The lack of structure in our housing - A case for independent housing companies

The lack of structure in our housing - A case for independent housing companies
Source: Opanyin Kwadwo | owudarko@gmail.com
Date: 14-09-2018 Time: 09:09:53:am

Universally adequate housing is viewed as a basic human need and therefore accepted by the UN as a human right. If housing is a human right then a democratically elected government shouldendeavour to provide adequate housing to meet the needs of its growing population.

The previous article date 5th September 2018 discusses a new approach to housing delivery in Ghana. Though there are various approaches to housing delivery, any system adopted in Ghana shouldfit into our socio-cultural and economic context. Compared to other sectors in the economy, the Housing Sector in Ghana is not well organised and lacks structure. Presently, it is difficult to identify a single organisation with the sole responsible forbuilding houses across the country.

There are a number of institutionswhich are directly or indirectly involved in housing and housing related issues. These institutions include the Social Security and National Insurance Trust(SSNIT), Tema Development Corporations (TDC), State Housing Corporation (SHC), Parliament Work and Housing Committee, Ministry of Works and Housing andGhana Real Estate Developers Association(GREDA).

The aim of all these institutions is to work for the common good of all Ghanaians and yet their activitiesdo not appear to be part of a coherent national strategic plan. They need to work in partnership rather than appearing to work in silos. The Ministry of Works and Housing is currently discussing issues around housing behind closed doors. However the discussion appears to preclude any wider public consultations. There is a likely possibility that the Ministry may produce a policy document short of input from the real beneficiaries of the final document.

Previous governments published policy documents to guide housing development but these were not fully implemented. A case in point was theNational Housing Policy and National Spatial Development Framework which were completed in 2015. The truth according to the National Development Planning Commission (NDPC) suggests, since the mid-1960s, Ghana has not had a comprehensive framework to guide the built environmentdevelopment. The lack of spatial planning framework for such a long period gave rise to haphazard mixed development in towns and cities.Our built environment therefore, became a new benchmark for dystopian dysfunction, (i.e. an unpleasant degrading environment).

As a nation we need to stop these degrading developments and change our skyline to reflect our cultural identities. This means taking bold steps to overhaul the processes for procuring housing developments. Removing bottlenecks relating to land use, designs, planning and building permit regulations, financing, construction, building materials, infrastructure development and provision of essential services will be a positive development. Also there should be a commitment to empower and resource institutions to enforce the law and regulations.

Creating a Housing Organisational Structure

A sentence in the Rwandan Government national housing policy states– “Government has outlined that it intends to support the supply of housing which is affordable to people within all income segments, and the creation of an enabling environment to do so.”(Caps for emphasis). This is a laudable idea that the Ghana government must wholly embrace and incorporate into its housing strategy or policy. One way of creating the enabling environment is promoting the establishment of independent housing companies (IHC). However, this can only work effectively with the establishment of three national agencies:

  • The Housing Regulator
  • National Housing Fund
  • Rent Control Authority

These suggestions are well captured in the National Housing Policy produced in 2015. They are referenced here to further stress that without them the IHC concept cannot work effectively. The Housing Regulator would be the government agency responsible for implementing housing policies and coordinating all housing developments including private sector schemes. The Fund will raise funds and receive donation to fund housing development and associated infrastructure. Only accredited IHC can access the Fund and not individuals. Housing schemes would only be funded when they are approved and recommended by the Housing Regulator. The Rent Control Authority will monitor rent settings, licence landlords and act as an arbitrator between tenants and landlords to resolve disputes.

The IHC Approach

At the top of the housing sector organisational structure is the Housing Regulator who will licence the IHCs to build the decent affordable homes. The IHC could be a non-profit and for profit organisation. They can adopt any of the legal structures defined in the Companies Act code such as private limited, cooperative, social enterprise, an association and/or foundation. However the funding framework governing their activities would be skewed to favour the non-profit organisation because of their charitable status. A number of organisations can be encouraged to setup IHC. This includes theGhana National Association of Teachers (GNAT),Ghana Private Road Transport Union(GPRTU), Nursing & Midwifery Association, Senior Staff Associations and Trade Associations such as Hair Dressers, Market Women etc. Members of these organisations pay monthly subscription fees.They should therefore be encouraged to use a percentage of these revenues to develop housing schemes.

The IHC would be requiredto have a corporate structure with a board of directors or trustees and operational staff to carry out day-to-day housing management services. They will administer the funding instruments, determine ownership and control, and provide the simplest structure in terms of taxation and accounting requirements. The key objective of the IHC is to coordinate the housing procurement and development process at the local level. Whether it is a rent-to-buy scheme, build-to-buy or long term rental provisions the IHC would manage the housing stock for profit. In essence the IHC is expected to operate a financially viable business model.

The IHC could also be setup to provide housing for a specific public sectoror state enterprise workers. Other IHCs will provide homes for all, especially people on low income and in secure employment.Homes for all hence means if you haveevidence of a regular income and in secure employment then you are eligible to be housed through an IHC funded scheme.

This will create jobs, improves people’s ability to earn and create wealth. The Government will now be able to get rid of rent allowances paid to workers and reduce its wage bill. The workers' housing would be mortgaged to them via their salaries. This will become an asset to them to improve their economic power. They will then exhibit acute responsibility for maintaining the value since it improves their chances to resell the property at a higher price in future. It will give them an incentive to work harder since getting sacked implies having problems meeting your mortgage repayments. Banks will begin to play their proper role in financing the people to own their personal homes. Allowing the IHCs to develop and manage workers housing will generate revenues, support stock maintenance and create equityfor future investmentin housing development.

In conclusion let us use the rent allowances paid to the privilege few to create the initial working capital for a non-profit Independent Housing Companies for the Police Service, Nurses at theKorle Bu Hospital and Civil Servants at the Ministries. The mortgage or rent the first beneficiaries pay can be reinvested to build more houses.

 

Profile: Kwadwo Owusu-Darko is an architect but specialises in Housing. He has over 20yrs experience in real estate development, regeneration and housing management in the UK. He was a Director and Board Chairman of two Housing Associations. Currently the Director of UDeserve Limited, a firm setup to promote Housing and Assets Management in Ghana. Email: owudarko@gmail.com ©copyright September 2018.

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