By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK With over 65 percent of Namibians not having affordable and decent housing, the country faces an uphill battle to close the huge housing backlog. High levels of poverty and unemployment, limited capital investment, spiralling building costs and little financial support for low-income groups are some of the major challenges facing the sector. Estimations are that Namibia will need 300 000 low-cost housing units in rural and urban areas up to the year 2030. The fear is that the pace of housing delivery is too slow to meet the huge public demand. Like Namibia, other Southern African countries are in a similar dilemma. Against this background, hundreds of housing experts from Namibia, SADC and further abroad are currently putting their heads together in the capital to find solutions to this problem. The two-day housing conference, which was officially opened by Prime Minister Nahas Angula yesterday, is being jointly organised by the Ministry of Regional and Local Government, Housing and Rural Development. The main aim of the conference is to allow stakeholders in the housing sector to share and exchange ideas on issues and challenges affecting the provision of housing in Namibia. This would ultimately lead to improving the country’s draft White Paper on Housing. The conference is being held under the theme: “Affordable Housing – Key to Sustainable Human Settlements.” Addressing the close to 300 delegates, the Prime Minister said housing is a basic need for all Namibians as enshrined in the country’s constitution. On its part government has made strides to address the problem through the Build Together Programme and the state-owned National Housing Enterprise (NHE). However, the Premier stressed that more cooperation is needed from the private sector as well in order for the country to address the housing shortage more effectively. Lately, the private sector has focussed mainly on middle and high-income housing in proclaimed areas and both government and the NHE have concentrated on the urban areas. However, this leaves 65 percent of the country’s population living in the rural areas without a proper roof over their heads and still residing in traditional huts or shacks. “Namibia experiences a huge housing backlog which calls for accelerated housing development efforts. Building input costs are quite high and thus negatively impact on the affordability capacity of many Namibians to access housing,” explained Angula further. Amongst other factors, these high input costs have mostly to do with land availability, building materials, cost of capital and professional services. Furthermore, the current housing regulatory environment is not strong enough to protect the interests of new home owners. Presently, the provision of housing is open to any person or company who feel qualified to provide such a service. Yet this is a worrying concern. “The danger of this carte blanche approach is that consumers may fall victim to unskilled and unscrupulous persons who do not possess the qualifications or capital to operate in the sector,” said the Premier. Minister of Regional and Local Government, Housing and Rural Development John Pandeni said in light of the many challenges facing the housing sector, the onus is upon experts to create alternative and affordable housing. Smaller local authorities like that of Karibib, Usakos, Okararara and Khorixas are struggling to meet the public demands due to limited resources at their disposal. Chairman of the NHE, Professor Gerhard TÃƒÆ’Ã†’Ãƒâ€ ‘ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Â ‘ÃƒÆ’Ã†”Ã…Â¡ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¶temeyer, added his voice, saying that a holistic integrated system is needed to tackle the housing crisis in the country. Various speakers at the conference said there must be real community participation to address the housing shortage.