Decent housing has become plainly unaffordable for a vast section of the Namibian population.
Property prices at the coast rose by no less than 30% in 2014. Over the past five years average house prices increased by a staggering 84%, which strongly suggests that we are witnessing an unprecedented house price bubble.
This inflationary bubble is likely, sooner or later, to either deflate, or simply burst, bringing in its wake economic disaster and potential collapse of the banking system and construction industry, as it did in Europe and America in 2007 and 2008, while leaving many destitute, or in insurmountable debt.
It seems that we have not learnt from the painful experiences and the main causes of the world recession that has plagued the global economy over the past decade.
The extraordinary prices of properties for sale and rent should raise eyebrows, if not the blood pressure of prospective homeowners and tenants. In Windhoek it is common, for example, to see a garage being offered as rental accommodation for no less than N$3000 a month.
Property prices have reached levels that put the possibility of owning a home way out of reach of most people. Indeed, statistics show that fewer than one in ten households can afford a low-cost house.
To afford an average three-bedroom house worth N$750,000 in Windhoek today, one would need a monthly household income of at least N$23,000. Fewer than 5% of the households in Namibia earn more than N$23,000.
At Walvis Bay the median price (middle-point) of houses varied between N$664,000 and N$956,000 last year. Taking into consideration the fact that the majority of people earn less than N$2,000 a month, it is clear that the market cannot solve the problem, which it has created.
Speculation in the housing market has led to a concentration of vast areas of land in the hands of a few developers, while the majority of residents have effectively been priced out of the housing market.
The situation has produced the extensive problem of backyard shacks and informal shantytowns, massive sprawling slums in every town and city, where thousands of people who have effectively been priced out of the housing market are forced to make do with any small place to put up a shack.
It is this deplorable situation, whereby people are forced to live in Stone Age conditions, without access to running water or electricity, or basic services that cause the deaths of hundreds of adults and children, who are caught up, week after week, in the endless spate of shack-fires.
There is currently a backlog of at least 120,000 houses in the country.
I have no doubt that the situation cannot continue much longer without producing an uprising among the poor and homeless, who witness every day how politicians and property magnates divide large pieces of prime land between themselves and their comrades in business.
It is this situation which gives rise to the trend whereby young professionals are obliged to live with their parents or squat in someone’s backyard, because of the high cost of rentals as it has become extremely difficult for first-time buyers to enter the property market.
The laissez-faire policies of the government, which removed the Rent Control Board, allowed estate agents to charge tenants whatever they wish, and allowed unregulated speculation in the property market to become the order of the day, have actually facilitated and produced this crisis.
Therefore it is quite understandable that there is a widespread discontent and anger, not only in the townships, but also among the struggling middle-class, who are feeling the economic squeeze. Many are on the brink of defaulting on their mortgages and are struggling to keep head above water.
In a country where the poorest million people control less than 3% of the national economy, while the richest 5% take 70% of the national income, it should be clear that such a high level of social inequality is not sustainable. Unless the housing problem is addressed — and urgently — we are surely heading for a crisis of revolutionary proportions.
There is no silver bullet to solve the housing crisis at once.
A range of measures will have to be put in place to ensure that rental prices are controlled, that municipalities invest in social housing programmes, that residential land is made affordable by charging only for the cost of installing services, by providing affordable long-term lease options to allow people to build their homes without having to buy the land, and by giving preference to first-time buyers, as opposed to property speculators.
Failure to tackle the housing crisis with the urgency it demands will exacerbate the problem and could very well lead to widespread social unrest.
If we want to preserve the peace of the country, we will have to take drastic and even radical measures to ensure that every citizen is adequately housed and that there is some measure of social and economic justice.
We cannot leave the problem to the market to solve, because the problem was created largely by the conditions of an unregulated property market. The housing crisis must be solved by appropriate political and legal measures that aim at restoring a degree of social equality and justice.
Every Namibian should be entitled by law to a piece of land to live on. Nobody should be excluded from the right to shelter, because they cannot afford it.
Either that, or face the consequences of an uprising among the poorest of the poor.