Challenges of Affordable Housing Delivery in Zambia

Like many governments in the Global South, Zambia struggles with the provision of affordable housing. The national housing deficit stands at more than 2 million units and is compounded by rapid population growth and continued rural to urban migration. Existing policies and legal corpus have been ineffective in ensuring access to land, housing finance, and security of tenure, building materials, skilled labour, infrastructure and urban services.

Zambia’s existing housing stock is estimated at 2.5 million units, of which 64 percent is traditional housing, while 36 percent (or about 800 000 units) is urban housing. About 28.5 percent of the urban housing is detached housing (single units); 20 percent is traditional housing and 21.5 percent is improved traditional huts. About 40 percent of the urban housing is good quality housing while 60 percent is substandard housing. In Lusaka, nearly 70 percent of all housing stock is substandard and informal and accommodates over two thirds of the city’s population on 20 percent residential land. Zambia has an estimated population of 15.4 million which growing rapidly at the rate of 3.2 percent per annum and an urban population that is growing at 4.2 percent per annum. The high rate of population growth and urbanisation in Zambia requires that there are clear urban policy guidelines and strategies to guide housing and urban development.

Due to low incomes, over two thirds of Zambians will need to spend more than the global affordability threshold of 30 to 40 percent of income to access quality housing. According to CAHF, in 2015, the average household income needed to buy the cheapest house is in Zambia is US$ 36, 960. Yet the current average annual household income is only US$ 5 102, and the cheapest newly built house by a formal developer costs US$ 65 000. ZIPAR, in 2015, has estimated that low income households in urban areas can afford a house costing between ZMK 61 300 and ZMK 100 000 (US$ 6 584 – US$ 10 741), while households in rural areas can afford a house costing ZMK 24 900 (US$ 2 674)[i]. In 2014, seven percent of the population[ii] with average monthly household expenditure above ZMK 4 655 (US$ 500) spent as much as 50 percent of their income on rentals. About 30 percent, or 4 506 300 people, with an average monthly expenditure between ZMK 2 793 to ZMK 4 655 (US$ 300 to US$5 00) spend 30 percent on rentals while 63 percent with a monthly expenditure of less than ZMK 2 793 (US$ 300) spend up to 40 percent of their monthly income on rentals.

During the colonial era (1924-1964), government had direct approach to housing supply and regulation as well control of its quality and who should occupy it. The Employment of Natives Ordinance of 1929 required all employers to provide housing while the number of indigenous Zambians who settled in towns was restricted by a system of pass laws[iii]. The 1948 Urban African Housing Ordinance[iv] required all employers of more than 30 people and all local authorities to supply housing for African workers and their wives while the provision of housing by the mines was governed by the Mines and Sanitation Regulations. In 1959 the African Housing Board was established to regulate the provision of all public housing. After independence in 1964, Article 24 of the Constitution abolished the pass laws resulting in mass migration into urban areas and a critical shortage of decent housing as many people ended up in the rapidly expanding informal shanty compounds especially in Lusaka, the Copperbelt and other Line of Rail towns.

During the 1960s, councils, the mines and other employers were the main suppliers of housing but the economic downturn of the 1970s and 1980s reduced ability of councils to provide completed housing units. Government created the National Housing Authority to address the public housing challenge but stifled private sector participation through its nationalisation policies and the 1975 Land (Conversion of Titles) Act, which removed value from all land and brought in restrictions in land acquisition especially for the private sector. During the 1990s, government passed a number of policies and legal instruments that were anchored on neo-liberal, market oriented and economic liberalisation policies that were introduced by the MMD[v] government in 1991. The housing market was liberalised by stimulating private sector investment, promoting home ownership and provision of economic incentives for the housing industry. The government passed a number of policy and legal instruments including the 1995 Lands Act, the neo-liberal oriented 1996 National Housing Policy and a number of economic incentives to provide an enabling environment for housing development.

The post 2000-new millennium policies mainly anchored on the 1996 National Housing Policy[vi], which commits government to allocating 15 percent of the annual national budget to housing; to make serviced land available for housing development, streamline the land allocation system and building standards and regulations; to encourage production and use of local and affordable building materials and to help the poor acquire decent shelter through alleviation of affordability problems. It further commits government to use urban planning to foster settlements that are functional, healthy, aesthetically pleasant, and environmentally friendly; and to prepare a national housing implementation strategy. The failure to fully implement the 1996 NHP and other legal instruments has contributed to the current housing backlog. Since its approval, annual budgetary allocations to housing have been less than one percent, reflecting low prioritisation of housing, while the NHP lacked an implementation strategy. In 2007, government revised the NHP and developed National Housing Development Programme but never followed up these actions with actual implementation. Since 2013, government has been revising the 1996 NHP with the aim of approving a new policy and implementation strategy in 2016.

