On 16 October, 2,000 houses built in Budiriro under the CABS housing scheme were handed over to Council by Dr Ignatius Chombo, Minister of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing. The ceremony was part of the belated annual UN-Habitat World Habitat Day, celebrated on the first Monday of October in recognition of the basic right of all humanity to adequate shelter, and to encourage grassroots action towards eradicating poverty-level housing. This year’s theme was Voices From the Slums “giving voice to people who have lived or live in slums or other vulnerable urban contexts”.
Harare’s housing backlog stands at an estimated 500,000 homes. The scheme aims to build 3,102 houses, a positive step forward and the first since 1997. Recently Harare has witnessed the sprouting of illegal land developments fuelled by the unavailability of affordable housing to accommodate our growing population (6–8% per annum).
Dr Chombo explained that “the pressure created by the demand for housing land has resulted in instances where desperate home-seekers have been swindled of their hard-earned cash by unscrupulous land barons masquerading as land developers.”
Town Clerk Dr Tendai Mahachi said that Harare is working hard to expedite the processing and approval of building plans to address the housing shortages. “Our goal…is to reduce the number of slum dwellers in Harare and afford them decent lifestyles that conform to our vision of becoming a world class city by 2025. We (also) have an on-going slum upgrading project in Dzivarasekwa Extension where over 480 families are benefiting.”
Though this CABS/City of Harare initiative is a step in the right direction, the pricing of the houses has been criticised for being out of the reach of most impoverished home seekers (see Harare News 13). Some residents doubt the authenticity of council’s intentions pointing to recent demolitions in Epworth and Chitungwiza as well as Operation Murambatsvina which saw legitimate housing being destroyed in addition to illegal structures.
On the eve prior to the handover, at a housing roundtable in Harare, MP for Bulawayo South, Eddie Cross, presented architectural and financing blueprints for high density housing that he believes could bring about a transformation in the lives of the most needy. The plans, developed in conjunction with financial experts and renowned architect Mick Pearce, employ modern design standards and incorporate water harvesting and eliminate the need for mains sewers with constructed wetlands. Cross criticised the Budiriro scheme’s financing strategies and the outdated designs. “They are getting very limited accommodation for a lot of money. It doesn’t fit with our social needs. It’s an inappropriate model and a wasteful use of money,” lamented Cross.
Pearce outlined how informal sector builders can deliver basic housing at $150/m2, compared to the average $500 that the formal sector costs. “We need to employ the informal sector workers, but get them to build within a framework,” suggested Pearce.
Cross, who has a background in economics and has been active in both the pre- and post-independence governments, lamented the fact that the Budiriro houses were built using a “Rhodesian-type model”. “We’ve got to start thinking of something which fits us from a cultural point of view…which provides decent, affordable accommodation for the absolute poor.” For Cross, this means, ultimately, giving the houses away for free, and providing low-interest loans to homeowners to further develop their homes.
One resident commented that social housing should not demand that the poor take on loans and mortgages, and should not rely on public-private partnerships which often make provision for financiers to ultimately turn a profit. “The City should also investigate the possibility of communal social housing to act as a stepping stone towards home ownership,” he added.