When Roger Pote conceptualised a housing project, he had one demographic in mind — the youth.
He had been worried by the reality facing the country’s young that owning immovable property is increasingly appearing out of reach.
When the economy started experiencing challenges, opportunities waned with equal proportion.
Housing remains one of the key needs in any person’s life and Abraham Maslow in his hierarchy of needs listed shelter among the most important human needs.
“In 2008, I developed interest in housing,” said Pote. “I was inspired by the plight of the youth, some of them have been living in poor conditions because of lack of opportunities.”
This is when Pote ventured into the process of research, trying to understand how one could spearhead a project that speaks to some of the most pressing questions facing the young today, “will we ever get a roof over our heads?”
“I started engaging the relevant offices, from the Ministry of Local Government then, trying to understand the processes that one can go through if they want to form a legally compliant housing project,” Pote explained.
It took him close to seven years, identifying spaces, getting clearance that the place is not set aside for other use and approaching the relevant authorities.
“It was a difficult time, trying to understand the processes, I was using thin resources, driving around seeking guidance,” said Pote. “I only managed to breakthrough around 2017 when the Ministry of Local Government and Public Works, after seeing the circles we had gone in, decided to assist in our quest.
“After explaining what we sought to achieve — affordable houses for those with subdued income including the youth — we were told to register a Trust, so that we could be legally compliant.”
Now, Pote and his associates are in the process of setting up Diamond Park in Melfort, between Harare and Marondera.
Diamond Park has over 1 000 residential stands of different sizes.
The project, though in its early stages, has potential to stand as an example of what triangulated effort between Government, developers and the private sector can achieve.
The Ministry of National Housing and Social Amenities has come on board to be a technical partner, while the National Building Society is the project development financier.
“We expanded our scope from the youth and cast our focus to war veterans, people with disabilities, as we realised that they are as disenfranchised as young people as far as home ownership opportunities are concerned,” said Pote.
The housing project, though in its infancy tries to solve an issue, which needs urgent address going forward.
Zimbabwe needs a sustainable housing plan, which targets young people.
Perhaps the first point of recourse would be the creation of a credible, public platform where residential stands can be bought legitimately.
Money is not the only impeding variable disturbing the process of home ownership, local authorities have failed the people.
Housing waiting lists have not been moving for years, those with money to grease corrupt hands in councils have been benefiting through circumventing the backlog.
Many times we read stories about how citizens are falling prey to land barons and the blame sometimes is laid on the victims on how they keep going back to those who have proven to be dishonest.
However, at the moment, there is no clear structure on how one can buy land to build without risking their hard-earned funds.
Imagine a trader or worker, saving their US$5 000 over a year of stringent budgeting and in some cases borrowing so they can secure a stand, only to be duped of that money.
There has to be a deliberate effort to cushion citizens against overtures by unscrupulous land barons, especially those who would have endured an uphill sprint to raise the resources.
In an interview with our sister paper The Sunday Mail, National Housing and Social Amenities Minister Daniel Garwe said there was a target of 200 000 new low cost housing units by 2023.
This is an opportunity for the country to set a precedent on how to bring back home ownership to the reach of ordinary people.
Land barons and developers ask for payments in United States dollars, yet the majority of employees in Zimbabwe earn in local currency.
These are some of the issues which must be addressed, in the national housing plan, a less punitive staggered payment method must be successfully implemented by the central Government.
That way, it is easier to regulate private developers and local authorities using the success of the approach as a benchmark.
Is it not better for the Government to build housing units in new suburbs, then the beneficiaries recoup the costs over a period of time?
Almost in the same manner that banks structure their mortgages, only that in the Government project the profit element should not be too prominent as the provision of safe and decent shelter is a must.
If a survey was to be done, authorities may find that some of the youth may not have the US$20 000 to buy property in one swing.
However, they are paying significant amounts in rentals and the same funds can be used to repay the Government for building a house, in the event that they would have benefited from a well-structured housing project.
As the Government scales up its implementation of President Mnangagwa’s vision for housing, sustainability should occupy the minds of those leading processes.
Land is a finite resource; our architecture has to reflect understanding of this salient fact.
Recommendations to build upwards should now be adopted into action, high rise buildings should help ensure that the housing backlog is cleared at the same time preserving space for generations to come.
It is a good thing that devolution is gaining traction, it is going to be central in addressing the country’s housing headaches.
Instead of limiting focus on Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru, Mutare and all the major cities, there should also be strategies to see the creation of new cities.
When the Pioneer Column arrived in Zimbabwe in the late 1800s, all that resembles modernity now, were plain bushes.
Similarly, inspiration today can be drawn from how Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, transformed over a period of about two decades.
The same can be done today; there should be investment into the birth of new decolonised cities, which have the texture of Zimbabwean existence.
Will places like Gutu, Chivi, Hwedza, Dorowa and Nkayi, remain communal into perpetuity?
New cities may allow us to create new opportunities for the youth as every economic epoch brings with it demands that require skill and expertise, a resource the country has in abundant supply.
The vision of a new city the Government has for Kanyemba, an area in Mashonaland Central at the Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Zambia confluence, should be speeded up in implementation.
It can be a local trigger to the birth of new post-independence cities and towns.
After all is said and done, the reality the youth and the Government have to face is that not everyone will own a house.
It is a basic economic principle that resources are by nature scarce.
Even in the biggest economies, some do not own houses, but not owning a house should not become a handicap.
There should be Government owned accommodation whose rentals are not extortionately priced and in a currency which the majority earn.
Such houses should be occupied on a rotational basis.
When that happens, perhaps pressure to own houses may subside.
In the same vein, there is a need to strengthen social services to ensure that even in unforeseen circumstances like job losses, injuries or bad health, families are not condemned to immediate destitution.
Most of the people who are striving to build houses are premising their efforts on the statement, “zvinoda une panonzi pako (it works better with a place you can call yours).”
Such sentiments show that the pressure for houses across age groups is driven by fear more than the need to invest, which should be treated as a cause for concern by the relevant institutions, especially the National Social Security Authority.
As we address access to shelter, we should also interrogate the present obsession with home ownership in Zimbabwe.
In the meantime, as the national housing strategy is being effected, young people who make the biggest demographic, should be central to all formulations.