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DIY: Without Mortgages, Citizens Resort to Self-build

Harare, Zimbabwe – Seventeen years ago, Edison Kufa’s life was in a mess, as he watched the demolition of his home and business. On 25 May 2...

Harare, Zimbabwe – Seventeen years ago, Edison Kufa’s life was in a mess, as he watched the demolition of his home and business.

On 25 May 2005, the cleanup, dubbed Operation Murambatsvina (remove the dirt) targeting illegal structures, was unleashed countrywide. 

In the aftermath, Kufa, 40, a retailer, suffered a double blow, which left thousand other citizens stranded, with their homes and sources of livelihood grounded.

By @Comic24Derick

When the dust finally settled, nearly 700,000 citizens were unsure of their future, some returned to their villages. Kufa, however, was however determined, as he continued to operate next to the ruins of his shop. The demolitions inspired me to start saving, hoping to be a homeowner one day.

“Back in 2005, I was affected twice, when the demolitions of illegal structures were launched. First, the room I was lodging with my family was destroyed because it was an illegal structure, leaving my family exposed,” recalled Kufa. “In addition to that, my shop, where I earned an honest living, was destroyed during the operation.”

Eight years later, in 2013, he approached a land developer selling residential stands in Chitungwiza, his home area. 

“After the demolitions, I started saving my money. In 2013, I could sell at least 100 loaves a day raising nearly $100,” Kufa recalls. “I also had 30-layer chickens, where I collected eggs daily that helped me to save for the initial deposit to be allocated a residential stand.”
DIY: Without Mortgages, Citizens Resort Self-build 

Kufa, through his small grocery shop, raised the initial US$1,500 deposit fee, automatically qualifying him to be a residential stand owner – a first in his family. Soon after, he started building, again utilising his erratic savings, while he continued to pay the outstanding balance.

“My initial plan was to build the home quickly, or at least a temporary cottage that could accommodate my family and avoid paying rentals,” Kufa explained. “However, my earnings and savings have not been consistent, although I am grateful that I am now a proud homeowner. I will continue to build at my own pace, until I complete the whole structure.”

The demand for residential homes is growing, according to a housing expert, meanwhile, financing options are limited, leaving many to do self-financing, or Do It Yourself (DIY). In 2021, the national housing backlog was above 2 million units, while the state failed to meet its 2021 first quarter promise, only managing to build 569 low-cost housing, out of a targeted 2,000 units, the Africa Housing Finance Yearbook 2021 noted. 

In contrast, the neighbouring South African government has injected massively into lower income housing, Do It For Us (DIFU).

With 12 mortgage providers in 2021, with stringent requirements, not limited to proof of employment, high interest rates, self-financing has seen the mushrooming of many residential locations. This widespread choice is the viable route to homeownership for many, with the majority in the informal sector, or earning less, making them ineligible for loans, or mortgages. 

“On average, a high density starts from $5,000 to $12,000, while building a 4-roomed house costs slightly above $15 000 and the total cost is around $20,000,” the housing expert added.

According to a construction engineer, Nigel Ruzivo, access to mortgages often favour the high-income earners. “The access to mortgages in Zimbabwe has been limited to high income earners and as an employment strategy by companies to retain a skilled labour force. The middle and lower-income earners are failing to access mortgages from financial institutions that can be attributed to the stringent conditions put up by banks due to financial risks tagged by the institutions.”

The failure to access mortgages has, however, availed other alternatives to citizens. “Generally, the construction of residential homes in Zimbabwe can be described as citizen DIY (Do It Yourself) that can be attributed to poor policy by local authorities and central government,” revealed Ruzivo, the engineer. 

“The citizens have shown the ability to pull little resources to put up houses, however, there is no corresponding infrastructure like proper roads and sewerage services which should be provided by local authorities.”

Again, in 2015, Jason Zuze, 41, a teacher, joined a housing cooperative made up of 60 members, which elevated his chances of getting a residential stand, rather than wait for years on the council home seekers list.

“I joined a housing cooperative in 2015 to get my own stand to build a house, which was made up of 60 members, where we pooled our resources through monthly installments,” Zuze said. “This way, I managed to get a stand rather than waiting for years on the council housing list. To build the house, I had turned to self-financing through saving from my earnings and other income generating projects.”

For Zuze, teaming with other cooperative affiliates made the building journey easier, although it was filled with some pitfalls. “Most housing cooperatives are no longer trustworthy and development may take longer because it’s not easy to get a compliance certificate from the parent ministry.” In 2021, the local government, through its various agencies demolished, or condemned various residential stands, for noncompliance.

Amidst the triumph, some unscrupulous land developers are fleecing desperate home seekers, sometimes ending in demolitions. 

“To build a home, one must always look for a legal residential stand, then one needs to work hard and save something towards purchasing the stand,” Zuze said. Seven years later, despite the mentioned drawbacks, he has completed building his home, in Harare suburb, although piped water, roads and electricity remain outstanding.

Even after citizens like Kufa and Zuze are now proud new homeowners, problems of corruption in land allocation still persist. 

“Another common alternative is the housing cooperatives, where members pool resources to collectively acquire residential stands. There are several ways people are financing the construction of homes like using personal savings, loans, and cooperatives,” engineer Ruzivo told this publication.

“The self-employed and diaspora community are the majority building houses using their personal savings, whereas employed low income earners have been disadvantaged with the corruption by some housing cooperatives.”

To avoid heavy financial losses, inflicted by dubious land developers, engineer Ruzivo advocates for the purchase of regularised stands. 

“Depending on affordability, the most effective way to get proper regularised housing will be a project financed by a financial institution, that way, you are at least guaranteed of roads and sewerage services. Alternatively, try to buy stands in regularised areas and avoid buying stands in wetlands as some people are losing property yearly due to flooding.”

Self-build, despite the noted limitations, offers more advantages, according to engineer Ruzivo. For example, the Africa Housing Finance Yearbook 2021 said, Zimbabwe had 4,894 outstanding residential mortgages, valued at US$14 million. 

“Self-build offers the advantage of homeowners getting title deeds, enhancing their chances to become home owners quicker, unlike when one applies a mortgage. Also, home seekers are free from debts and it reduces the risk of having their homes repossessed, after failing to repay mortgages.”

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