise units can be constructed in the city, especially in slum areas. You could be wondering now how people will pay for these housing units. Won’t they stay vacant?

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But remember that where there is a will there is always a way. Deductions can be made from the applicant’s salary over time, the way PAYE is deducted or from their savings with NSSF on a monthly basis to cover the payments. Such deductions could go for 20 to 30 years. Even government employees can be beneficiaries upon appointment. This will save Ugandans from the high interest rates that are characteristic of the mortgage industry.

This is not in any way a call to discourage private real estate development. It is rather a call to provide decent housing to the masses left out by the current supply of residential housing units. Resources can be allocated for the construction of decent public housing. Plans can be made so that in each year’s Budget, an amount is apportioned for the construction of housing units.

Ivan Matthias Mulumba,
Buganda Land Board

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