Living in a decent and organised neighbourhood is everyone’s dream.
It’s everyone’s desire to use tarred roads to and from a secure dwelling with basic services such as tap water, electricity, a functioning toilet, bathroom, a kitchen, a separate bedroom for the parents from children’s, proper ventilation and lighting, security, and so forth. But this has continued to elude us for decades.
Many people stay in slums, in either two-roomed housing units where a family of five shares the space not occupied by furniture, or in a house without water or electricity, built in the middle of nowhere.
The occupants of the latter house live in daily prayer that their neighbours too, get the money to build a house so that they can survive the threat of thieves and having bushes for neighbours.
Statistics about the housing shortage in Uganda are published every now and then to illustrate how dire the situation is. But seldom is something done to deal with the situation.
Sometimes, individuals with modest means take it upon themselves to change the situation by buying huge chunks of land and subdividing them into smaller plots that people with modest means can buy and hopefully develop one day.
But with low incomes, some of these plots change hands several times before they are developed. With no uniformity in house designs and with the absence of a united force to provide services like good roads, water and electricity, what results over time is disorganised living, with each person building what they want, be it storied buildings next to bungalows, factories in residential areas, the absence of proper waste disposals, a lack of walkways or common spaces for leisure and many more.
Without subsidies, many real estate developers don’t grow beyond the few houses they put up. Sometimes, the houses they build are out of reach of the majority of Ugandans.
And with the government, the biggest investor in infrastructure in this country, staying on the sidelines, the housing shortage in Uganda continues to worsen each year. Ours is a country where the majority of the population is below 30 years. Most of them lack the income that can afford them home ownership in a decent neighbourhood.
The result is an oversupply of residential rental properties which a short-term cushion for them, and the stagnation of the residential mortgage industry.
Uganda should borrow a leaf from countries like Singapore where public housing has greatly reduced the housing shortage. Statistics show that the housing deficit in Kampala is 550,000 units.
Two decades from now, if nothing is done to alleviate the situation, the deficit in the entire country is projected to stand at eight million units, of which 2.5 million units will be in urban areas. There is thus an urgent need to dedicate resources to arrest this.
A portion of each year’s budget can be dedicated to the construction of housing estates all over the country. Some 20,000 units can be constructed each year and sold to Ugandans to reduce the shortage. High-rise units can be constructed in the city especially in places with slums.
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.
‘The majority of Ugandans are low-income earners. How will they pay for these houses?’ You may ask. We shouldn’t forget that where there is a will, there is a way. Deductions can be made monthly from applicants’ salaries over time, the way PAYE is deducted or from their savings with NSSF. Such deductions could go on for 15 to 30 years. Those who can make cash payments are free to do so.
Just as the government dedicates resources to the tarmacking of roads, connecting different parts of the country to the national power grid, building health centres, and so forth, resources should be allocated to the construction of decent houses for Ugandans.
With decent housing, comes reduced crime rates, reduced disease spread especially from poor waste disposal and poor hygiene, lower illiteracy levels since good neighbourhoods are built with community schools and libraries. It also ensures adherence to construction and build environment standards since different professionals in the construction industry would work on the project.
The task of constructing these housing units can be assigned to the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development. If not, an Authority can be created to undertake this task of planning, developing and selling of the units.
This will not only save Uganda from the housing shortage that seems to worsen each year, but it will create thousands of jobs to different real estate professionals and tackle the unemployment situation that is competing with the housing shortage in the race of who is the biggest black spot in this country.
Secondly, we should not forget that generational wealth often starts with home ownership. The financial position of many Ugandans will, therefore, change when every Ugandan owns a house.
The writer is the chief valuer at Buganda Land Board.