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close this bookThe Human Settlements Conditions of the World's Urban Poor (HABITAT, 1996, 233 p.)
close this folderV. Reaching the urban poor
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentA. The changing international policy context for urban development and shelter
View the documentB. The sites-and-services programme in Zimbabwe
View the documentC. Brazil: the FUNACOM programme in São Paulo
View the documentD. An evaluation of the Employees’ Housing Programme (EHP) in the Republic of Korea
View the documentE. India: An evaluation of a series of Slum Improvement Programmes
View the documentF. Conclusions: Assessing the experience of projects/programmes aimed at improving the human settlements conditions of the world’s urban poor

B. The sites-and-services programme in Zimbabwe

On gaining independence in 1980 the Zimbabwean Government saw the provision of an ultra low-cost core-housing programme on serviced plots as constituting the cornerstone of its large-scale low-income housing programme. For political reasons, however, the government adopted higher standards than those prevailing before independence and three key principles were identified:

· plots would be provided on an ‘aided self-help’ basis, i.e. self-build with technical and financial assistance;

· the establishment of ‘building brigades’ for construction and the production of building materials aimed at reducing costs; and

· standards set at 300 m2 plots with a core house of 50 m2 comprising four rooms with separate kitchen and bathroom/toilet. Road access, piped water and waterborne sewerage facilities were to be provided to every plot.

The post-independence programme may be seen to have developed through three phases, an initial development phase to 1984; the consolidation of this programme with three large scale World Bank funded schemes to the early 1990s; and a transitional phase with the introduction of partnerships, the relaxation of controls and standards, culminating in the adoption of more modest minimum standards in 1992.

1. The mobilization of financial resources and the question of affordability

The initial phase was targeted towards those with incomes below the median income of those living in low-income, high-density areas (i.e. incomes of around Z$150 compared with a median income of Z$175). Cash loans were made available by the local authority with assistance from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). By 1984 more than half the plots had been completed, considerable private finance had been mobilized and the programme was broadly considered successful.

Phase two involved an expansion of the programme to include World Bank funding for over 11,000 serviced plots in four cities. Off-site infrastructure costs were to be recovered via tariffs (water, electricity, sewerage and waste management), and through rates and supplementary charges for roads and street lighting. On-site costs were to be raised through plot sales. Building society assistance with loans was incorporated into this phase and variable rate loans were made available at 12.5 per cent (at that time) over 25 years from a special fund generated from short-term finance specifically for lending on low-cost housing. Plots were targeted to those on waiting lists with income ceilings and other eligibility criteria. Because of rising costs throughout the projects the income ceiling was increased, in Harare from Z$400 in 1984 to Z$550 in 1989 thereby excluding nearly three-quarters of the households on the waiting list. By 1991 official estimates indicated that in order to qualify for a mortgage a minimum income of Z$900 was necessary. World Bank estimates of affordability, however, included both prospective rental income from sub-letting rooms as well as reduced construction costs through self-help labour. As a consequence, the plots in these schemes were allocated largely to those in the target groups, some of whom were relatively low income and waiting-list priorities. At the same time, there was some evidence of malpractice in allocations, “the use of influence, perhaps bribery, to secure allocations for employees of local authorities and their friends and relatives, allocation to households outside the low-income groups, and falsification of information, especially related to the length of employment in the City” (Rakodi and Withers, 1994).

Despite World Bank support, the supply of serviced plots in Harare started to decline after 1984/1985 and fell to little over one thousand per annum in 1989/1990 (Mbiba, 1994). A shortage of government funds and the increasing costs of sites-and-services schemes persuaded the government to seek other ways of increasing the supply. One of the most successful initiatives was a partnership arrangement with major employers in the city. Employer assistance was sought with paying the purchase price of the plot up front and recovering it either from the employee’s wages or directly from the building society. This arrangement enabled the local authority to recover its outlay relatively quickly. At the same time, however, it was also hoped that employers would assume other responsibilities such as, the selection of suitable employees, providing top-up loans, the deduction of wages at source etc., all of which would reduce the administrative burden on the local authority.

These changes, introduced in 1989, ushered in the third phase of the programme. The partnership approach became a major element of the programme between 1989 and 1991 and increased the demand for serviced plots. Beneficiaries received various levels of support, such as bridging loans, assistance in hiring and supervising builders, assistance with the provision and costs of materials, mortgage guarantees and concessionary rates of finance. The government introduced other changes too; it waived income ceilings for waiting list registration, and it sought cash buyers for the disposal of plots. The effect of these changes was to alter completely the client group for the serviced plot programme and by 1991 disadvantaged groups had effectively been excluded, as purchasers, from the projects. Despite this, the continued adherence to high standards also meant high costs and by 1991 the average cost of housing and related expenditure in one scheme was 32 per cent of income. Sixty per cent of the households were paying more than the guideline figure of 27.5 per cent of income and 29 per cent paid more than 40 per cent of their income.

