By Skye Dobson, SDI Secretariat
As the world becomes increasingly urban, so too does the challenge for adequate and affordable housing. No where are affordable housing challenges greater than in the slums of the Global South. Like most countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Ghana’s affordable housing sector is characterized by an acute inability to meet rapidly growing demand due to inefficient land markets, a lack of affordable credit, and poor planning. It is believed Ghana needs to build a minimum of 500,000 homes a year to address the housing deficit – not accounting for population growth. In urban centers it has been reported that 5.7 million additional rooms will be required by 2020. While such predictions must be taken with a grain of salt, it is clear that the magnitude of challenge is immense.
Ghanaians are by now familiar with tales of housing schemes gone bad. The Ayigya project, for example, involved the construction of 800 apartments of various sizes on 50 acres of land. The project, which reportedly cost some ¢300 billion, has not been maintained and was recently reported to be home to over 1,000 squatters. The fate of the project is similar to that of many donor and state interventions. In general, government provision of affordable housing has, like elsewhere, proven to be overly expensive, incapable of going to scale, and unresponsive to the needs of the urban poor who presently account for the bulk of the affordable housing demand. Market-led strategies are also problematic. For the urban poor, mortgages for the most basic housing are unaffordable. Interest rates are too high, wages are too low, and collateral that would satisfy a commercial bank can rarely be found in communities of the urban poor. In short, institutional dysfunction precludes the vast majority of the Ghanaian population from access to affordable housing.
Throughout the Global South, Slum Dweller Federations are attempting to address this institutional dysfunction. The Ghanaian Urban Poor Federation (GHAFUP) is no exception. GHAFUP has approximately 131 savings groups comprised of almost 11,000 members. These groups spread across 7 regions and are networked not only nationally, but engage regularly with federations throughout the global SDI network.
In Ashaiman, a Ghanaian municipality in which almost the entire population lives in slums, the adequate and affordable housing needs are acute. Formerly part of the Tema Municipality, Ashaiman has long been settled by those serving the industrial needs of Tema – Ghana’s prime industrial and harbor city. The community in Ashaiman has been hard hit by the industrial decline of Tema, with unemployment crippling the capacity of residents to invest in housing.
In order to address this state of affairs, GHAFUP mobilizes communities into savings groups. They save daily, mobilizing not only financial resources but collective capacity as members meet weekly, manage their funds, and discuss issues of concern to their communities and strategies for addressing them. GHAFUP members formed the Amui Dzor Housing Cooperative and set about planning a housing development to house 32 families. GHAFUP’s collective efficacy facilitated the formation of a partnership with the UN-Habitat Slum Upgrading Facility. UN-Habitat helped negotiate a long-term mortgage for the cooperative from a commercial bank at an interest rate of 12%. SDI extended loans from the Urban Poor Fund at an interest rate less than 5%. Together this credit enabled the GHAFUP members to commence construction.
The project, named the Amui Dzor Housing Project, is a social housing project. The three-story structure consists of 15 commercial units, one and two bedroom apartments, and a 12-seater public toilet (managed by the cooperative), which subsidizes the cost of the housing. Visitors pay a small fee to use the services and the housing cooperative collects this money and uses it to help pay back its loans. Unlike many public sanitation facilities in Ghana, this unit is maintained well thanks to the collective capacity of the cooperative managing it.
The federation has driven the housing project since its inception. They negotiated with the traditional council to secure the land for the project – even taking members of said council to India on and exchange to view the housing projects of the Indian federation. GHAFUP was also central to the process of formulating a relocation strategy for housing those displaced by the construction process in transitional housing. In addition, GHAFUP partnered with architecture firm Tekton Consultants to design the structure, they sourced construction materials, dug trenches, and assisted with grading. Members selected beneficiaries for the project themselves, and negotiated with local authorities for support. The project has created tremendous goodwill between the federation and the Ashaiman Municipal Authority.
During focus group discussions held at the project in February 2012 the federation emphasized the greater understanding the project has generated for federation processes in Ashaiman. They have proven they can manage projects of considerable scale and claim to now be treated with greater respect by local authorities.
At the meeting, federation members reported that repayments are progressing well and money is being funneled back into Ghana’s Urban Poor Fund, which will help to finance other GHAFUP development projects in the country. This is a key element of SDI’s Urban Poor Fund concept. Repayments on loans secured by member federations do not come back to SDI, but rather to a national-level Urban Poor Fund, which continues to revolve money into new capital projects for members. The public toilet project generates an impressive income from users and this money will assist the community to pay back their loans. Women’s business empowerment initiatives are also striving to increase the capacity of members to make loan repayments.
The project’s has been recognized as a model for affordable housing provision. Amui Dzor Housing Project was awarded “Best Social Innovative Housing Project” for the urban poor and low-income people by a panel of housing experts in 2010, while Tekton Consultants was awarded “Best Designed Architectural Concept for a Mixed Use Development in Social Housing for the Urban Poor.” The Ashaiman Municipal Authority and the Traditional Council are eager for the project to be scaled up and plans are underway for a second phase to commence. The importance of having the support of the Traditional Council cannot be overestimated. Over 80% of land in Ghana is owned by traditional chiefs, so taking any affordable housing strategy to scale will require their close collaboration.
The Ghanaian example highlights the effectiveness of the SDI approach to affordable housing. Federations save money as a collective, increasing their capacity to access credit as well as mobilizing the collective capacity and trust required to sustainably manage projects. The savings of the urban poor also decrease the level of subsidy required and increase project ownership. Community involvement serves to reduce costs by mobilizing community labor, utilizing local knowledge in sourcing building materials, and generating the skills required for project maintenance. Partnerships between organized communities of the urban poor and other urban development stakeholders – particularly local authorities – is essential for going to scale and addressing the systemic dysfunction that has for too long excluded the urban poor from decent and affordable housing.