Our Executive Director, Kecia Rust, gave a the fifth lecture, titled Extending Access to Housing Finance across Africa, for the third season of UN Habitat‘s Global Urban Lecture Series.
If cities are built the way they are financed (Renaud, 1984), then Africa’s cities are set to change. Innovation in housing finance – in terms of products, players, and approaches, not to mention target markets – is a key feature across the continent, creating new opportunities for investment and delivery. As both local and international investors chase growth opportunities in a sluggish global economy, they are employing diversification strategies to manage the risks of their traditional targets – and in this, residential property is increasingly becoming an option. And while established players are getting better at what they do, new players are adding to the mix and competing for opportunities.
Investors are faced with a paradox, however. By their very nature, they are drawn to the high income markets. It is in these markets that they can price adequately for risk and realize the returns they seek. However, the real story – the scale opportunity just waiting to be cracked – is in the lower income market segments. The arguments for investment in residential – high urbanization rates, a growing middle class, a shortage of supply – these are all arguments for moving down market into the uncharted waters of affordable housing. Can investors and developers do it? In 2015, this is a very real focus.
Five stories characterize Africa’s housing finance markets in 2015:
- Innovation in financing
- Growing awareness of the opportunity in residential
- The identification of niche markets and an appreciation of the affordability challenge
- Policy & regulatory evolution to match investor interest
- Growing experience and investor sophistication
Of course, the challenges are not insignificant. But increasingly, investors and developers are noting that the potential benefits outweigh the risks. And, as governments come to appreciate the potential that this interest offers, their efforts to streamline development processes and enable their local housing markets to grow are creating new opportunities that are beginning to change the face of African cities. These developments can be enhanced however – there is a real opportunity to draw in private sector engagement more significantly, and this should be carefully considered within the Habitat III deliberations and the Agenda that emerges from that, as well as the African Agenda.
The lecture considers these issues and the current state of housing finance in Africa, as set out in the 2015 edition of the Housing Finance in Africa Yearbook.