Resolutions tackle urban land crisis

Three particular resolutions on the urban land crisis could potentially prove crucial in addressing the issue.

22 October 2018 | Infrastructure

Jana-Mari Smith

Stakeholders concerned about Namibia’s urban housing crisis especially in regard to the explosive growth of informal settlements, have praise for some of the 55 resolutions on urban land reform adopted at the second land conference.

In addition, President Hage Geingob’s concluding remarks where he admitted that the situation of increasing informal settlements in urban areas “constitutes a national humanitarian crisis, there is no other way to look at it”, was hailed as a critical step in the right direction.

Geingob noted that government intends to declare the informal settlement crisis as an emergency in order fast rack the mobilisation of resources and accelerate recommendations on urban land and housing from the conference.

Beat Weber, the executive director at Development Workshop Namibia (DWN), said the land conference “was quite exceptional in many ways” and in regards to urban land it “opened new doors that can lead to a more enabling environment for programmes that aim to reduce socio-economic inequality in the urban environment”.

“It is now up to us, actors from civil society, private sector and academia, to meaningfully occupy the newly created spaces and develop our programmes on the necessary scale to assist government in addressing pertinent urban land issues such as rapid informal settlement growth,” he said.

Step in right direction

Weber said three particular resolutions as well as the presidential statements on the urban land crisis could potentially prove crucial in addressing the issue.

The first is resolution 21, where government intends to develop an urban land reform programme and formulate further policy to address proposed strategic interventions.

Moreover, the resolution to prioritise large-scale informal settlement upgrading and integrated planned urban expansion for new urban residents, is crucial to improve the provision of land and housing.

Thirdly, the resolution to allow for partially serviced land, including sewage and water, to be sold and allowing other services to be added at a later stage, is another important element needed to address the crisis and speed up land and housing delivery.

Weber said Geingob’s decision to declare the urban crisis as an emergency and his acknowledgement that bureaucracy should no longer act as a barrier to addressing the issue, are positive.

“Just these two elements from the presidential speech and the three resolutions provide a potential policy framework that is much more enabling than before,” he said.

Concerns remain

Martin Mendelsohn of Research and Information Services of Namibia (Raison) said that while a number of positive outcomes on urban land form part of the resolutions, including the removal of statutory minimum building values and the reassessment of building materials, a number of concerns remain.

He said this removal of statutory values and others would essentially pave the way for people with access to land to build incrementally according to their ability, but cautioned that any policies that bar communities from accessing land that is not fully serviced, will hamper progress in this area.

“All the informal settlers in Namibia currently live without services. I think there is little rationale in prohibiting them from developing incrementally, according to their means.”

He highlighted that the broad opinion in the resolutions points to a renewed focus on providing land more efficiently, which he described as a positive development, but warned that increased government intervention could also backfire.

He added that government itself has to date “been the reason that land has not been available”, saying that this is a “classic case of a lack of capacity. I am worried that more government intervention will do more harm than good.”

Mendelsohn said instead of allowing more private actors to become involved in the delivery of land, government should streamline processes for land delivery through NGOs that have proven successfully how to upscale large amounts of land cheaply, often with the close cooperation of communities in need.

He further criticized the provision that limits the size of erven to 300m², which he said makes it difficult to provide land to informal settlement dwellers as has been clearly shown over the years.

Moreover, the resolutions have added the provision that applications for houses and land on less than 300m² must be approved in consultation with the communities and minister of urban housing.

He said this provision hampers the capacity of people living informally to formalise their land and stifles the opportunity to create dense single dwelling urban areas similar to those in many places around the world.

“The provision also raises the cost of servicing and maintaining services on land.”

He said this policy only benefits developers who are keen to make “money out of delivering low cost land”.

Mendelsohn said another concern is the acquiring of farm land adjacent to urban land and the resettling of people as this would only “create and maintain poverty”.

He said that studies have clearly shown people move to towns to access services and jobs among many other benefits and moving them away from town “increases the costs for them to access the things they came for, both in terms of time and money”.

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