By Ivan Mathias Mulumba
Our lives seem incomplete when we do not have a place we call home. I am not talking about a rented house. I am referring to that place that you own, where you can raise children, reflect and plan for your future in peace with no one knocking on the door to remind you of unpaid rent.
We have seen children and teenagers stay out till late in the night, talking or playing cards under a street light. Some of them sleep on verandas until morning, through the cold and the countless bites of mosquitoes. Most times we blame their ‘careless’ parents who let them stay out in the night.
Do we ask ourselves, though, why someone would prefer to spend a night on a veranda instead of a warm bed? What if they don’t have beds? What if the children are tired of sleeping like cattle, being woken up every time to give way to someone who wants to go out and pee?
The housing situation in this country is so dire and yet many of us have ignored it. As long as we sleep and eat, we are not bothered about anything else. If we do not address it, we risk a lot: early deaths, the spread of diseases, more disorganised neighbourhoods in the future, and so forth. Many people cannot afford a decent home, which has positive impacts on the lives of families.
During the Habitat for Humanity Uganda Housing Symposium at Speke Resort Munyonyo on October 7, 2022, the organising team played a video of a woman and her family who had moved into a new house in Mukono. The house was constructed by partners, Habitat for Humanity Uganda, Buganda Kingdom and Housing Finance bank. She narrated how her children were mocked at school for staying in a mud-and-wattle house that was almost crumbling.
With the majority of Ugandans below the age of 20, it is important that we make housing a priority to raise confident children, leaders, and better citizens. It is important that we prioritise the urban poor who are living in an endless state of hopelessness, one step closer to living on the streets.
Rent fees increase every year. With the cost of construction materials and of most services high, the urban poor have continued to experience worsening housing conditions as many of them are pushed out to cheaper options that are in a deplorable state. The village poor have also been displaced by land grabbers and are left with no space to cultivate and earn from their food.
This wouldn’t be the case had we put measures to improve housing, for instance, enforcing strengthened tenure security, giving tax waivers to developers of affordable housing, developing planned housing projects all over the country to curb migration, and providing affordable financing aimed at solving the housing problem.
Many individuals have set out to alleviate the problem but have instead set in motion what will lead us to a worse position than we are in. Take an example of Lwanga, a businessman in one of the trading centres in Wakiso district. He borrows money from a microfinance and buys a three-acre piece of land to create a housing estate.
He has to pay back the money at a 25 per cent annual interest rate. All the measures he takes are aimed at reducing costs of creating the estate and ensuring that he sells the plots of land he will parcel out of the three-acre lot, as fast as he can.
Lwanga hires a land surveyor but instructs him to create 50ft by 50ft and 30ft by 30ft plots, which he can sell with ease. The area of the land that he dedicates to roads is so minimal that a truck cannot turn after delivering construction materials to a plot. It does not matter whether the estate is 20km out of town or not. In the end, he will have created a slum, one that the urban poor are desperate to escape.
This is where the big actors need to come in, from the funders, real estate consultants like myself, land and valuation surveyors, planners, landlords, land management agencies like Buganda Land Board to even the ministry of Lands to make home ownership easier, and to create an environment that future generations will be proud of. Tiny plots should not be allowed in some neighbourhoods since they make people more dependent, with no space for a garden or leisure.
Today, children are making fun of others for living like goats; tomorrow they will call the housing estates we have created today, zoos, because they will not be habitable.
The writer is a registered valuation surveyor and chief valuer at Buganda Land Board.