Time to make affordable housing a reality in Kigali is now

Wednesday March 27 2019


A rapid population growth and high constructions costs are some of the factors that have made it difficult for low-income earners to own houses. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA  

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The City of Kigali estimates that it receives about 100,000 new dwellers in search of opportunities for a better life each year.

Majority of these new entrants are low-income earners and job seekers from the countryside. Most of them will end up living in unplanned settlements, or slums.

The government has for years emboldened a vision of a beautiful capital with planned residential homes that are affordable to not just its middle class, but also low income earners.

Some exemplary projects include Development Bank of Rwanda’s Ndera Affordable Housing Project, with a first phase expected to provide at least 1,750 housing units.

Debate can rage on about what the meaning of “affordable housing,” but what makes this project stand out is that it targets income earners of between Rwf200,000 ($220) and Rwf1.2 million ($1,335) a month. What is encouraging is that this amount can be a combined salary of spouses.

Similar projects have cropped up along the way but faded into oblivion, mainly because the financiers realised that the cost of constructing houses in Kigali is something else.

The kind of houses some real estate providers advertise as “affordable houses” are far from that definition.

Many of them defend their prices by alluding to the expensive cost of construction, which they say has created a divergence between what they are offering as affordable housing and the reality of low-income earners.

The government plans to see the entire country urbanised by at least 35 per cent by 2024 from 18 per cent in 2017, and has allocated several projects to this dream, including a capital city master plan that wants 90 per cent of the urban population to be residing in decent houses.

Last year, the government introduced the Affordable Housing Fund, with a basket fund of $150 million sourced from the World Bank, to give out mortgage loans at an interest below that offered by commercial banks.

These good dreams however will need more than government projects if affordable housing is to become a reality.

Commercial banks have to step in with ways to reduce mortgage costs. Their mortgages are serviced at between 16 per cent and 19 per cent, making it a tad difficult for average earners to own homes.

On top of that, real estate developers have constantly lamented the high costs of construction, with most construction materials being imported, and taxed pushing the cost of rent and house ownership higher.

Here, both government and the private sector have to work together to find a way out.

And with population density increasing significantly every year, there’s never been a better way to react fast than enabling true affordable housing and ending unplanned settlements in and around Kigali.