Access to land has, since the mid-1970s, been another major impediment in affordable housing delivery. Zambia has a dual statutory and customary land administration system with land easily accessible but not readily available in statutory areas and not easily accessible but available in customary areas[vii]. Despite liberalising the land market, 1995 Lands Act is not pro poor and favours the private sector and is inadequate for housing delivery. Long cumbersome procedures, bureaucracy and poor quality of services in formal land allocation and delivery system; absence of an approved land policy, distortions in the land market, irregularities and ambiguities in the system unfair practices, parochial influence of local leaders, lack of transparency and corruption, multiplicity of actors dealing in land matters, conflicts of coordination, long delays in land applications[viii], inefficient committee systems and poor information and record keeping and dissemination of land application procedures are challenges to access to land. Many Zambians do not have legal documents to land (title, land records or occupancy licenses[ix]).

In urban areas, tenants of informal upgraded areas and site and service schemes can obtain land records and 30 year occupancy licenses while those in council statutory areas can apply for a certificate of title under the Housing (Statutory and Improvement Areas) Act (HSIA)[x]. In order to allow for simpler processes and lower the cost of development, the HSIA excluded other laws with restrictions like the Town and Country Planning Act[xi], Lands and Deeds Registry Act[xii], Land Survey Act[xiii] and Rent Act[xiv] from applying to these areas. The negative long term effect of this provision was to exclude informal areas from benefitting from mainstream formal developments.

Obtaining title in customary areas is equally cumbersome and costly, as one has to first obtain permission from traditional authorities who are often reluctant to give title fearing the loss of land – a traditional source of power. Chiefs have in recent years given out land and title to investors in affordable housing, though the approval of the Draft Land Policy remains key in traditional land allocation. Government is implementing a National Land Audit Programme and the Zambia Land Information Management System (ZLIMS), which, once completed, will facilitate the provision of title to all segments of Zambian society. While some Zambians with title deeds have been able to obtain loans and mortgages for home construction, many urban dwellers still do not have access to housing finance due to lack of legal documents. A huge opportunity for upgrading informal housing exists but many banks do not recognise the land records and year occupancy licenses as collateral. The Zambia National Building Society (ZNBS) however does recognise these documents as collateral but are constrained by council procedures. The latter are also reluctant to register mortgages within their head-lease areas held in statutory areas. Government put in measures to reduce bank interest rates to make mortgages and home improvement loans affordable to all segments of Zambian society.

In Zambia building regulations and standards that mainly relate to sanitation and housing are prescribed in the Public Health Act[xv] and only apply to formal housing areas, statutory housing areas, or areas within an approved urban development plan under the Urban and Regional Planning Act. The regulations prescribe the materials to use, land use and zoning, construction, minimum space of a room, size of windows, occupation and use of dwellings and basic urban services. The very high standards set by the regulations makes the provision of affordable housing unattainable. Prepared in 1952 and on the basis of European standards, the regulations are now deemed obsolete and require complete revision to meet contemporary Zambian needs in terms of building materials. The regulations do not apply to informal unplanned areas or improvement areas as these are covered by the HSIA. The poor quality of most housing units in informal settlements is due to a lack of special building code or set of standards similar to those operating in formal urban areas. Informal sector builders know the regulations but do not follow them because they increase the cost of building beyond what ordinary people can afford. Under Section 66 of the Public Health Act, councils must prevent or remedy danger to health arising from unsuitable dwellings. Despite the existence of sanctions, enforcement of regulations and standards is very weak, closing orders on unfit dwellings are rare and housing construction and usage (including overcrowding) is rarely monitored. Zambia has not yet developed a critical mass of artisanal skills and labour to support affordable housing delivery. In formal housing projects, skilled labour often has to be imported from other countries, increasing the costs of the completed units. Government has been promoting the use of local building materials and labour to reduce high cost of the units.

