Councils struggle to tackle national housing crisis

Efforts by local authorities to address the country’s perennial accommodation crisis have done little to help the 1.25m people on the government’s national housing waiting list.

The figure rocketed following the government’s controversial slum clearance programme, Operation Murambatsvina in 2005, which left more than 700 000 people homeless.

Statistics gathered by The Zimbabwean indicate that many city councils have long waiting lists – 59 000 people in Mutare, 100,000 in Bulawayo, 500,000 in Harare, 18,000 in Marondera, 17,000 in Gweru and 6,000 in Masvingo.

Other small towns, such as Chegutu, Kadoma, Chinhoyi and Rusape are facing the same predicament.

The heavily affected councils have over the past years been on an intense exercise to reduce the wait by engaging housing co-operatives, by expanding into rural communities and by using all unoccupied pieces of land.

In June, the City of Mutare published its intention to build houses and industry in their move to expand into neighbouring rural areas following Government approval. The council would incorporate a portion of the Dora community into Ward 15 of the council, which is expected to ease housing shortages in the city.

In Harare, the government also stepped in and allocated co-operatives vast pieces of land to develop. In April, the Gweru local authority took charge of a new housing project in Mkoba Village 21 that has 6,900 residential stands. Marondera renovated its long-condemned Rusike flats in July. The Minister of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing, Ignatius Chombo, recently stepped in by offering residents a 20-year period of grace to pay for their stands.

However, these efforts have done very little, as stands have fallen into the hands of business people rather than needy families.

In July, controversial tycoon Philip Chiyangwa stunned a gathering of local government officials discussing national housing delivery system when he publicly declared he owned 57,000 residential stands in Harare alone.

Many residents also lost their stands when they were repossessed by their local authorities because of non-payment.

Concerns have already been raised following the merger of three Cabinet portfolios to form the new Ministry of Local Government that deals with housing shortage. Local Government, Rural and Urban Development, the Ministry of Public Works, and the Ministry of National Housing and Special Amenities have come together in the merger.

Resident and ratepayer associations have raised fears that the new ministry will be overwhelmed by its responsibilities and may be forced to compromise some areas.

However, housing specialists expressed confidence in the merger.

“In as much as the new ministry has a challenge to reduce the country’s housing crisis, this development might solve the ballooning national housing crisis as the three merged ministries are intertwined,” said Lovemore Chitima – a former assistant housing director at the City of Mutare.

“We have a situation where the one of the joined ministries offers funds whereas the other offers state land,” he went on to say. “Under this new arrangement, the state land should be given to local authorities if we are to see changes. Councils need land. Due to the land issues, the councils should also reduce stands to as little as 150m2(superscript this). They might be small but they are big enough for one to build a structure.”

Chitima added that the new ministry needed to put efforts into assuring stands were fit for residential occupation.

“Locals authorities are currently dumping people where there is no proper sanitation, sewer and water system or roads. They need to appoint directors, to guard against this,” he said.

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