Housing symposium hosted by Bank of Namibia

Last week, the Bank of Namibia hosted their 13th Annual Symposium, focusing this time on Housing in Namibia.  The symposium started with three presentations, which together provided (1) an analysis of the Namibian Housing Market presented by Mr Ebson Uanguta, Director of Research at the Bank of Namibia; (2) an analysis of experiences in Japan, the United States and China by Professor Aloysius Mosha, Head of Urban Planning at the University of Botswana; and (3) an analysis of the South African housing experience by Dr Mark Napier, director of Urban LandMark.  I was invited to give a paper as the discussant, responding to the papers by Professor Mosha and Dr Napier.

The housing debate in Namibia seems to be centred around two broad issues.  The first has to do with the 2007 estimated 80 000 unit backlog (about 15% of the population, assuming a household size of about 4 persons).  Uanguta reported that about 70 per cent of Namibians cannot access formal housing.  A key question facing policy makers, therefore, is how to support increased housing supply and enhanced housing affordability, whether through subsidy, regulation or other measures.  The second issue has to do with fears that the top end of the Namibian property market is showing signs of a bubble.  Driving into the city from the airport, I saw a development of 2-3-bedroom cluster housing going for N$1,3m (about US$166 000) and I was told that the average price of housing in Windhoek was generally above N$1 million (or, above US$128 000).  In part, the rapid price appreciation has to do with demand for housing exceeding supply.  Uanguta’s presentation reported that the City of Windhoek has grown by 4.5 per cent annually from 1995 to 2006 – an effective growth of just under 55 per cent over the period.  This growth is primarily among low-income earners, however, who could not even begin to afford formal housing.  Speculative buying has been identified as another reason for property appreciation, especially in terms of the purchase of housing by foreign buyers. The process of land allocation – done primarily through auctions held by municipal governments – has also been identified as a cause of rampant price increases.

The debate following the presentations was especially interesting.  Representatives of low income earners, the homeless, and squatters were vocal in their frustration with a focus on housing prices at the top end of the market when affordability constraints necessitate an entirely different policy approach to address the bottom end.  Issues raised related to access to serviced land and the role of infrastructure financing in housing development, the slow rate of delivery, the need for rental housing, and the need for housing finance products that do not require collateral.  Slow administrative processes at municipal level were also raised as a constraining factor to housing supply.  The Namibian Housing Policy of 1991 was amended in 2009 and should have some clues as to how these issues can be addressed.  If I can get a copy of this, I’ll post it on our site.

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