Affordable housing delivery can only be possible if human settlement planning is efficient and facilities planned land for development. In Zambia, the Town and Country Planning Act (TCPA)[xvi] has, since 1962, provided a framework for spatial planning and zoning, subdivision, land use control and regulations, public and private housing development and forestalling incompatible development[xvii]. Urban development plans have been prepared designating areas for housing developments but rarely have these plans been reviewed to meet the housing objectives. Changes in planning approaches from master plans to structure plans and, more recently, to integrated development plans (IDPs)[xviii] have not given impetus to affordable housing development. The TCP Act was too rigid, inflexible and exclusionary in supporting affordable housing development. The Urban and Regional Planning (URP) Act of 2015[xix] provides the impetus for affordable housing delivery as it streamlines the entire planning system, planning frameworks, and planning processes and prioritizes affordable housing delivery. The Act also extends planning to customary areas, which will ensure more land is opened up for housing development. In Zambia, over half of all housing in urban areas comprise of substandard dwellings.

Government has developed the Peri-Urban Development Strategy which defines a peri-urban area as an informal or formal settlement, within the area of jurisdiction of a local authority, with high population density and high density low cost housing having inadequate or lacking basic services such as water supply, sewerage, roads, storm water drainage and solid waste disposal. This strategy has not been fully implemented to ensure sustainable service provision and to promote private sector participation in housing delivery schemes. The World Bank noted that Zambia has “a sufficient policy and legislative framework” for legalisation of informal settlements but there seem to be a lack of local policies and strategies to effectively deal with individual settlements. Settlement upgrading has also been constrained by the long time (often 5 or more years) it takes for government to approve the regularisation of informal settlements. While the TCPA treated informal areas as “illegal”, the new URP Act recognises and designates informal areas as special treatment areas[xx] for urban renewal and other initiatives.

The high cost of laying infrastructure—access roads, water supply, sewerage and electricity—make the cost of completed units unaffordable. It costs between US$ 700-1 000 to connect an individual house to electricity mains with similar costs for water and sewerage connections. Sanitation coverage remains very low with only 35 old sewerage plants forcing many people to depend on on-site sanitation such as septic tanks and pit latrines, especially in informal settlements. Water supply is much better with over 82 percent access in urban areas but far less in rural areas. Water demand is projected at 1 330 000 cubic metres per day against production capacity of 946 000 cubic metres per day. Demand was expected to grow to 2 402 000 cubic metres per day by 2015. Waste generation and disposal is not well managed, with only 10 to 40 percent of urban areas serviced. Drainage systems are inadequate or non-existent in many housing areas.

Government has enacted the Water and Sanitation Act (WSA) of 1997, Peri-Urban Water Supply and Sanitation Strategy and is implementing the National Urban Water Supply and Sanitation Programme (NUWSSP). The WSA has led to establishment of water utilities, water trusts and voluntary water sanitation and health committees (WASHE), mainly in informal settlements, to increase in access to safe water and sanitation in urban and peri-urban areas. The WSA does not adequately cover the critical issues of access, drainage, solid waste management, community facilities, and land and security of tenure. The NUWSSP aims to enhance the implementation of the water sector master plans; develop and provide sustainable water supply services in urban and peri-urban areas; strengthen human, technical and financial capacity of institutions for improved water supply and sanitation service delivery in the urban and peri-urban areas; enhance solid waste management and institutional management systems and enhance institutional capacity of councils to implement storm water drainage infrastructure.

Government has raised funding to expand the water supply and sewerage systems in various towns in Zambia from development banks (e.g. AfDB) and through issuance of sovereign bonds. Although important in terms of local government administration and council operations, the Local Government Act (LGA) of 1991[xxi] does not specifically identify affordable housing as a council responsibility and omits local government finance as a prerequisite for central government’s contribution to council operations. It however provides for council bye-laws, imposition of levies, fees and other charges and outlines council responsibilities for plan preparation and implementation, land use management, development control, and implementation of plans and maintenance of infrastructure and provision of services and community participation. Weak institutional capacity, ineffective cost recovery and poor community attitude and high, unsustainable reliance on funding from cooperating partners are major constraints.

