Shaningwa calls for a rethink on the definition of ‘housing’

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Edgar Brandt

Windhoek-Minister of Urban and Rural Development, Sophia Shaningwa, has suggested the broading of the definition of housing from merely something that is bought through established financing mechanisms to a broad array of housing opportunities. These can range from secured land tenure with government support for incremental housing investment, housing for special needs, informal settlement upgrading, densification of existing plots and under-utilised inner city lots of land to targeted interventions for social and rental housing.

“The dominant understanding of housing as property, as simply an economic asset at times limits our vision of imagining better and more adequate housing. Proposals that rely solely on property values, financing mechanisms and formal incline will only be adequate to one part of the socio-economic spectrum we need to empower. Compatriots who earn a living in the informal economy and low-paid wage economy need housing as much as anybody else and solutions for them will not be the same as for government employees, civil servants or young professionals. The elderly, the unemployed, students and rural households are other specific groups we need to consider,” said Shaningwa yesterday, as she delivered the keynote address at the Public Forum on Namibia’s Urban Future 2017.

This year’s forum included speakers from neighbouring countries and overseas who shared their experiences and knowledge from their own perspective to assist the gathering in devising strategies to shape the future of housing and urbanisation in inclusive and equitable ways. This year, the forum titled “Rethinking Housing and Urbanisation” aims to address the broad spectrum of technical, economic, social and legal aspects that are relevant to the production of housing and urbanisation in general, to prepare the ground for a holistic, cross-disciplinary review of Namibia’s housing and urbanisation agenda.

Namibia has committed itself to various international resolutions. Most recently the New Urban Agenda, which was developed during the Habitat II conference in Quito, Ecuador, in October 2016.

Shaningwa added that since 2015 the urban and housing crisis has only become more pronounced in the public discourse and she is adamant that through the Harambee Prosperity Plan government has pledged to address the challenge head-on. “In fact, the President’s notion of building the Namibian House, is a metaphor for government’s ambitions to address the lasting socio-economic and spatial inequalities that Namibia is burdened with. However, today, it is up to us to turn these legacies around in ways that confirm the vision of a shared future in the Namibian House,” said Shaningwa.

The Minister added that due to government’s commitment to decentralization, deep thought is required not only regarding the form of rural housing but also regarding opportunities that can be developed in more remote areas of the country.

“Shelter alone will not empower people; it needs to allow them to have a base for generating a livelihood in whichever way they can. The large part of the Namibian population that relies on livelihoods generated from informal economic activities will need to be enabled to grow economic activities from their homes, to enable them to improve theirs and their families’ socio-economic situation from within,” said Shaningwa.

At the opening of the two-day forum, Shaningwa noted that housing has a role to play in the larger economic development and industrialisation of the country. “While we are historically very dependent on imports, especially from South Africa, housing implies not only short-term jobs in the construction industry but people will need to buy furniture and household utensils, materials that could be manufactured locally and require local services that all could have a lasting economic impact. All these sectors and more could be stimulated with concerted efforts on adequate housing,” she stated.

Furthermore, Shaningwa said design and construction of housing should also be varied and should directly relate to the varying climatic zees in the country, environmental limitations and resource availability, sustainable energy production, affordable green alternative solutions and the social and demographic realities of households.

“Housing can be an issue that can be divisive but can also be an occasion for doing forces. Lack of access to housing and urban land can be a major factor leading to social instability, as people realise how urban opportunities become increasingly uneven.

However, if we come together and develop inclusive, equitable and progressive strategies, housing can become a factor of unity, solidarity and of contributing to the sentiment of ‘one Namibia, one Nation’,” said Shaningwa.

During his welcoming remarks at the opening of the forum, the Vice-Chancellor of the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST), Dr Tjama Tjivikua, noted that NUST recently signed an agreement with the Ministry of Urban and Rural Development to review the blueprint and develop a strategy for the implementation of the Mass Housing Programme. The same Ministry is also one of the main sponsors of the Forum where issues to be discussed are closely linked with the larger project of reviewing government’s response to the housing and urban land crisis. “NUST is happy to involve many of its academics, students and alumni in this important project for the development of Namibia, and is particularly proud to have established a competent team, including experts from the University of Namibia and the private sector,” said Tjivikua.

The closing panel discussion of the firm this evening (Tuesday), which is open to the general public, will bring together the various aspects discussed during the Forum, in order to grasp the complexity of the question of housing and urbanisation.

“Reminding ourselves of the country’s history of socio-spatial inequalities, contemporary urbanisation is understood as a challenge that can only be re-directed if the complexity of the production of space is actively re-thought in trans-disciplinary ways. Such an approach must cut across the social and spatial divisions and include all spatial disciplines, government departments, civic organisations, businesses and inhabitants,” Tjivikua stated.

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