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20.09.2004 General News

Ghana's Housing Sector, Who Cares for the Poor

By Public Agenda

According to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), everyone, everywhere has a right to descent living and adequate housing. Both the CESCR and the African Charter enjoins government in as much as possible to design mechanism for providing affordable housing for citizens.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), to which the Ghana government is a signatory, in Goal 7, Target 11, commits governments to achieve a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020.

Judging by the pace of progress in the delivery of housing in Ghana, it is doubtful that this goal would be achieved.

The Social Watch Report 2004, though gave Ghana, a score of below average in terms of its ability to provide its nationals with adequate habitats, concluded that there has been a significant progress in the situation from 1990 to 2000.

While the score is a clear indication that more has to be done to improve the housing situation in the country, the fact that some progress has been made since 1990, implies that we can do something about the problem if we want to.

The country's housing needs, over the years, it seems, have not been tackled with any clear policy direction by governments. Governments past and present have pursued various programmes to tackle the problems but none seems to have yielded satisfactory outcomes.

Currently, experts in the building industry say the government does not appear to have any housing policy. Most of the housing needs of the country are being provided by the private sector, and these come at exorbitant cost, beyond the reach of many workers.

A Retired Supreme Court Judge, Justice A. K.B. Ampiah, about four months ago, at a two-day workshop, underscored the need for the enactment of a comprehensive housing law in Ghana. To this end, he said, government should define and elaborate the elements of the rights to housing, either through legislation or judicial decision-making to regulate the sector.

The rent situation is also a nagging concern, which adds up to the housing problems in the country. The rent system in Ghana leaves too much room for the operation of market forces. Landlords and house-owners are having a field day charging tenants huge sums of monies as rent advances and since the demand for accommodation outstrips the supply, tenants have no choice than accept these rent charges or lose their rental units to other tenants who can afford them.

The high cost involve in acquiring decent accommodation in the cities, is cited by analysts as a major reason more and more people are putting up unauthorized structures that invariably result in slums.

The problem of Sodom and Gomorrah in Agbogbloshie, one of Accra's biggest slums, where residents are locked in a bitter row with the Accra city authorities over their planned eviction, is a typical example of the consequence of leaving the provision of housing almost entirely to the private sector.

Not long ago, the Member of Parliament for Bole-Bamboi, John Mahama pointed out that housing in the country has become a big issue especially in the urban areas, and called for government's intervention in the housing sector.

In the opinion of the MP, landlords have had a field day for long and as he put it: "it is about time we did something swiftly to bring relief to the people we have committed ourselves to serve." Mahama described housing for the people as a fundamental right, as he blamed landlords who demand rent advance for three to four years, and even more, for pushing people to create slums in the country.

The Minister of Works and Housing, Alhaji Mustapha Ali Idris, himself admits that, there is no law in Ghana regulating rent in the country. "Rent in both the private and public sector can be arbitrated but it is not controlled, since there is no legislation on the regulation of rent." He is reported in the Thursday Ghanaian Times, as saying. And that is a problem that needs to be addressed urgently, as the need for a more proactive stance by the state in dealing with issues of affordability, access and habitability, becomes urgent in low income areas.

It was somewhat heartwarming therefore, to hear the Minister disclose at the 2nd International Building Exhibition held last week, that government has developed a national housing programme aimed at meeting the objective of providing adequate housing for the majority of the people.

The government, the Minister said, is intensifying its action in the sourcing and acquisition of 50,000 acres of land in Accra and regional capitals to establish land banks for housing delivery. He also made it known that, the ministry was facilitating the construction of 90,000 housing units by the private sector in Accra and other regional capitals, to be delivered in the next four years, to address the country's housing needs.

Alhaji Idris had earlier disclosed that the nation requires about 120,000 housing units per annum but currently 40 percent of that is being achieved. This, he said, explains why many people are finding it difficult to get decent accommodation at affordable prices.

Though these intended programmes by government are commendable and must be lauded, stakeholders in the industry believe that we will need more concrete, and workable ideas that will meaningfully contribute to finding lasting solutions to housing in the country.

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