Bid to tame uncontrolled urban housing



MASERU – Lesotho continues to struggle with the spread of slums, sub-standard housing and informal settlements in urban areas notwithstanding available legal instruments and frameworks on land and housing management in the country. The challenge has motivated Ministry of Local Government, Chieftainship, Home Affairs and Police to embark on a journey of developing a National Housing Bill that will not only serve as a legal framework to guide and ensure the delivery of low-income adequate housing and sustainable development in the country but also to ensure slums upgrading and prevention while also saving land. Principal Secretary in the ministry, Pokello Mahlomola, during the first consultative meeting for developing the Bill, said all available legal tools are inadequate to guide housing development in the country hence the ministry sees the need to develop the Bill.

He said the objective of this is to improve access to adequate housing in Lesotho by strengthening the capacity of the government to develop an effective legal framework on housing related matters in consultation with relevant stakeholders. He further noted that Lesotho, like many developing countries, is experiencing rapid population growth, urbanisation and rural-urban migration which put pressure on limited infrastructure.  He said, as result, the department of housing is therefore faced with the mammoth challenge of addressing the problems that arise from the influx of people from rural to urban areas.

“The rapid growth of the urban population continues to put pressure on the limited infrastructure and the capacity to manage the built environment. “This has resulted in the spread of slums, substandard housing and informal settlements in urban areas and invasion on sensitive ecosystems in the rural areas. We are witnessing a substantial and continued rise in urban housing need and demand which necessitate equal increase in the need to supply affordable housing for all,” he said.

“Our National Strategic Plan focus 2023-2024 to 2027-2028 states that amongst its priorities, is to increase low income housing and develop infrastructure. “The aim is to build new and expand or maintain the existing infrastructure that will help the productive sector to achieve their goal, notwithstanding this we need a strong legal framework to these developments,” he stated. Mahlomola said the government recognises the need to address not only quantitative but also qualitative needs that go beyond mere housing development but also that require interaction with the local economy, services, utilities as well as mobility to ensure the supply of adequate housing.

He said the national housing Bill will be informed by the recent housing and urban development technical tools developed by the ministry of local government, chieftainship, home affairs and police including but not limited to the national housing policy of 2018, the Lesotho housing profile 2015, the national urban profile, the Mafeteng urban profile, the Maputsoe urban profile and Maseru municipality urban profile. To guide the drafting of the Bill are instruments such as the national slum upgrading and prevention strategy and the Maseru City Slum Upgrading and Prevention Action Plan, among others.

He said the ministry aims to develop a highly participatory bill that will result in a practical and responsive law while protecting the rights of all citizens.  “In order to enforce and ensure the effective implementation of these frame works and their strategic objectives, the legislation, the National Housing Act needs to be in place to govern and manage various public and private actors, regulate building standards and empower people to participate in the development of adequate housing and inclusive resilient and sustainable human settlements.

He, however, expressed concern on citizens’ reluctance to change or conform to available land legal instruments. He said lack of knowledge and resistance to development in residential areas is a challenge where most people expand their yards and leave no space for roads for vehicle movement.

Mahlomola called for community capacitation for an effective housing Act once implemented. Chartered Accountant, Robert Likhang, in an interview with Public Eye this week, said enacting the housing Bill by the ministry would be of great benefit to the country, not just economically but would also help the residents to save land as people will be introduced to sectional title deeds. “The housing Act will address housing at all levels. To enact this housing need would be a great benefit, but it is important to recognise that low housing income would come with restructuring of finance which may necessitate government subvention,” he said.

He noted that the type of housing could reduce financing, particularly by building houses with sectional titles or multiple floors to save the space.

“Lesotho is a small country, we share land with cemeteries, housing and agriculture. We need to think differently, thinking about housing, cemeteries and agriculture,” he noted. He added that the Lesotho government had initiated and operated two state owned organisations, the LE-Coop, LHC now LHLDC, stating that the former was focusing on low income housing, which led to projects in Maseru (Khubetsoana, Mohalalitoe), Teyateyaneng and Ha Nyenye, among others. He said the two organisations were later merged, but they focused on medium and high income projects. Speaking to Public Eye, a Maseru resident, Refiloe Motjamela, who works at the Maseru Industrial Area, applauded the initiative articulating that as a low income earner, having a place to call home is her dream.

She, however, addressed the importance of clarity, transparency and delivery noting that years ago they were promised low income houses only for the houses to come out way beyond what they can afford. It is very important that the ministry specify what it means when it refers to low income earners and poor people that stand to benefit from this legal document.

“Years ago, the same department once introduced us to a housing project and promised us that despite the little we earn, we will receive financial assistance from commercial banks in a form of home loans so that we would be able to have houses built and finally own title deeds. To our disappointment, the ‘affordable’ houses were beyond our affordability and we did not qualify for home loans.

“It has been years since that project promised us houses. It is very hard for us to believe that the government will this time around ensure that we have access to housing,” she said. Development of the housing Bill is supported by Sustainable Development Goal 11. The SDG11 is about making cities and human settlement inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. The SDG Report (2022) states that today, more than half of world’s population live in cities. It notes that by 2050, an estimated 7 out of 10 people will likely live in urban areas.

It states that in 2020, more than one billion people lived in slums or informal settlements, with Central and Southern Asia, Eastern and South Eastern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa accounting for 85 percent of them. “One percent increase in urban population growth will increase the incidence of slums by 2.3 percent and 5.3 in Africa and Asia respectively,’’ reads the report.

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