By Vincent Ogo
The Gambia is experiencing a housing boom, but many people believe that real estate development in the country caters only for the rich, novae rich and Gambians in Diaspora.
Shelter occupies a pivotal position in the hierarchy of human needs. But in the developing nations, especially those in Africa, it is still a crying need. Today, the issue has become the most topical and cardinal matter of existence in developing economies.
While housing experts, estate developers and other stakeholders in the property industry do agree that the private sector and government should partner more to address the issue of housing, in most of Africa the sector has largely been left in the hands of private companies and individuals.
The Gambia is no exception to this trend. The country is presently experiencing a construction boom, with buildings of different shapes and kinds springing up everywhere. This has resulted to a phenomenal rise in the number of real estate companies over the past decade, as discerning Gambian entrepreneurs jostle to cash in on the housing boom. But many argue that the nation’s housing sector remains in the grip of the estate developers who are only opening up urban areas for the convenience of those who could patronise them. That is why it seems that for now, it is only very rich Gambians and those in Diaspora that can afford the houses.
People want, in the operations of the real estate companies, a more integrated approach, that will see less privileged individuals in the society benefitting more from housing provision. Some are also advocating for a developed and efficient mortgage system that makes it possible for Gambians to save for their housing need, the way they save for their other needs. While many property developers as well as building professionals like planners, architects and surveyors share this view, the reality on the ground is that the circumstances of the nation’s financial industry may not make a proper mortgage system easily achievable.
Why affordable housing?
Affordable housing is generally defined as housing that consumes 30 percent or less of a household’s income. Using that definition millions of people in Africa do not have affordable housing; that number is presently growing. For wealthier and even not-so-wealthy people, affordable housing may hardly be a concern at all. Homeowners may not think much about renters. Renters living comfortably may not think much about those barely making ends meet. It’s a natural human tendency to pay most attention to issues which are immediate, and which affect us personally; affordable housing issues may not qualify on either count.
Not for the rich alone
Some real estate companies in The Gambia maintain that they have not forgotten low-income earners in the country. One of them is Universal Properties. The company which was established in 2009 has already made its mark as a leader in Gambia’s real estate market.
The mission statement of the company states that: “At Universal Properties our plan is to make housing available to every Gambian, whether rich or poor. We want everybody to have a home as part of our contribution towards national development.”
Many of the real estate developers also indicated that they have fashioned out payment methods that make it very easy for people to own their own homes. One of these is ‘flexible payment method, installment payment plan in which one can set on the process of acquiring a developed plot of land for as low as D1000.00 per month.
In order to make home ownership affordable for everyone The flexible installment payment plan also allows one to pay initial deposit of, say, D25 000 to acquire a house.