Housing in Kigali; what determines where we stay

Residence is one of the most important human needs, as we all need a place to safely hide away from harsh external weather elements such as cold nights and hot days. This is why architects come in handy to help create a conducive relationship between people and their physical settings.

Residence is one of the most important human needs, as we all need a place to safely hide away from harsh external weather elements such as cold nights and hot days. This is why architects come in handy to help create a conducive relationship between people and their physical settings.

The unheard narratives behind the work of architects are constructed around the extent to which their work provides the relief, relaxation, and satisfaction of people’s needs.

Besides the architecture, the choice of where people want to stay is also largely influenced and inspired by many other factors including social, cultural, environmental, psychological, and economical ones.

Rwanda envisions achieving a 35 per cent urbanisation rate by 2020, which directly calls for serious thinking into new housing strategies to curb the challenges of lack of appropriate housing such as homelessness.

I have sat in several meetings deliberating on how to bridge the housing gap in Kigali city. A commonly referenced ‘Housing Market Study’ conducted in 2012 for the City of Kigali showed that 340,000 new housing units were needed by 2022.

This literally translates into a count of 34,000 new dwelling units each year. Out of these, 86 per cent should be affordable housing and mid-range housing, and 13 per cent social housing while only less than 1 per cent would be premium housing.

This paper previously reported several affordable housing projects in the pipeline, the main ones being; the 1000 housing units developed by Urukumbuzi in Kinyinya, Gasabo District; 2700 housing units to be developed by BRD and Shelter Afrique in Rugarama, Nyarugenge District; 561 housing units developed by RSSB in Batsinda II, Gasabo District; and 56 housing units developed by Abadahigwa ku Ntego Ltd in Kabuga, Kicukiro District.

Other projects include; the 2000 housing units to be developed by BRD and Groupe Palmeraie Development in   Ndera, Gasabo District; 2500 houses to be developed by BRD in Busanza, Kicukiro District; 20,000 housing units by RSSB in Gahanga, Kicukiro District; 1800 housing units under design by a Consortium of RSSB, IFC and B-Smart in Kinyinya, Gasabo District; 500 housing units by private developers in Masaka (Kicukiro District) and Nyamata (Bugesera District); 950 housing units in Kimisange, Kicukiro District for mixed income to be done by a SPV setup by BRD and Millennial Development Ltd; and 2500 housing units in Secondary cities.

What do these statistics and locations tell us?

I want to believe that there is lots of justification as to how many units and what standards, typologies and why the location. My article therefore focuses on the factors that influence our decision on what types of houses and where to live.

One of the reasons especially for Rwanda is the topography. The environmental awareness is honored and urban planning policies do not allow people to live in over 20% slope, nor in the wetlands or nor in reserved areas such as forests.

Everyone that wants to build a home is therefore trying to fit within the various gentle slopes of the a thousand hills, which are filling pretty fast.

Every morning between 0700-0730h in Kigali, all roads are full in both directions. Here lies a strong relationship between someone’s homes, their workplace and the school(s) their children attend. Anyone interested in this research can draw for us very cute illustrations of this phenomenon.

Most people, whether homeowners or tenants are keeping a common schedule – leave home, drop children at school, go to work. The reverse is the case in the evening 1600h-1700h.

Both sides of the road are busy because my children school in your residential or work neighbourhood and your children attend a school in my residential neighbourhood. 

Yellow buses also dot several roads in Kigali around these timings, picking or dropping children from or to School. Obviously the choice of school or people’s workplaces is another complex matrix that this article may not get into.

There is also another group of residents that either do not own a car, or do not want to depend on the car for these kind of errands, may also consider to live local; to either live in a house nearest to workplace or keep their children in the nearest school to home.

The construction worker I captured in a previous article published by this paper and several other innovative residents belong to this category. The construction workers that build the ‘modern’ residential mansions of Nyaruratama lived local, right next to the site, leading to the mushrooming and growth of the informal settlement, referred to as Kangondo II slums.

However, there also exist other non-physical but more socio-cultural factors that influence choice of housing. For instance, the size of family will determine if they need a small or big house.

The amount of money one has influences their way of living and economic affordability of housing among other needs in life. The commitment to religious beliefs, social classes or cultural aspects may also influence one’s choice of residence.

As we all work hard to realise the goal of 34,000 new dwelling units each year, it is important not to forget that both material and immaterial factors will play a role in the choice of the housing types, sizes and location.

The writer is a lecturer at the School of Architecture, University of Rwanda, an architect and urban designer with keen interest on the dialectical relations between Architecture and Society.

The views expressed in this article are of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Times.