As the year 2020 starts tomorrow, Zimbabweans will be worried about many survival issues which they failed to overcome in 2019, but still hope they will manage in the New Year.
With Finance and Economic Development Minister Mthuli Ncube declaring the end of austerity at the end of 2019, this New Year is widely expected to bring good tidings for the country.
It is a year in which Government is expected to push the second phase of its development programme, having successfully worked through preliminary measures as provided for under the Transitional Stabilisation Programme (TSP).
The emphasis, according to Government officials, will be now on “production, production and production”.
This means in 2020, Zimbabweans should expect the revival of industries to be a priority, thereby creating employment opportunities.
While Government’s concern is on production, it is important that it also makes 2020 the year of providing shelter to its citizens.
Housing and organised settlements are crucial for progress and development.
We have often seen the negative results of inadequate housing, especially in big cities like Harare where this has compromised the developmental agenda through the eruption of social ills associated with homelessness.
It is difficult to achieve sustainable livelihoods without adequate housing, as lack of housing is often associated with the presence of poverty.
Vision 2030 seeks to achieve an upper middle income economy driven by various variables, and the provision of housing should be one of them.
Newly-appointed National Housing and Social Amenities Minister Daniel Garwe this month outlined an ambitious programme in which Government is targeting to deliver at least 470 000 housing units across the country within the next decade.
The programme will be implemented under the National Housing Delivery Programme.
According to the 2020 Zimbabwe Infrastructure Investment Programme, the national housing deficit stands at 1,3 million.
Minister Garwe’s vision is well and fine, but there is need to come up with a package that articulates a clear roadmap towards the mitigation of the housing challenges.
This should include coming up with strategies that make the housing sector attractive to both local and foreign investors, who will be working under instruction to provide truly low-cost housing.
It is clear from the above figures that Government alone cannot successfully tackle such a mammoth housing backlog without running out of funds.
Housing is an important human rights issue, which is also used as one of the measurement tools for good governance, especially in the sense that every citizen deserves a roof despite their social status.
Yet, provision of adequate housing has been a problem for many developing countries, which tend to grapple with many other pressing issues, relegating housing to the periphery.
The problem is worsened by the increased modernisation of cities and townships, which continue to expand, especially in population, exerting pressure on the inadequate housing units.
When Zimbabwe got independence in 1980, it inherited a three-tier housing system which favoured the white minority who lived in top-notch houses found in leafy suburbs.
Those of mixed race and a few blacks of good means used to occupy the middle tier and stayed in areas that were designated as middle-density, with modestly big houses and stands.
The black majority was confined to bachelor flats which could not accommodate their families, while some of them were lucky enough to get houses in newly sprouting low income residential areas.
After independence, there was an unprecedented rural to urban migration, as people sought better opportunities that they had been denied because of racial subjugation.
This influx of people into urban areas put pressure on the existing housing units, resulting in the Government setting up various housing programmes to provide accommodation.
Such programmes included a National Housing Fund established in 1982 and many others in between, including recent ones like Operation Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle.
But the housing waiting lists for urban areas continued to grow.
While it is proper for Government and municipalities to rope in private stakeholders in the provision of housing, it is imperative that these two institutions provide sufficient funds in their budgets towards the sector.
The private sector is there to make profits and most of their housing projects, which are often touted as meant for low-income earners, are far beyond the affordability of many.
We have seen that with the CABS project in Budiriro, Harare, where a number of housing units, with the most expensive going for US$27 000, are still without takers, years after completion.
Other financial institutions like First Bank Building Society, CBZ Bank, ZB Bank and the National Building Society are also struggling to dispose of housing units built in various areas because they are priced far above what ordinary workers can afford.
The effects of lack of adequate housing have been devastating, especially in a city like Harare where the emergence of informal settlements, slums and squatter camps has been an eyesore.
Unplanned settlements like Epworth, Caledonia and Hopley have been considered undesirable for a long time, yet the authorities’ hands are tied because there is nowhere else to accommodate thousands of people residing there because of lack of adequate housing.
The lack of housing has been taken advantage of by unscrupulous politicians who have been settling large numbers of people on undesignated places in return for votes and other favours.
A report produced recently by the Commission of Inquiry into the Sale of State Land in and around Urban Settlements indicated that the country lost nearly $3 billion to such land barons.
The commission, which presented its findings to President Mnangagwa recently, also names a number of politicians and well-to-do individuals in the improper land deals.
The slums created by such people have been blamed for breading diseases like cholera and typhoid, threatening the health status of the nation.
This is because people tend to become overcrowded in such areas, and live without proper sanitation and other amenities.
Starting in 2020, Minister Garwe’s strategy should be backed by tangible action, so that mistakes of the past are not repeated, especially after so many similar housing programmes were launched, but with little success.
One of the most efficient ways to mitigate such challenges is the provision of truly low-cost houses that can be afforded, especially by low-income earners.
Previously, the so-called low-income housing programmes in Zimbabwe have not been effective enough to cater for those who earn less, who are in the majority.
The major problem has been that most such housing schemes have been using expensive building materials, which ended up pushing the costs too high.
The way forward is to take on board new housing technologies from other countries that are cheaper, but still produce durable structures.
This should start with the amendment of the Regional Town and Country Planning Act, which has been too rigid when it comes to the standards of buildings, including houses.
Instead of expending their energies on building houses, financial institutions should lower their interest rates for mortgages to ensure that as many low-income earners as possible are able to borrow funds for housing construction.
There are a lot of companies that are doing well even in these hard economic times, but not many of them bother to use part of their profits to provide housing for their workers.
Government should also have a look at the cost of residential stands in the country’s cities and towns, which are prohibitive even for those who earn decent salaries.
The cost of land in most cases far exceeds all other construction costs, making land the most expensive item when it comes to the provision of housing in urban areas.
If the land prices are added to the cost of construction, then it becomes almost difficult for most workers to fund the building of their houses.
Another strategy which Minister Garwe should seriously consider is to abandon the horizontal housing developments that require a lot of land and instead go for vertical developments that will result in the building of more housing units on high rise buildings.
Building cluster homes is also another way of utilising the available land.
Above all, it is important that both the Government and municipalities eradicate corruption in the allocation of land and the determination of those who can access the major resource.
Some people have in the past raised concern that they have been stuck on the local authorities’ housing waiting lists for decades, while new suburbs are sprouting, with the land being allocated to those outside the waiting list.