Liberia’s Housing Policies are Increasingly Recognising the Urban Poor
[16 September 2018] -- Cities across Africa are facing massive housing shortages due to rapid urbanisation and fast-growing populations. The desperate need for housing is overwhelming African cities, which receive around 40,000 new residents each day, according to UN-Habitat. With nowhere else to go, many end up living in inadequate housing amid squalid conditions.
One of the biggest challenges in resolving Africa’s housing crisis has been national and local housing policies that serve a very small proportion of the total population, namely those with money and access to formal land markets. These policies do not recognise or support the reality that most housing stock is produced by the urban poor themselves, often with little or no support from government.
Recently, the Liberian government has begun embracing a pro-poor national agenda, which is reflected in its national housing policies. This shift is underscored by the creation of a dedicated Slum Upgrading Unit within the National Housing Authority (NHA) and a formal agreement with Habitat for Humanity International (HFHI).
Liberia faces huge challenges as it seeks to address its housing crisis, not least a 14-year civil war that decimated the country’s infrastructure and the 2014-15 Ebola Virus Disease outbreak which was exacerbated by poor living conditions. In Monrovia, some 70 per cent of the population lives in slums.
Begun in 2016, the Cities Alliance Liberia Country Programme is designed to promote Liberia’s economic and social recovery. Its activities centre around enhancing the lives and opportunities of up to 400,000 slum dwellers in Greater Monrovia with interventions at the community, municipal and national levels. This includes building a foundation for pro-poor housing policies and activities, a component of the Country Programme that is being led by HFHI.
A milestone Slum Upgrading Unit and partnership with Habitat for Humanity
In September 2017, Liberia took a major step towards a pro-poor urban housing policy with the establishment of a Slum Upgrading Unit within the NHA.
The unit aims to ensure that low-income houses and vulnerable communities have access to safe, adequate and affordable housing by effectively mobilising and allocating public resources, subsidies and grants. This includes facilitating the provision of basic services and infrastructure upgrades, coordinating among government agencies to improve tenure security for the poor, and promoting private sector investment in affordable housing.
The establishment of the Slum Upgrading Unit is important because it shows Liberia recognises slum upgrading as a viable option for providing affordable housing. In our two decades of experience, Cities Alliance has found that slum upgrading is the most effective way to provide shelter to the urban poor at a very large scale and at the lowest cost. It allows informal areas to gradually improve at a pace that is technically and financially possible for both city and residents, eventually formalising and incorporating slum neighbourhoods into the city.
HFHI supported the NHA throughout the process of establishing the unit with solid analysis of Liberia’s housing sector that the government could use as a basis for decision making and with funding for the launch of the new unit.
And just a few weeks ago, the NHA entered into a new MoU with HFHI to improve access to affordable, decent housing for the poor over a four-year period.
The agreement sets out a practical approach to housing delivery and provides a mechanism for HFHI to support the implementation of Country Programme housing activities, including policy, market and community level interventions. It also creates the seeds of institutional capacity within the government.
For Cities Alliance, perhaps the most intriguing part of the agreement is a few lines of text on the first page noting that the Slum Upgrading Unit is responsible for initiating and coordinating “the implementation of policies and programmes to support incremental slum upgrading and affordable housing development.”
These lines underscore the Liberian government’s evolving view that slum upgrading and housing provision are core business, not temporary projects that come and go. While much work lies ahead with the Country Programme, this is certainly a very welcome development and a good building block for future progress.
Some 70 per cent of Monrovia's residents live in slums
The Cities Alliance Liberia Country Programme activities centre around enhancing the lives and opportunities of up to 400,000 slum dwellers in Greater Monrovia with interventions at the community, municipal and national levels.