Development Perspectives UK

The Gambia must invest in its future by building a sustainable housing market

The Gambia’s housing crisis is holding the country and its citizens back. Merging innovative financing with regulatory changes can stimulate cross-sector cooperation and help ensure sustainable, accessible homeownership across the country, writes Ebrima Faal.

The Gambia is facing a critical housing shortage, with a deficit of 128,874 units that disproportionately affects the country’s most vulnerable citizens. This crisis is deepened by escalating living costs and the scarcity of affordable financing options, making the dream of homeownership increasingly out of reach for many. Urban migration has also intensified these challenges, as people moving from rural areas to cities encounter a severe lack of suitable housing options. The inadequate housing, often in poor condition or in isolated locations, combined with the prohibitive interest rates and excessive costs of land and construction materials, presents significant obstacles for not only low-income families but also those in the middle-income bracket.

Housing instability hampers individual dreams and slows economic and social progress. This highlights the urgent need for housing solutions to support personal goals and the country’s overall growth.

A blueprint for change

The challenges within The Gambia’s housing sector call for a critical examination of the limitations of existing institutions, such as the Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation (SSHFC) and the now-defunct Housing Finance Corporation (HFC). These entities face structural factors that hinder their ability to meet rising housing demands sustainably.

For instance, the SSHFC’s mandate for low-income housing projects conflicts with its fiduciary responsibility to ensure reliable and predictable returns for its contributors. On the other hand, the HFC faced significant regulatory inefficiencies and ambiguity with a lack of clarity in the housing sector’s regulatory framework. Inadequate capital has emerged as a critical issue, hindering HFC’s ability to scale operations, meet growing demand, and provide sustainable housing solutions. Without adequate capital, the HFC has struggled to fund new projects, maintain existing ones, and navigate the complex housing landscape effectively.

While commendable efforts have been made by these institutions, significant inefficiencies have obstructed their effectiveness. However, success stories achieved through public-private partnerships (PPPs) like TAF Africa Global and Global Properties Africa, shed light on the transformative impact of collaborative endeavours. These initiatives underscore the essential need to evolve beyond traditional models to enhance the responsiveness of Gambian institutions. By doing so, The Gambia can comprehensively address housing demands and foster a sustainable and inclusive market.

A regulatory framework for a thriving housing market

The Gambia’s quest to address housing affordability and create a sustainable, inclusive market is currently stymied by the absence of a comprehensive regulatory framework. This gap in governance and oversight significantly impedes progress, making the establishment of a robust regulatory system a critical priority. A strong framework serves multiple key functions: it safeguards consumers against predatory practices by ensuring transparency and fairness in housing transactions, it catalyses private sector investment by providing a predictable and secure environment, and it fosters financial innovation through supportive measures like extending loan tenures. Collectively, these actions work to bolster market stability and pave the way for a housing market that can sustain growth and inclusivity over the long term.

Rwanda’s experience with its Rwanda Housing Authority (RHA) provides a compelling case study. Rwanda’s efforts to demystify land ownership and streamline the land registration process have led to significant improvements in housing investment and development. By prioritising clear land tenure and property rights, coupled with an emphasis on sustainable and affordable building practices, Rwanda has managed to attract both local and international developers. This approach not only accelerates housing projects but also ensures they meet high standards of quality and environmental care. Rwanda’s success story highlights the transformative impact a clear, supportive regulatory environment can have on achieving broader housing and development objectives, offering valuable insights for The Gambia as it seeks to reform its housing sector.

Sustainability and partnerships

The Gambia stands at a pivotal crossroads, confronting significant challenges in sustainability and financial innovation within its housing sector. The path to transformative progress hinges on embracing sustainable development principles and forging robust partnerships. Integrating sustainable practices into housing development not only promises the creation of resilient and inclusive communities but also aligns with global trends towards environmental stewardship. Community-focused development further ensures that projects meet the real needs of residents, enhancing liveability and social cohesion.

The success story of Ghana, where public-private partnerships have flourished under a regime of supportive government policies and attractive incentives, serves as a powerful blueprint for The Gambia. Ghana’s approach has effectively mobilized private sector resources and expertise, contributing significantly to alleviating the housing shortage and driving socioeconomic inclusion. By adopting similar strategies, The Gambia can leverage public-private partnerships to catalyse investment in sustainable housing projects, paving the way for a future where the housing market not only meets the demand for affordable homes but also contributes to sustainable and inclusive urban growth. This strategic emphasis on sustainability and partnership presents a viable route for The Gambia to overcome its current housing challenges and achieve long-term development goals.

Leadership and community

To transform The Gambia’s housing landscape the government should learn from global precedents where leadership, community involvement, and a commitment to sustainability have led to remarkable outcomes. Costa Rica provides an exemplary model with its “Bono Familiar de Vivienda” program, which successfully marries environmental sustainability with active community participation. This initiative highlights the significance of integrating green building practices and community engagement in the development process, ensuring that housing projects not only adhere to environmental protocols but also resonate with the cultural and social fabric of the community.

Adopting Costa Rica’s comprehensive approach could significantly benefit The Gambia in its quest for sustainable and inclusive housing development. By prioritising leadership that is visionary and attuned to the importance of sustainability, and fostering a culture of community engagement, The Gambia can lay the foundation for housing solutions that are environmentally responsible and socially equitable. This strategy emphasizes the crucial role of both leadership and community input in driving housing initiatives that are not just structures but homes that cater to the well-being of all citizens, setting a course towards a sustainable and inclusive future for Gambian housing.

Addressing The Gambia’s housing crisis necessitates a clear regulatory framework and a conducive development environment, fostering societal well-being and economic prosperity. Through innovative financing, public-private partnerships, and regulatory reforms that encourage sustainable practices, The Gambia can build a responsive housing market. A supportive regulatory environment attracts investment, spurs innovation, and ensures sustainable development. Collaboration among government, the private sector, and communities is crucial for establishing an affordable, resilient housing system, setting a precedent for sustainable development, and enhancing national growth and citizen well-being.

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