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Opinions of Saturday, 10 July 2010

Columnist: Addae-Bosompra, Ernest

Affordable Housing In Accra: Crisis Or Cure

A Town Planning Vision for the future

Introduction

Housing is a basic commodity – a human right that serves a nation. Homelessness strangles the flow of democracy that runs lows through a nation. Those hit the hardest are the working classes, low income earners, the unemployed who are collectively referred to as, the poor. The poor represent a significant and sizeable proportion of Ghanaians. Ghana needs a minimum output of 500,000 homes a year for the next ten years to start wiping off the country’s housing deficit. This figure does not take into account future population growth. Drastic measures are needed to close the deficit of housing supply. The situation is grim and we need to get a grip. Without a housing system that ensures equality and fairness, working men and women will lack the power to exercise the rights that a free society provides.

When the architects of our great Republic wrote our Constitution and declared Independence at Accra’s Polo grounds, they were signing a promissory note to which every Ghanaian was to benefit. This note was a promise that all men, rich or poor, would be guaranteed freedom, justice and equality. The promissory note given to us by our founding fathers has been returned and marked ‘insufficient funds’. It is obvious that we have defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as providing homes for the poor in our communities are concerned. This default is set against the evidence of increasing homelessness and poverty in Accra.

[A scene from the uncompleted Project in Borteyman.]

My overseas experiences in the United Kingdom are of the same kind as those of numerous other African students in Europe and America who came before me. Most of us suffered from poverty, lack of money, racial discrimination and homelessness whilst pursuing our studies. I have often taken solace in the fact that Dr. Kwame Nkrumah (the architect of our independence) who was once a student in both the US and the UK also suffered greatly as a student. Nkrumah sold fish in Harlem, worked in a soap factory, served on merchant ships and was without a permanent abode during long stretches of his time abroad. These experiences of homelessness and poverty helped to influence his life and that of a nation.

My diasporan experiences have helped me understand better, a profession which identifies with poverty and homelessness. With my background as a Town Planner, coupled with my past experiences, I understandably have a pre-occupation with the subject of inequality, especially in the area of housing. The pattern currently emerging, particularly in the fringes of Accra, Ghana’s capital city, is of settlements which exhibit problems of poverty, unemployment, inadequate schools, hard pressed social services, and deteriorating environmental conditions. Fast growing settlements such as Budubram, Ashiaman and Akweteman exhibit deprivation and social conflict in Ghana. My definition of Accra is as a region, and for that matter, includes all the Ga lands otherwise known as Greater Accra.

The evidence of increasing homelessness within Accra is undeniable and irrefutable. During the day the town centre is a cacophony of noise, haggling, selling, banter and music. By the evening the spot where ice water or ‘charleywotey’ was sold, becomes a sleeping abode. For some, this pathetic existence is the equivalent of a ‘Bed in the bush with stars to see’, because the price for sleeping in a rented room other than a verandah, is one they cannot afford as the day’s sales was worth no more than an evening meal. The reality is that, these les miserables are fellow Ghanaians, forgotten men and women of a nation that once promised so much. Aspirations they say must not be the preserve of the wealthy or the politician alone. Social equality is enshrined in the Constitution – the soul of our nation, and we must fight to protect it and bring it to fruition.

The Borteyman Project- A Flagship

Affordable Housing has become the universally prescribed cure for homelessness. If widely adopted without doubt it will cure our nation of inequality. The huge sum of money invested so far in Affordable Housing projects in Accra such as the Borteyman and kpone schemes, is not making the desired impact. The Borteyman project (perceived as the flagship project) for instance is marred in confusion. Although, millions of dollars have been invested in the project, (Funding was by HIPC and Social Security and National Insurance Trust; SSNIT) the work has stopped and all the developers have either not been paid or have left the site. This culminated in a reshuffle of cabinet Ministers and Albert Abongo MP who spearheaded the ‘Korea deal’ (housing to be built by STX Corporation a South Korean Holding Company) and promised to pursue the existing Affordable Housing project at Borteyman was removed from office. The ‘Korea deal’ according to ministerial pronouncements is no longer called ‘Affordable Housing’ but the ‘Housing Deal’. The flats at Borteyman [the flagship of Affordable Housing] are at various stages of completion.

The Borteyman project was to deliver 4,994 housing units as part of the first phase. During my visit to Ghana in 2008, Contractors were still working on delivering this first phase. However, following the deal with the Koreans, the project has come to a stand still. The explanation given, by those delivering the project (contractors, builders etc) is at variance to the Ministerial pronouncements and information in the public domain. Some have questioned the notion that says – its value for money to give contracts to foreigners, as foreigners know best. As the development and building of better communities is in the public interest, Ghanaians in both the private and public sector must be involved in the funding, designing, planning, managing and building of homes for Ghanaians!. We must create our own social housing and housing strategies for the future! This can be achieved mainly through compromises reached between the various political parties and different communities. Coalition agreement is the order of the day, globally. Political ideas on housing in Ghana must shift as a matter of national interest.