The remainder of the third phase of the programme coincided with a major drought and the signing of a formal Structural Adjustment Agreement in 1991. Inflation increased from an average of 13.2 per cent per annum between 1980 and 1990 to 42.1 per cent in 1992 and 21.6 per cent in the first six months of 1993. The cost of living more than doubled between 1990 and June 1993, much of which was housing and related costs. By mid-1993 “there was evidence of a rapid and visible process of impoverishment” (Rakodi, forthcoming). The effect of these increased costs was to decimate the low-cost housing programme and in 1992 the government was persuaded to reduce housing standards dramatically. Minimum plot sizes were halved to 150 m2 and plinth sizes reduced from 50 m2 to 36 m2. This reduction, it was argued, reduced overall costs by 29 per cent (Mbiba, 1994).

In retrospect, the cost of participation in these schemes in Zimbabwe has always been high because of the government’s (and building society’s), insistence on high standards. The affordability of the poorer groups for these projects, however, was steadily eroded over the 1980s and quickly eclipsed in the 1990s. In the early 1980s it was estimated (Schlyter, 1989), that a third of the population were unable to afford to participate in the ‘Assisted Self-Help’ schemes; by the mid 1980s only 16 per cent of households could afford a four room core house (Mutizwa-Mangiza, 1988); and by 1991 at least 60 per cent of non-owner households could not afford a one room house.

2. The social impact of the programme

The original hopes of the government - that the ‘assisted self-help’ low-cost shelter programme would provide the cornerstone of its housing policy - have not been fulfilled. The programme has assisted only a fraction of those in housing need in the capital city, Harare. The programme provided 24,000 serviced plots between 1980 and 1991. Since the mid-1980s, the gap between need and provision has widened. In 1985 the Council’s waiting list included 23,000 households and the City was servicing about 3,200 plots; by 1991 the annual supply of serviced plots had fallen to a rate of just over 1,500, whilst the waiting list had climbed to 80,000 households (about 400,000 people).

Has the programme been targeted on the poorest groups? To some extent it has, but not in the way that was originally intended by the government. As was shown in the previous section the targeting of the programme was directed at low-income groups on the waiting list, before relaxations in the early 1990s led to changes in the client group. The World Bank had always intended that the owners of the serviced plots programme should generate income in order to meet their costs by sub-letting rooms in their dwellings and although this was not approved of by government officials nor the building society, it has actually taken place on a substantial scale. In several schemes surveyed in the mid-1980s the majority of householders were sub-letting rooms and in one mature scheme the majority (53 per cent) of households were lodgers. A comparison of owners and lodgers in the scheme showed that -

“Owner household heads (were) ten years older than non-owners (42 compared to 31), had households nearly twice as large (5.5 compared to 2.5), occupied larger dwellings (3.7 compared to 1.4 rooms), and lived in less overcrowded conditions (7 per cent with three or more persons per room and 21 per cent with two or more persons per room compared to 18 per cent and 40 per cent of lodgers). Lodgers included disproportionate numbers of young, recent migrant and elderly household heads, female-headed households, single people and low-income households (30 per cent had incomes of less than Z$400 compared to 13 per cent of owners). In a wider sample of non-owner households, 19 per cent were below a roughly calculated poverty datum line adjusted for household size” (Rakodi and Withers, 1994).

Overall shortages of accommodation have meant that where turnover of accommodation has taken place this has generally been to households with higher income levels. Turnover has taken place where the local authority has cancelled the agreement of sale because of serious arrears, or failure to complete the initial development of the plot in a certain time, an increasing problem throughout the 1980s (Mbiba, 1994). It may also take place as a result of private sale; (no longer requiring the approval of the local authority). As yet a relatively small proportion of plots has been ceded or sold, but survey evidence shows an increasing incidence since the relaxation of local authority controls and that a majority of those moving in are in professional, managerial or supervisory occupations and have incomes twice the average of original allottees.

Despite the growing problems of affordability associated with the serviced plots programme, the decision to reduce standards in 1992 has been controversial. Mbiba has complained that the “obsession with cost-minimization strategies on the supply side” has ignored the costs of the utilization of the dwellings. He argues that, given the strategy to encourage sub-letting, “a unit meant for one household is in practice inhabited by four households” with detrimental effects on the health and welfare of residents. He is critical too of other aspects of declining standards, that the use of substitute materials will compromise the superstructure and infrastructure of the development; and that, at a time when the cost of living has recently doubled, that plot size reductions reduce the possibility for households to supplement their income by growing fruit and vegetables (Mbiba, 1994).

Some measure of support for his views is forthcoming from a survey of female householders renting their accommodation and conducted by Schlyter in 1989. About half of the households surveyed in Harare and nearly two-thirds of the households in Gweru were dissatisfied, mainly because of a lack of space and overcrowding, but also because of insecurity and the incidence of conflict with landlords.

3. Conclusions

Through the opportunities it has afforded for sub-letting, the serviced plots programme in Zimbabwe has extended some provision to low-income groups, although the overall programme falls far short of the extent of need. In view of the general shortage of accommodation, the relaxation of government controls has reduced the capacity for targeting such programmes to low-income groups. The relatively high standards have also meant that the developments are attractive to middle-income groups. Given current financial constraints in both public and private sectors it is questionable whether the programme is either replicable or sustainable. The reduction in standards may make the programme more attractive to private investors and institutions and ensure its sustainability. If, however, it is to continue to have any relevance for the low-income groups, the arrangements for letting need to be acknowledged, and more systematically planned in terms of dwelling design; provision for arbitration made in landlord tenant disputes; and safeguards introduced against the arbitrary eviction of tenants.