In conclusion despite having one of the most progressive laws and policies in form of the National Housing Authority Act, the Housing Act and the 1996 Housing Policy, Zambia has not achieved its objectives of producing sufficient affordable housing. This is reflected in the huge housing deficit of two million units. It is hoped that, under the Urban and Regional Planning Act and a new housing policy, this situation will change as more informal settlements will be upgraded. Although a good policy with an enabling approach, the 1996 NHP was never fully implemented due to inadequate funding and lack of an implementation framework. It however resulted in the sale of institutional housing and the Presidential Housing Initiative. Building regulations remain too high to promote affordable housing development by low income groups. Clearly many gaps and bottlenecks exist in the affordable value chain. It is therefore recommended that government and various institutions mandated with the responsibility of housing delivery further review, streamline and improve the policy and legal instruments to remove these constraints and bottlenecks and to reform the institutional and governance framework for affordable housing delivery in Zambia. Some market-based measures that can be implemented include unlocking land supply in the right location and at the right time, reducing housing construction costs through value engineering and industrial approaches, increasing operations and maintenance efficiency, and reducing financing costs for buyers and developers to enable them venture into affordable housing development. Also, land legislation and land policy should be brought under one roof.[xxii]


[i] At current rates of US$ 1 = ZMK 9.31.

[ii] Using a 2013 population estimate of 15 021 002 in 2015 CAHF data tables. In Zambia, a household is defined as a minimum of 5.2 people living together under one house (LCMS, 2010).

[iii] A levy which stipulated that natives return home after working for a specified period in towns which merely were temporary residence for most Africans in the colonial period.

[iv] Government of Northern Rhodesia (1944): This Ordinance was prepared following the Eccles Report

[v] In October 1991, the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD) defeated the predominant UNIP-led government in a landmark election that heralded a new era in the socio-economic development of Zambia.

[vi] The Zambian National Housing Policy even won a UN Habitat Scroll of Honour as one of the best practices at the Global UN Habitat Conference in Istanbul, Turkey in 1996.

[vii] Conservative estimates put statutory land at 4 percent and customary land at 96 percent of the total land mass. A National Land Audit Programme currently underway will soon reveal the actual proportions.

[viii] The highly centralised organisational structure of the Commissioner of Lands result in long delays in granting leases coupled with staff inefficiencies and high turnover.

[ix] In 2003, the Chaisa Land Tenure Project piloted the issuance and computerisation of land records and occupancy licenses.

[x] The HSIA was enacted in 1974 with the help of the World Bank to address with the huge challenge of squatter compounds in Lusaka and other Zambian towns. It has been heralded as a best practice legal instrument for dealing with informal areas in Sub-Saharan Africa. The HSIA represented a shift in policy from demolition of informal settlements to regularisation and provision of some basic infrastructure and services as long as the settlement was officially recognised by the authorities.

[xi] Cap 283 of the Laws of Zambia.

[xii] Cap. 185 of the Laws of Zambia.

[xiii] Cap. 188 of the Laws of Zambia.

[xiv] Cap. 206 of the Laws of Zambia.

[xv] Cap 295 Vol. 17 Part IX.

[xvi] The first town planning ordinance was enacted in 1929 while the Town and Country Planning Act was enacted in 1962 during the colonial administration but was reviewed and amended to the TCP Act Cap 475 of the Laws of Zambia soon after independence. Since then, the TCP Act has been amended several times, including in 1997, when it was changed to Cap 283 of the Laws of Zambia.

[xvii] The TCPA & Local Government (Urban Building and Drainage) Regulations of 1968 dates back from before Independence

[xviii] The 1997 Amendment Act introduced the structure plan system while the Urban and Regional Planning Act of 2015 introduced integrated development plans.

[xix] The URP Act of 2015 consolidates the former Town and Country Planning Act and the Housing (Statutory and Improvement Areas) Act which applied to all informal settlements.

[xx] Section 19 (4) (e) of the URP Act of 2015 specifically includes informal settlement upgrading, social service provision, and infrastructure development and maintenance.

[xxi] Cap 281 of the Laws of Zambia is also undergoing review. The LGA provides for the administrative structure in different types of local authorities, the establishment and constitution of councils, standing and occasional committees and management boards. The Act also describes the functions of local councils and the administrative requirements to carry out those functions.

[xxii] FNDP (2006-2010) p.57.


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One response to “Challenges of Affordable Housing Delivery in Zambia

  1. In fact politicians should not just be busy critsising one other but should address such important issues that affects the lives of the Zambians who voted for them.
    please us with contact adress and email for centre for housing finance in africa. I have a project proposal addressing the same problem.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

One response to “Challenges of Affordable Housing Delivery in Zambia

  1. In fact politicians should not just be busy critsising one other but should address such important issues that affects the lives of the Zambians who voted for them.
    please us with contact adress and email for centre for housing finance in africa. I have a project proposal addressing the same problem.

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