A new Vision for the future

The existing ‘Borteyman Affordable Housing project’ or the proposed ‘Korean Deal’, as a strategic solution to our housing needs, is the right prescription for our nation. The challenge however, is to devise a delivery mechanism that promotes both homeownership and social rented housing. Accra needs a new Town planning strategy for delivering community projects of national significance, such as the flagship Borteyman Affordable Housing project. In the United Kingdom, the Town Planning department is the main agency for granting planning permission for affordable housing projects. Planners provide guidance on all aspects required to negotiate the provision of affordable housing through the planning process. The main housing objectives for London are to promote mixed and balanced communities by meeting the housing requirements of the whole community, including those in need of affordable housing. The State has an avowed obligation in meeting the needs of the homeless. Social equity is at the heart of this obligation. - “E pluribus Unum- Out of many, one”.

A new planning system to redefine the role of professional planners in 21st Century Ghana must involve the use of ‘Planning Obligations’ (popularly called Section 106 agreements in the UK). In the UK section 106 agreements are usually negotiated in the context of a planning application, between a local authority and persons with an interest in the land. They are negotiated under Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (hence the name) and require planning contributions to be sought from developers by local authorities in order to make acceptable, developments which would otherwise be unacceptable in planning terms. 46% of all affordable housing delivered on sites in 2004/2005 in the UK was as a result of developer contributions.

Accra is a high value area. Being the capital city of Ghana, its infrastructure, job creation, standard of living, competitive advantages and economic growth, will ensure that all residential developments increase in market value over and above the national average. This is why majority of developers want to build in Accra or its surrounding areas. As a result of this high demand for land in Accra, house prices have increased rapidly and the supply of housing has not kept up with the demand. This is mainly due to increased numbers of households, caused by the growth in the population of Accra and a Town planning system which is in need of resources to adapt to changes in modern Ghana. The Borteyman Affordable Housing project was designed to meet this growth in population and to provide cheaper homes for the low paid and key workers who happen to work in Accra.

Securing Affordable housing through developer contributions or planning obligations on future development sites is a smart way in which Social housing can benefit from the high land values, high rentals and high sales prices in Accra. Through the use of a Ghanaian version of a Section 106 agreement, planners can negotiate the level of affordable housing provision on a site. For instance in the UK, it is planning policy that for every 10 housing units built by developers in London, 50% of the units should be affordable housing comprising, Key worker housing and social rented housing. This is a proven system that will enable Accra city planners to deliver both market value housing, and social housing at the same time. There are those who argue that there is too much corruption in high places and Accra Town planners cannot implement a system for social housing without the rich and well to do getting all the allocations. They point to the Dansoman, and Kaneshie schemes in the 1970’s as examples of such misappropriations or misallocations.

My answers to these genuine concerns are as follows; the question of ‘need’ in my opinion must be the only basis for an allocations policy to rehouse Ghanaians. There must be acceptable criteria which can test “need,” for every homeless person or key worker. The low paid, unemployed and poor households will stand the test of ‘need’. They make up the majority of the nations homeless and the aim should be to get more of these people into social rented housing. Any assessment of an allocations policy must be based on ‘need’ rather than political party affiliation or other preferential treatment. There must be sanctions for failure to meet an allocations policy including prosecutions in the courts of law. The penalty must be immediate, and enforcement tenacious, expedient and swift. Furthermore, safeguards such as financial penalties as a punitive measure can be built into a Ghana version of a ‘Section 106 Agreement’ by Accra Town Planners.

Conclusion

The cure for the crisis in the provision of Social Housing in Accra- the nations Capital city is dependent on the delivery of quality Affordable Housing. Yet as I write there are those who would seek to accuse me of posturing and pandering to some political interest group. This article is not an exercise in Politics, so please spare me that aggravation. It’s the sober submission of proven ideas by a public servant town planner for consideration in our fight to reinforce our democracy. I write not for discourse but in the understanding that the fight for our nation’s freedom came at a price - sacrifice. It was won through protest, struggle on the streets, in the courts, by civil disobedience and loss of life. We must acknowledge their sacrifices for freedom by overcoming this housing crisis.

The front line low paid public/private sector workers in Accra, are being priced out of the city and made to move to unplanned settlements. This puts extra pressure on our public services including transport, making it harder to recruit and retain people who want to work in their communities, with the resultant improvement to standards in hospitals and schools, and help win the fight against crime. Helping the people of Accra to buy or rent a home helps keep them in jobs they have been trained for, enabling the retention of essential skills.

Borteyman Affordable housing project, as a prescribed cure for homelessness, should not be allowed to flounder. Government must ensure its viability as a long term and sure way of tackling homelessness. There is scope to improve delivery of Affordable Housing, by the best possible use of planning obligations which would lead to the best sustainable outcomes for Accra. This will involve giving communities more power and encourage people to take an active role in their communities. Like most Ghanaians, I trace my ancestry to the farming and rural communities of this nation - men and women who fought against colonisation and sacrificed their lives for an independent Country. The greatness of Ghana is summed up in a simple dream – the pursuit of equality and the protection of freedom – But unless Ghanaians act to protect the poor and the weak, the rich and the powerful simply exploit them in the name of freedom.

Ernest Addae-Bosompra is a Chartered Town Planner in the UK. Contact; addaeb@hotmail.com or ernestaddaebosompra@yahoo.co.uk