Interventions on the continent that seek to stimulate affordable housing supply typically focus on the formal, developer-built segment of the market with an emphasis on ownership, often facilitated by mortgage finance. In contrast with this focus, actual housing supply is dominated by what we might call informal and/or incremental development predominantly for rental.
A particularly responsive form of supply is by existing property owners who may or may not have formal title for their properties. They develop rental units in their backyards or redevelop the entire property for rental. The quality of this housing varies, but is largely characterised as sub-standard, contributing to what is known as the qualitative backlog.
Rental units are commonly developed near employment opportunities where demand for affordable housing is high. The neighbourhoods in which they are located are often unpaved and with poor or no stormwater drainage, and in most cases the units lack reliable access to critical services such as piped water on the stand and waterborne sewage. An additional characteristic they share is the lack of adherence to official building codes.
This lack of compliance / governance is not necessarily always a problem for someone to solve. When single storey structures are in a backyard and are made from less durable materials they can be redeveloped in time when there is sufficient financial incentive. These structures can be easily demolished in the next generation to make way for 100-year durable, taller and hopefully compliant structures to be inhabited by a new recognisably ‘middle class’ middle class that is likely to exist by then.
On the other hand, lack of governance and compliance spells total disaster in the context of newly constructed high rise, durable housing. Based on available data, these appear to be the exception – currently. But the exception is noteworthy because it should sound a warning to cities across the continent, particularly those that are budget- and capacity-constrained, and experiencing rapid urbanisation. For example, in Pipeline in Nairobi, landowners have built multi-storey units that are often not serviced and not built to code to meet the demand for well-located, affordable housing (rental in the region of USD40-100 per month depending on the unit). The building footprint typically is edge to edge, with many units lacking natural light and ventilation as only street-facing units have windows. Obviously, there are no elevators.
Photographs: Pipeline, Nairobi (own pictures)