Representatives from banks, finance, land and housing ministries from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda gathered in Kampala with American and UN officials for the first regional meeting devoted to promoting innovative financing for affordable housing.
The three-day meeting organized by the Government of Uganda, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, and UN-HABITAT is aimed at sharing experiences and identifying strategies that stimulate funding for affordable housing in East Africa. Civil servants, investors, and bankers sought to define strategies to help close the wide gap between the availability and demand for housing, particularly in rapidly urbanising areas.
In his welcoming statement, Captain Francis Babu, the Ugandan Minister of State for Housing, highlighted the crucial role of housing in poverty alleviation.
“A homeowner saves more, is more patriotic and more credit worthy,” he said. He thanked the United States and other development partners for their commitment to help Africa’s development efforts through debt relief, development assistance, and partnerships to meet the Millennium Development Goals. He said targeting the urban poor was a daunting task because low-income families do not have leases or title deeds that can be used as collateral. But the government could help by improving infrastructure to trigger development and reduce the cost of housing construction.
Ms. Shannon Sorzano, Director of International Housing Finance and Deputy Secretary at the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development said that in the United States where over two-thirds of households owned their homes, statistics showed that “for every thousand homes built, 2,500 jobs are created. Furthermore, home owners are wealthier than renters, are more likely to invest in their communities, and their children are more likely to graduate from college and do better at school.” She stressed that access to credit was a cornerstone to home ownership. “We have seen the transformable power of home ownership and the stimulating and critical role that housing plays in the economy and society, we are eager to share what we have learned,” she concluded.
Tanzania’s Director of Housing, Mr. Blasi Seleki said his country was reviewing its housing policy and enacting regulations to facilitate access to land for construction. It was also registering informal settlements and issuing residential licenses that can be used as collateral. This allows poor people to obtain loans for homes and small business projects. Mr. Amon Urio, Director of Planning at the Bank of Tanzania said the government had also made mortgage finance a centrepiece of its financial reforms. Attracting long-term finance for mortgage banking along with other regulatory reforms in the capital markets would help the government regularize land and offer security of tenure, he said.
In Kenya, the housing demand in the country’s cities is 150,000 units per annum yet the country can only produce 50,000. Around 60 per cent, or 1.9 million of the 3 million residents of the capital Nairobi live in slums and informal settlements. The Director of Housing in the Kenyan Ministry of Lands and Housing, Mr. Julius Malombe described the Kenya Slum Upgrading Programme, initiated by his government in partnership with UN-HABITAT to improve the lives of these slum dwellers and outlined the policies to prevent new slums.
Mr. Chris Williams, Acting Director of the UN-HABITAT Human Settlements Finance Division welcomed the private-state partnership at the heart of the meeting. He said that “efforts of capacity building, policy reform, cannot work alone – currently there is very little investment from private sector to deal with rapid urbanization. Only 5 per cent of the funding needed is currently available.”
He said the Millennium target on improving the lives of slum dwellers could not be achieved unless domestic capital was considered as part of the solution for housing development. He explained that this peer exchange was aimed at using existing knowledge to generate action to address the issues affecting housing delivery.
The meeting is one of the initiatives supported by UN-HABITAT to find practical solutions to the problem of finding adequate funding for housing. It will produce proposals as a basis for future action by governments and financial institutions.