On homes in Lilongwe.

This post features edited excerpts from my recent report Survey of Urban Poor Settlements in Lilongwe, produced by ActionAid Malawi and the Lilongwe Urban Poor People’s Network.

Semi-permanent housing in Mtandire settlement

Semi-permanent housing in Mtandire settlement

Our survey looked at both types of housing in the 33 featured settlements, as well as attempted to get a sense of the prevalence of renters vs owners. The findings are outlined below.

The 2008 Population and Housing Census of Malawi divides house types in the country into the following categories:

Permanent – Roof made of iron sheets, tiles, concrete or asbestos, and walls made of burnt bricks, concrete or stones. These include caravans and tinned structures.

Semi-permanent – Lacking construction materials of a permanent structure for wall or roof. These are structures, which are built of non-permanent walls such as sun-dried bricks or non-permanent roofing materials such as thatch.

Traditional – Both thatched roof and mud walls.

We assessed the most prevalent type of housing through observation during a transect walk in each settlement. The majority (52%) of settlements featured a combination of permanent and semi-permanent housing, while housing in 45% of settlements was predominantly semi-permanent. In only one settlement, Sector 7, was housing found to be predominantly permanent; the majority of houses in the settlement were built as part of a home construction project operated by Habitat for Humanity. No settlement featured predominantly traditional type housing.

While homes built using sun-burnt bricks usually made on site represent an easy and affordable means of accessing housing for the urban poor, the practice raises both environmental and safety concerns. Respondents in many settlements stated that semi-permanent houses regularly collapse during the rainy season, which in some cases has resulted in deaths. Use of the open ground for house construction also contributes to soil erosion in the settlements.

Bricks drying in the sun in Area 23 settlement

Bricks drying in the sun in Area 23 settlement

On the issue of home ownership, we found that residents are divided between home owners and tenants in 30 of the settlements surveyed. In the majority (64%) of settlements with tenants, over 50% of the population is estimated to rent their homes. The percentage of renters is estimated to be over 80% in four settlements, Chinsapo, Mchesi, Mwenyekondo, and Mgona. The below figure shows the number of settlements with the indicated percentage of renters:


There are no renters in three of the settlements surveyed, Lundu, Mbangulu, and M’bwetu. All three are categorized as Rural and are located at the fringes of the city. Indeed, data analysis indicates that Rural settlements are on the whole five to eight times less likely to have renters than other types of settlements; for example, settlements categorized as Urban are 8.8 times more likely to have renters than Rural settlements (CI of 3.5 to 24.2, p of < 0.001).

Average monthly rent is 2,725 Malawi kwacha in the settlements where tenants are present. Data analysis shows that average monthly rents are around 2,000 Malawi kwacha higher in settlements defined as planned compared to unplanned settlements (CI of + 500 to + 3000 MKW and p of 0.002).

Rental housing in Area 22

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