Property developers in the country heavily lean toward high income earners, leaving the majority of the populace, that is, middle income and low income earners, ‘isolated’ in as far as access to decent housing is concerned.
This is a scenario most upcoming property developers acknowledge about the housing system in the country.
A mini-survey conducted by The New Times during the Property and Houses Expo at Kigali Innovation and Exhibition Village, last week, found that new property developers coming into the market seek to solve one common problem: finding homes for the low-income earners.
Tania Firoz, a corporate services director at Remote Group/Remote Estates, said, presently, property developers have limited options other than building affordable, high-density apartments if they want to service the majority of the Rwandan township residents.
“At this point, we have no option but to start building high-density apartments, especially with the growing population density in Kigali,” Firoz said.
According to Firoz, Remote Group has set up an ecological urban development project christened ‘Masaka Fields’, a pilot apartment mixed-use, mixed-income community with apartmenets, townhouses and family homes of about 282 housing units that integrates green space and modern but affordable housing infrastructure.
“Huge mansions are good but are they really the ones the majority Rwandans need or can afford for that matter? We just have to change the mindset and people need to move their focus from mansions to apartments,” Firoz said.
“Most apartments on the market go for at least $1,000 for rent, but you will realise that most city dwellers can hardly rent even a house of Rwf500,000 per month. We need to have good quality apartments, that are affordable and as many as possible, so property developers need to shift focus to what best suits the majority of Rwandans.”
The Property and Home Expo brought together several developers, public agencies and real estates’ agents to learn about homes, properties and investment opportunities available in the country.
Often, Rwanda Housing Authority and the Ministry of Infrastructure put pressure on property developers to bring more affordable options for local consumers.
In fact, fast-tracking implementation of long-term savings and affordable housing programme was number eight of the 23 resolutions adopted by the 14th National Leadership Retreat recently.
Despite efforts to facilitate affordable housing supply by enacting policies and devising campaigns, the development of such low cost housing is yet to settle in, according to the Ministry of Infrastructure.
Rwanda’s Vision 2020 targets urbanisation rate to increase from 17 per cent of the population in 2012 to 35 per cent by the year 2020.
By then, the urban population is projected to have increased from the current 1.7 million to 4.4 million, an increase of about 2.7 million people.
This, therefore, requires adequate infrastructure, attracting jobs but, most importantly, housing to accommodate this influx.
A 2012 Housing Market Study in the City of Kigali showed that 340,000 new housing units are needed by 2022. Of these, 86 per cent should be affordable and mid-range housing units, 13 per cent social housing while only less than 1 per cent would be premium housing.
The Government has prioritised the development of affordable housing for middle and low-income communities, and in that regards, both the National Housing Policy and National Urbanisation Policy were adopted in 2015.
Jean de Dieu Niyigena, Marketing and Sales Executive of a Swiss affordable housing programme, Swiss Resource Centre and Consultancies for Development (Skats), echoes Firoz’s concern, stating that residential buildings don’t necessarily have to be big but rather “affordable and generally comfortable” for the majority of the citizens if the country is to fast-track affordable housing programme.
“The most important element in a house is that it has to be affordable. Projects like Skats are trying to prove to Rwandans that one doesn’t need a five-bedroom house to be comfortable. Two- to three-bedroom units are the ones majority Rwandans need at the moment, especially now that more than 70 per cent of them are youth who also constitute the biggest percentage of those that earn between Rwf400,000 and Rwf700,000,” Niyigena said.
Claudette Rubangura, from Remote Estates, which is building affordable housing units in Masaka, said affordable housing should be like the wording says: affordable to middle-income class. She cited a modern three-bedroom apartment of as low as Rwf28 million.
“We have looked at how the middle-income earners make their money and we are trying to find a solution and we are discussing with local banks to facilitate convenient mortgage deals, say of about Rwf300,000 per month for 10 years at may be 18 or 15 per cent interest,” she said.
When asked about if 15 per cent interest is good enough, Rubangura admits, it is not the best deal for property developers but is “relatively affordable for now” due to the central bank regulations.
In their Masaka pilot project, Remote Estates will provide affordable housing units, which Rubangura thinks will meet both the quality and fair pricing for middle-income earners in Kigali.
It will have 282 units divided into three segments to meet the demands of different categories of people.
The project will use entirely green material called autoclaved aerated concrete (AAC), which are relatively lightweight compared to conventional bricks and other building materials, and are lightweight, environmental friendly and fire resistant, Rubangura said.
Marler also noted that once local factories are set up here to provide building materials, this would reduce on the cost of homes significantly.
Rubangura said Remote Group is due to set up a factory in Rwanda that would provide autoclaved aerated concrete building material, which she thinks will make their homes cheaper for Rwandan middle class.
“If we had the building materials here, the cost of houses would be way more affordable. This (cost of building materials) is one of the most challenging issues because we have to import materials. In so doing we will be able to provide houses even to the lower income earners,” Rubangura added.