A new national urban housing policy that makes it mandatory for people to build high-rise structures in certain parts of the city of Kigali has just been implemented.
Rwanda Housing Authority, the sector regulator, says the new policy seeks to ensure optimal land use in the city and provincial satellite cities, among others. The new policy seems to be a response to the high rate of urbanisation and land shortage.
Edward Kyazze, the Rwanda Housing Authority (RHA) urban settlements division manager, says Rwanda has limited land, but the country’s population is growing necessitating a law to guide future land use to ensure sustainable development and also meet national growth targets. “The new national urban housing policy of 2015 will streamline development of urban settlements across the country. As for Kigali, no real estate development and other activities will be allowed if they do not fall into the city’s master plan,” he says.
According to the 2012 Housing Market Survey on affordable housing by the City of Kigali and development partners, the annual demand for decent homes in the city is 30,000 units. However, supply of such houses is low, which has led to growth of slums and other unplanned settlements in areas such as Gatenga, Biryogo, Nyarugunga, Nyabisindu, and Gatsata.
The report indicated that the City of Kigali will require 344,068 units by 2022 for all categories, including affordable housing, mid-range housing, and premium housing. The City of Kigali requires over 30,000 housing units per year to meet demand for decent homes. The city and the country generally faces a challenge of providing affordable homes to majority of the citizens as many of the real estate projects target the high end market.
Rwanda’s population is at over 11.5 million people, with the country’s population density at 446.1 people per square kilometres. Over 7.5 per cent of the land is used for agriculture and settlements. With urbanisation increasing at about 5 per cent, and population growing at 6 per cent, the country needs to devise modern ways of optimal land use to ensure sustainable growth.
According to the housing authority, the new policy is going to limit the size of residential houses at 16mx20m. Kyazze says the traditional way of construction will be outlawed to save land for other uses, like urban agriculture, and only high-rise structures will be okayed in certain areas.
He says single storeyed buildings consume a lot of land, and are always scattered and disorganised. Citing the example of Vietnam, which he says has limited land like Rwanda, Kyazze says the Vietnamese authorities promoted flats to save land for other activities.
“Traditionally, people used to build on 20mx30m and 25mx30m pieces of land, which was big and costly in terms of land and infrastructure, but we have to put in mind the fact that the population has increased whereas land is not. So, building horizontally in the city or other urban areas is not for future cities; that’s why we are discouraging it so that developers embrace modern trends of real estate and commercial housing construction.
That way we shall have a sustainable and modern city,” he added. He argues that the new approach eases infrastructure development, bringing electricity and water within reach of users; for the case of apartments or high-rise buildings, than in traditional houses.
Understanding new national urban housing policy
The national urban housing policy was adopted to implement other many laws and policies related to efficient use of land like Kigali master plan for the City of Kigali, and those that regulate proper land use across the country. It promotes efficient exploitation of land by various means inclusive of building high rise commercial and social structures.
Fred Mugisha, the director for urban planning and construction at the City of Kigali’s One Stop Centre, says they are encouraging vertical development of buildings because horizontal construction consumes a lot of land. “We have gazetted some areas that must have the high rise structures in the city master plan, especially in city centre and commercial areas in the suburbs, where we encourage vertical development of commercial buildings, and social projects in some cases,” he said.
He notes that other policies, like the urban planning code, will be implementing serviced constructions with infrastructure, beginning with the secondary cities.
“In the near future, only areas that are fully serviced with infrastructure, electricity, sewage, are accessible, and have other facilities required for modern real estate development, will get permits. In fact, this has already started in districts like Bugesera, and Rwamagana, as well as in Busanza and other secondary city sites,” he says.
Jean Uwizeyemana, the managing director of the La Pergola Apartments in Kigali, says developers support policies that are focused to better planning and good management of land use in urban areas across the country. However, challenges still abound as implementation of the policy starts, particularly the financial capacity of the ordinary Rwandan who cannot afford storeyed residential housing. There is also the issue of unco-ordinated infrastructure development, with utility bodies – power, water and sewage facilities, and other service providers including telecoms all carrying out works and installation as and when need arises.
Low cost housing
These housing facilities will be supported by the government through Rwanda Housing Authority, according to Kyazze. He says, under these projects, one hectare of land will accommodate 80 families, with enough space for compounds and gardens.
Kyazze says the approach will promote optimal land use, adding that the housing facilities will have social amenities, including sports and health facilities, shopping centres, social halls and learning centres, among others. “These projects will create jobs for enterprising residents and bring services nearer to the people compared to the traditional style of building where homesteads are spread over a wide area,” says Kyazze. He notes that the new housing system will target Kigali and the provincial secondary cities.
Church, school buildings to change
The new policy also affects social building styles as the government has set limits on the size of public buildings size. City of Kigali’s Mugisha says hospitals, schools, churches, and even residential houses will not be permitted in certain parts of the city. He says they will not permit anyone to build churches, hospitals and schools where there is less land in the interest of saving land. He says churches, health centres and primary schools will not occupy land exceeding 0.5 hectares, and secondary will occupy 2.5 hectares, among others.
Experts say policy timely
Eng Emmanuel Rugambwa, the project engineer at Real Contractors, says they were already advising clients on the benefits of sky-rise houses, adding that some people are still skeptical about the law.
Eng Valence Masengesho, who is working the Kigali Heights project, says the policy forward looking, particularly in the context of population increase in the city, and the available land for housing and other activities.
Citing Cartier Mateus, where the ordinary structures will be demolished to up high-rise buildings, he said vertically expansion is for the future and “those who have embrace the policy will not be affected by future developments to meet the trend”.
Paul Rwigamba, a director at Century Real Estate says that the availability of a policy on high-rise and awareness within the marketing is gradually increasing. He notes that the condominium law is actually in practice and there has been a few apartment projects that we have actually sold in the past while others are in the pipeline.
What residents say
According to UN Habitat, urban planning in both developed and developing countries takes place in a context of inequality and poverty. Although land use regulations and policies can, in principle, raise welfare and adjust or correct market failures but it could create the havoc in relation to people’s mind-set.
Timothy Mwizihirwe, a Kigali resident, says Rwandans still have the mind-set of dwelling in a single storey traditional houses where they want to own their own compounds. “Rwandans want to keep their home in privacy that’s why you see that they have long walls surrounding their homes traditionally known as ‘Ibipangu’ where they feel safe rather living in the apartments or flats,” he said.
Kalisa Vestinah, a student at University of Kigali, says ordinary Rwandans could find it hard to buy homes of such properties. He urges the sector regulator to encourage developers to build affordable homes for low-income earners, saying rent in downtown apartments is at a Rwf600,000 per month, which few Rwandans can afford.