As the population in Zimbabwe’s capital Harare grows, the city strives to meet the soaring housing demand.
With a population of over 2.4 million, about 16 percent of Zimbabwe’s population, the Harare metropolitan area is sprawling outwards, of which authorities say that the growth model is not sustainable since land is a finite resource.
Urban land is a key economic resource and an important investment asset given Zimbabwe’s decade-long currency volatility and lack of alternative investment options.
Housing in the capital is dominated by single-family one-storey houses, but the city has not been able to keep up with rapid urbanization, and demand for land keeps soaring.
The demand has resulted in burgeoning informal settlements in and around Harare, some in unsuitable areas such as river banks and wetlands. It has also created land barons who illegally parcel out land to home-seekers.
This has necessitated the need to build multi-story public housing and cluster housing units to alleviate the shortage.
Compact living is becoming more popular today, contrary to earlier times when there was a preference for larger land areas, according to Ken Sharpe, CEO of West Properties, a Harare-based property development company, which is constructing a thousand multi-story apartments in Harare’s upmarket Borrowdale suburb.
“For a long time in the past, we have not densified the city, so the time has come to build up,” Sharpe told Xinhua.
Younger home-seekers now prefer modern facilities including security, convenience and home automation, he noted. “we have a young population – almost 70 percent of Zimbabwe is youth under 30 – and these young people want to see modern features, modern designs,” he added.
The government is encouraging people to build upwards, land use should be optimized, and agricultural land should be preserved, said Daniel Garwe, Zimbabwe’s Minister of National Housing and Social Amenities.
“We are vertically building better,” Garwe told Xinhua, “We are promoting densification in terms of the construction of clusters in the low-density areas throughout the country.”
City of Harare Mayor Jacob Mafume said the urban sprawl of single-family households no longer matches modern trends and family sizes.
“We live in a short city which must go vertical,” Mafume, told Xinhua. “We have to densify because the population in Zimbabwe and in Harare has increased.”
While densification through building cluster houses is gaining traction in Harare, some property owners in colonial suburbs with bigger land pieces have resisted the move, saying it alters the original characteristics of neighborhoods.
Real Estate expert Renounce Regards Chokuda said while densification is a positive development, it is crucial to strike a balance between densification and preserving the quality of life in neighbourhoods.
“It is essential to approach these projects with careful planning and design to ensure they are environmentally friendly, visually appealing, and cater to the needs of the local population,” Chokuda told Xinhua.
Economist Prosper Chitambara said the government can play a major role in the provision of affordable housing. “The major challenge is the lack of access to affordable finance, or mortgage financing, that’s a major challenge, and the government can now play a role in terms of ensuring that financing is met,” Chitambara told Xinhua.
The government has set a target to deliver 220,000 housing units by 2025 cooperating with the private sector.