Propertied class living on borrowed time

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Since the government’s recent hints at the possibility of rent control to arrest the high rentals of property, there has evidently been attempts by some property barons to pre-empt the possibility of such an idea germinating and finding root.

As a result one has been reading in the local media various written submissions by members of the propertied class, motivated by nothing else than to protect their own turf.

If anything, all of these submissions, with little exceptions, have been one-dimensional in their resolve for self-protection and self-preservation, despite the impact of their efforts on those who do not own property.

Is the problem actually a housing shortage or high rentals of properties, especially for residential purposes?

One cannot help but ask the question in view of the raging debate surrounding housing, high rentals and the acute lack of housing and housing backlog the country has been experiencing.

There’s no denying that government was and has been aware since independence of the acute housing backlog. In 1999, government came up with a national plan of action on housing, which indicated a housing need of 39 260 units in urban areas.

In view of the rapid urban influx that the country has been seeing since independence, it cannot be unreasonable to deduce that this need has not been arrested.

A few of the municipalities have been very active in building houses and have played an active role in this regard, if only in servicing land.

As a result the main players in this regard have mainly been private developers. And the result is what we are seeing today – a disequilibrium in the supply and demand of housing and attendant high rentals.

That the situation surely needs addressing is not debatable, not only given the acute housing shortage, the inhabitable housing structures many are forced to occupy, and of course the highly inhibitive prices.

Government’s initiative to look at the factors responsible for high property rentals is therefore a timely intervention.

The initiative has hardly hit the ground and the media have been swamped by pre-emptive reactions to the point of saturation in a relatively short time.

The reaction has been bordering on paranoia especially among those who currently have been benefiting from the status quo, as untenable to the majority of the citizens and exploitative as it may have been.

This, all in the name of a free market and apparently as per the laws of supply and demand.

One cannot but particularly be perturbed and disturbed by the onslaught – by those already benefitting from the current exploitative and demeaning housing supply situation – on the government’s suggestion to relook and address the acute housing need, especially the suggestion of  rent control.

In a rare closing of the ranks those in the sector who have been benefitting like financial institutions, the Namibia Estate Agents Board and others have since been on a mission to deflect the idea of looking at rent control.

This is not done in the greater interests of the country but in their own parochial interest and to simply to protect their own turf.

It seems that the markets seem to be getting shivers and catching a cold at the government’s sneezing in terms of rectifying any situation in the greater national interest.

The government’s rent control suggestion is only but one option and by no means the alpha and the omega. And surely the status quo cannot be condoned nor tolerated, especially not in the name of capitalism.

Those condoning the status quo because it benefits them are making us believe that Namibia is a capitalist country, forgetting that the country’s constitution talks of Namibia as being a mixed economy.

What this means is that the government can and should embark on policies that are in the greater interest of the majority of the population, however unpopular they may be with the dominant class, as the idea of rent control seems to be.

One such policy can be rent control because currently the spiraling property prices do not benefit the greater majority but only a handful of the propertied class. In recent weeks we saw screaming headlines such as ‘Rent control will fail’ and ‘Banks wary of rent control’, among others.

As if the onslaught unleashed against government by the propertied class was not enough, the Namibian Employers Federation (NEF) came out with guns blazing against the New Equitable Economic Empowerment Framework (NEEEF) by demanding the withdrawal of its Bill. NEF’s principal reason is again no more than the protection of the owners of companies who are targeted by the Bill to allocate shareholding to their lesser fellow citizens.

We are now observing that those who seem to rally against the many good intentions of the government to uplift the previously exploited and disadvantaged communities, may be living on borrowed time.

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