Housing dreams can come true
06 September 2021 | Infrastructure
The completion of 65 fully-serviced houses in a low-income neighbourhood of Otjiwarongo is a dream come true for the home-owners, many of who previously lived in shacks.
The homes belong to members of the Otjiwarongo branch of the Shack Dwellers Federation of Namibia (SDFN), who battled for years to secure funding, land and the necessary basic building blocks for their planned homes.
“The community is happy. It’s a dream come true,” Otjiwarongo SDFN chairperson Erenst Muraranganda said.
The majority of new home owners previously lived in shacks, and many are employed as domestic workers, street vendors or in other low paying jobs. Now a portion of their income goes towards paying off their homes over the next ten years for full ownership.
In order to keep costs low, the prospective house owners did much of the work themselves – a hallmark of the federation’s community bottom-up approach.
They cleared the land and dug the trenches for water and sewage installations. Bricks were made by members of the federation, and skills shared to build the homes.
The plots are provided at affordable rates by the municipality to allow full ownership once transferred.
The successful completion of the houses has inspired an influx of new membership to the Otjiwarongo SDFN branch, Muraranganda said. “They believe now that with the federation programme, you can get a house at a cheaper rate, and a house of quality. The future is the federation.”
The SDFN and their support partner, the Namibia Housing Action Group (NHAG), estimate there are around 282 informal settlements across Namibia, and almost 230 000 shacks at last count.
These informal structures, which do not provide in-house basics such as water, sewage or electricity connections, house around 950 000 people, in areas that lack other basic services such as refuse removal. They are often densely populated and pose risks of floods, sickness and a myriad other problems.
Otjiwarongo currently has four informal settlements: Ombili, Tsaraxa-Aibes, DRC and DB Ombili.
A 2020 town council survey found that around 4 700 shacks exist in these settlements, housing around 22 500 people.
Municipality spokesperson Adelheid Shilongo said the federation’s project contains valuable lessons. “It has made a significant contribution to the provision of housing in town,” and helped tackle the housing backlog, she added.
Moreover, the municipality recognises that it’s crucial to “adopt accelerated land delivery processes to ensure that planned and serviced land is available to all residents who qualify to own land. It is only through security of tenure that informal settlements and shacks can be eliminated over time.”
The provision of title deeds “also creates a feeling of ownership which has a positive outcome on the repayment of loans as well as servicing of rates and taxes”.
Shilongo stressed that the way forward is for “all municipalities” to include “specially designed machinery aimed at rapidly improving the social wellbeing of their localities through land delivery and provision of land rights to ensure security of tenure and housing development for all.”
The 2019 / 2020 NHAG and SDFN annual report underlines that the community-driven housing programme “significantly reduces the overall costs of the housing units. The use of profit-driven private contractors unnecessarily escalates costs to be borne by individuals.”
Despite the bottlenecks that sprung up with the pandemic, federation members across Namibia completed 754 houses between July 2019 and June 2020, Heinrich Amushila, co-director of NHAG reported.
He added that Covid-19 emphasised the urgent need for land for housing and serviced homes to reduce the already high risks associated with informal settlement environments.
Since its founding in 1998, 6 000 houses have been built through the federations. There are currently over 900 saving groups with more than 26 000 members in all 14 regions.
Anna Muller, a co-director of NHAG, recently said while the federation’s approach has gained increasing recognition, and there is a “very good working connection with national and regional governments as well as local authorities, we would wish for more dialogue and strategies to increase the scale of informal settlement and upgrading. It is essential that we combine resources to reach more people.”
She underlined that “Namibia has an unsolved housing crisis and our community driven approach can contribute significantly to solve this.”