Housing waiting lists weak in measuring demand 

Source: Housing waiting lists weak in measuring demand | The Herald 11 FEB, 2020

Pardon Gotora Urban Scape
The housing backlog in Zimbabwe is officially estimated to be around 1,25 million housing units. The average occupants’ rate is believed to be around 6,4.

Zimbabwe, just like any other developing country, is seized with a high rate of urbanisation.

This manifests in the huge demand for housing and ancillary social amenities as well as pressure on off-site infrastructure.

History teaches us that in many developing countries, rural to urban migration intensified from the period around 1945, soon after the Second World War, when there was a general boom in industrialisation as developed countries, mainly from Europe, were recovering from the effects of the war.

It entailed that more labour was required in the industries that were predominantly found in urban areas.

According to Butcher C, (1986), writing in the University of Zimbabwe, RUP Occasional Paper titled, “Low Income Housing in Zimbabwe: A Case Study of the Epworth Squatter Upgrading Programme”, Zimbabwe’s urban population doubled from 254 819 in 1945/46 to 526 744 in 1956.

He further highlights that the figure even tripled to 737 000 in 1965 and reached a million plus in 1975. The surge in rural-urban migration in the latter period could be attributed to the war of liberation from the 1960s which intensified in the 1970s, leading to the country’s independence in 1980.

At this point in time, it was relatively easier to keep an almost accurate record of the flow of black people into towns and cities because they were compelled to register at the Pass Office upon entry into town or risk prosecution.

By and large, it meant that all those people who flocked to cities and towns in search of greener pastures were in need of housing or decent shelter of sorts.

The colonial government appeared to be containing the situation due to those policy restrictions.

At Independence in 1980, the urban population ballooned to close to two million people, constituting about 26 percent of the population.

Currently, statistics from the Zimbabwe Statistical Agency indicate that the country has an urban population of around 35 percent of the total population.

Of significance is the policy of mandatory housing waiting list introduced by Government at independence and maintained by all local authorities in their areas of jurisdiction.

A random check on any local authority today will reveal that they all have a housing waiting list.

The other time Harare City Council was reported to have around 100 000 people on the waiting list. Some small centres can have as low as 2 000 or less. The figures vary from one local authority to the other.

This is how the waiting list concept works — one completes an application form to join the waiting list at a given council. There is a fee charged to be registered on this list.

The registration usually expires after every year, which means one has to go and renew for as long as he/she has not yet been allocated a house or a stand by council.

Ideally, all council-run housing schemes are meant to benefit those who are on the respective council’s waiting list. When there is a running project, those on the waiting list are called for interviews.

This is done principally to ascertain whether the applicant is still interested, as well as to determine qualification based on the time on the waiting list and affordability.

Not all projects have similar pricing models, it varies with density and location. Some fall by the wayside due to the price barrier and they are advised to wait for the next lot.

On numerous occasions, people allege that they have been on the housing waiting list from as far back as 1982 and nothing materialised, and they are well past their prime and most productive age.

They claim that they have never been invited for interviews at any given time. It might prove to be a mammoth task to verify those allegations, but from the look of things, many people have lost faith in the housing waiting list.

The other challenge could be a direct result of ignorance on the part of the residents, where someone who registered in 1982 and has never renewed interest since then, still assumes that he/she is still on the housing waiting list.

It is not quite clear if the respective councils are doing enough to educate their residents on the significance of registering on the housing waiting list and sustained renewal of same.

The other worrisome issue is that, housing waiting lists are predominantly paper-based and cumbersome to handle. Envisage your registration forms being dropped in a cardboard box full of other forms.

Then, imagine the workload of sorting those volumes and processing them to create a manual database.

I am not very privy to the goings on in councils, but I doubt very much if one or two councils have digitalised and have a live database which can be accessed by a click of a button.

That explains why one cannot register online to be on the waiting list.

Furthermore, not every resident is patient enough to physically visit council offices to register on the waiting list.

This puts a big question mark on if councils are indeed following those paper-based waiting lists religiously.

The other challenge is that, registering on the housing waiting list is voluntary and only applies when one wants to benefit from council.

When purchasing from the open market, all they need is your money and not your waiting list number.

Now the question is, can we really depend on housing waiting lists to determine effective housing demand and/or housing backlog?

How close to accurate are our figures on housing backlog? With inadequate data, you are prone to planning to fail to achieve the intended results.

It could be the reason why we now have so many illegal settlements in the country. Housing demand is a moving target, and working with inadequate data leads to a mismatch between demand and supply.

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