| The Courier N°131 Jan-Feb 1992 Dossier The urban crisis- Country Report: Dominican Republic |
|Dossier: The urban crisis|
National Development Planning
Zambia, from its outset after independence paid considerable attention the housing sector. As in most other sectors the yardstick used was the standards set by the colonial rulers for themselves, seemingly the only acceptable ones for the population of the new state. In keeping with this and similar to the neighbouring countries, the goals for the housing sector were set well above the level the colonial regime had deemed desirable, and bold strategies were formulated to attain them. On the other hand, the available instruments were not very suitable and could not be appropriately moulded to implement the envisaged strategies. Consequently, the initial ambitous goals and even gradually reduced ones were not achieved.
Today, after more than 25 years, it must be stated that the level of services and infrastructure in residential areas and the occupancy rate per house or room have, on average, fallen back to the level at the time of independence. The situation is even deteriorating.
During the last decade, very little housing, especially for the low and medium income population, has been built. The old system whereby employers provided tied housing has been discouraged, but the vigorous market in owner-occupied dwellings to replace it, as was propagated by the successive National Development Plans' has not developed. A particular feature of the present situation is that more and more occupants of institutional or company housing, who were allocated their homes in the years of expansion up to 1970, are reaching the age of retirement. There are cases where the occupants and their families have to move out in order to make room for the successors in the job and the Former do not know where to go.
The approach of 'Sites and Services' (ie the procurement of serviced plots for supervised, loan-assisted, self-built and owner-occupied housing) scores high in the rating system of the National Development Planning. Yet only a few projects using this approach have been implemented up to now, among them the EDF-financed project under review here. Although being the only sizeable one in the rural areas, it is far too small to have had much impact on the general housing situation.
Its main objectives were:
- the provision of owner-occupied, owner-built houses on moderately serviced sites for people of the low and lower-middle income strata, financed on a 50/50 basis;
- the pursuit of the goal of decentralisation by locating the sites in outlying rural centres;
- the strengthening of the Local Councils through the formation of a local field team, the creation of a local revolving fund for sites and services etc.
The explicit intention to use self-help and local materials clashes with the interest in swift and efficient management, which are natural for the hierarchical structures of both the main funder, the EEC, and the project co-ordinating agency, the National Housing Authority (NHA). This latent conflict was never thoroughly discussed and has remained unresolved.
The project agreement did not provide for inflation and devaluation of the Kwacha. Because of this and because the internal financial structure was based on the Kwacha, only 75% of the funds allocated were transferred to the project account up to the 'closing' of the project in October 1989. The result is that the final financial structure, in terms of ECU, is completely different from that initially intended.
In spite of the substantially reduced funds transferred, not only the six sites with their 1005 plots, as originally envisaged, but also a seventh site and altogether 1085 plots have been developed, albeit at reduced standards because of the omission of the sewerage component. Of the envisaged 1005 'core house loans' nearly 700 have been forwarded to the participants. At least 850 houses have been built or are under construction. The main criticism is that it took much longer than expected to arrive at this state and that about 200 plots still lie idle.
In fact, the participants were the ones ultimately and increasingly exposed to the soaring inflation, which began in 1980. They had to take great pains over finding the necessary additional funds and acquiring building materials which were in increasingly short supply. Since little or no local building material was available, they depended on transport and, consequently, suffered more and more under its growing shortage.
In spite of these difficulties, about 60% of the houses were completed at least to the stage of being able to be occupied. With respect to these, it has been estimated by the NHA-evaluation mission that the roughly 450 000 K of building material loans granted for the start have so far triggered off a value of 15 million K in terms of market value of houses built. Most of the starter loans (which are also subject to devaluation) have already been recovered.
This result has been achieved although some of the District Councils (DCs), as the locally responsible agents, had and still have difficulties in issuing the certificates of title, ensuring the financial management and building up the suggested local sites and services revolving fund. The reason for this was a weakness in staffing and, above all, the lack of guidance from the Division of Decentralisation, responsible for the Councils' affairs.
The NHA underrated the importance of detailed local information and underestimated generally the key role which DCs play in such a venture. The NHA was mainly concerned with a set of functions which was attributed to them at the inception of the projects. These functions changed during the lifetime of the project, a fact which was only superficially acted upon. The NHA thus continued to consider itself as the most central agent in the project, although the new structure changed the flow of information and funds to put it into a rather distant position vis-Ã -vis the other important agent, the EEC Delegation. These and other institutional weaknesses affected the smooth handling of the project.
- Today, around 60% of the plots are occupied, the majority offering a complete 3 or 4-room house. Only a small fraction of participants followed the idea of starting with a one-room core house. This provision, based on the assumption that the owner-family would use it as shelter while working on the completion or extension of the house, did not take into account that the normal participant's family comprises six or more members and is thus simply too big to fit into one single room.
Whatever the present state of the participants' houses, most expressed satisfaction with the scheme. Their main criticism concerns the size of the plots. These are definitely too small with respect to the living conditions in an only moderately urbanised environment as is found in the townships in which the sites are situated.
Of the two pre-determined income strata of prospective participants, the low-income and the lower middle-income ones, a fraction of the lowest income bracket, but also some of the higher one, in total about 20%, failed to develop their plot. Of the others, many people have improved their income since allocation, especially those who are self-employed in the informal sector. Of these, some also use the plot commercially. This is not strictly legal, but it is tolerated by the authorities.
A number of beneficiaries of the scheme have been transferred in their employment to other parts of the country, but are determined to keep their plot. Usually their perspective is to look forward to a secure place to which to retire. Most of these absentee owners have constructed their houses and are subletting them, in a few cases at exorbitant rents. However, rent speculation is not widespread.
Given these characteristics, the impact of the project is assessed as being rather modest in every respect. This could change if the approach is expanded and replicated according to the urgent need nearly everywhere in the country. If the various failures and deficiencies identified in the current approach are rectified, there is no doubt that it will lead to highly viable projects in social, institutional, economic, technological, ecological and, indeed, most other respects.
From these observations is derived a revised formula for sites and services schemes. It forms a set of sequences for the funds, the information and the decisions to constitute a more appropriate system as compared to the one found. The improved structure provides for revolving funds at national and district level, acting both as buffers and neutralisers for inflation, and puts the emphasis on the agents of the District Council's field team and the participants' community, which are also supposed to compose a steering committee for each of the sites. Something similar is suggested for the promotion of local building material production.