Housing for Lilongwe.

Home in Mchesi settlement in Lilongwe.

Home in Mchesi settlement in Lilongwe.

Here’s a piece in Next City about the housing crisis in Durban, South Africa. Now granted, apartheid is partly to blame, but there’s a wider lesson here: most countries need to put more effort and resources into providing housing, particularly for less well-off residents. Lilongwe is a case in point. With a remarkably high growth rate (though not necessarily an urbanisation rate, cue Africa Research Institute) the city needs to house both its existing and new residents. In fact, UN-Habitat has estimated the city needs 10,000 new dwelling units per year. But these aren’t being built. There are also no social housing schemes and procedures for land acquisition are so complex and time-consuming that most people – and most people are poor, Malawi is considered one of the poorest countries in the world – head straight for the informal housing/land market. Which means unplanned, unserviced settlements are growing. But the thing in Lilongwe is – compared to many, many other capitals – land is abundant. So it’s not an issue of poor people crowding into small spaces or even taking up valuable real estate (cue: Phnom Penh) and living in extremely unsanitary and crowded situations (I’m not saying the situation in unplanned/informal settlements is great, only that it could be significantly worse). The issue is that so few – hardly any – steps are taken to address the situation and provide land and housing. It can be done. More donor funding (ok, granted, once they clear up Cashgate) into urban programming and real political commitment to address the burgeoning housing crisis could significantly alter Lilongwe’s trajectory. Social housing schemes, cooperative housing, sites-and-services, you name it – the space is there. Surely no one wants Next City to write about appalling conditions in Lilongwe slums in a few years time?

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