Friday, 18 January 2013

Innovation needed for home ownership

The Namibian - 16 Jan 2013

Home ownership is a problem in Namibia. According to estimates by the Minister of Regional, Local Government, Housing and Rural Development, Honourable Jerry Ekandjo in 2011 “..there is a backlog of about 300,000 houses and that 70 per cent of the population cannot access decent residential properties mainly due to issues of availability and affordability. This alarming situation calls for radical policy measures to restore the housing market.”

As a consumer activist it is not sufficient that I only state the obvious problems facing Namibians, but that I also apply myself to proposing solutions to these identified economic, social and cultural (ESC) rights. Thus I would like to share two ideas, the first to help reduce the household rental burden and the second to increase home ownership. Lastly, I suggest a policy of purposefully creating mixed income neighbourhoods.

Subsidised rental housing
In earlier days most large employers provided subsidised rental in houses and flats owned by the company. During the past twenty years most of these companies have reviewed their ownership of property and sold off their properties as “this was not their core business”. In this way, some of them have “increased” profits by selling the properties (TransNamib is a typical example), but at the same time decreased the salary value of their employees. In addition, in those years most municipalities were also providers of rental housing.

The social responsibility of companies and municipalities must be encouraged. The fact is that employees with less worries, make happier employees. The asset owned in the property by the company is also a positive income for their balance sheet.  The Government can also encourage subsidised renting by companies if they provide a tax exemption to these companies.

Rent to buy
I propose we develop 5,000 homes for lower income earners proportionally throughout the country. The National Housing Enterprise (or another appropriate body) should build quality houses valued at N$ 200,000 each and make this available to civil servants and other employees who already qualify for home loans, but cannot afford the present sky-high prices. Under the rent-to-buy scheme the local municipality must supply serviced land at cost price and allow the future home owner to pay off the land price over a five year period.
If the land loan is fixed at 5% interest over five years for a service plot valued N$ 50,000, the home owner would pay N$ 950.00 per month to the Municipality. The repayment on the NHE built house would amount to N$ 1320.00 over 20 years with a fixed interest rate of 5%. Thus the home owner would be paying a monthly amount of N$ 2,200.00 for the first five years, and only N$ 1,320.00 per month over the last fifteen years. In most cases, the home owners would reinvest this additional monthly saving they are used to paying to improve their properties.
Home ownership would increase not only the wealth of our people, but would also increase their participation in their communities, saving the authorities amounts otherwise used for policing etc. in areas where people are not proud home owners.

Mixed Income Neighbourhoods
Mixed income neighbourhoods by definition include different types of housing units such as flats, town houses and single family homes for people with a range of income levels. In other words various price ranges and housing preferences within one development. The town planners or even government can put guidelines in place for the number of type of each housing unit within a development to encourage integration of differing income levels within a community. Such guidelines will go a long way to eliminate neighbourhoods of concentrated poverty and combat residential segregation.

If nothing else helps, perhaps we will see the implementation of what one of my friends proposed on Facebook: “Write a petition and sue government for violating or neglecting its citizens the basic right to shelter as provided for in the constitution.”

Follow me on twitter: @miltonlouw

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