Affordable housing should consider land rationalisation

As Rwandan population grows with majority comprising the youth, national housing policy shall shift from rural to urban housing.

As Rwandan population grows with majority comprising the youth, national housing policy shall shift from rural to urban housing.

This is no longer an option, it is a must. And it requires radical mindset change for all social and economic classes.

Much as population growth is an opportunity for economic development, it is also a challenge to both leaders and ordinary citizens, especially parents and their children.

Since every human being should earn what to be, the new world requires hard work and struggle for survival. There is no free bread on the table.

The life cycle has normally three main phases; birth, growth and death. The entire cycle shall need land in one way or another, either for food, housing development or cemetery.

Rwanda faces an increasing pressure for housing, both in rural and urban areas. The Government has adopted a new rural settlement policy under the integrated development programme model villages.

The scheme, so far, has been benefiting the extremely poor and vulnerable persons, and it is being fully funded by the Government.

At the same time, an affordable housing fund was put in place and its operationalisation is in the offing.

The fund, according to officials, shall reduce the cost of houses in three ways; securing prime land bank for investments, provision of basic infrastructure under government subsidies, and reducing the cost of money for investments under discounted interest rates.

The move is commendable but there is a step ahead, which is about mindset and cultural heritage; that of rationalisation of land. Rwandans are used to big houses, with many rooms and big plots.

In many circles, public and private, people are discussing the issue of family planning and food security because of the high population growth. And some confuse family planning with family limitation. Any country shall always need the population and a big economy.

In my view, family planning is a holistic issue, which should consider household income and macroeconomic stability in order to ensure sustainable national development.

From this point of view, effective Made-in-Rwanda is a tool for job creation, wealth creation and economic development.

On the other hand, there is the issue of affordable housing.

By “affordable houses”, many (not only the youth) think that every Rwandan should own a house. To be practical, this mindset should change. It is not possible that everyone can own a house.

The concept would better change from “affordable houses” to “affordable homes”. Every Rwandan should have a home but not necessarily a house.

In developed and “rich” countries, poor families stay in apartments. And only few and wealthy families are allowed to build isolated houses in private plots.

In Rwanda, the mindset is quite different. Poor and vulnerable families build their houses on private land, and wealthy families reside in apartments.

Across the country, arable land is being mainly occupied with “Imidugudu”, with relatively big houses and fences, and this constitutes a big threat to both housing and food security in the future.

This problem will not be addressed by bold regulations or strict inspection by local leaders and security organs. This should be a community problem and should be dealt with aggressive mechanisms. There is need for ownership and mindset change, first.

Back to the affordable housing issu, everyone should plan for the future and ensure the costly buildings of today are not demolished in the near future because of the pressure for more affordable homes.

Potential investors should consider Rwandan cities and invest in ‘upstairs’ affordable homes or apartments. Otherwise, what we call affordable today shall not be sustainable in the future.

Some districts have started considering this option while building model villages for the vulnerable and the poor. It is both space and cost effective.

However, it is not enough. This should be everyone’s responsibility for our own good and that of posterity. Private investors should be encouraged to do the same for the purpose of effectiveness and sustainability.

It is high time we consider banning the hard fences and regulating reasonable affordable and storied homes on small plots. This would only be practical if bold and strict regulations support positive mindsets, and not vice-versa.

The proposed property tax bill would serve the purpose if it was adopted, because it would contribute to both land use rationalisation and economic growth for the country.

The author is a political analyst and member of Pan African Movement Rwanda Chapter.

Twitter @NLadislas