A New Kind of Private-Public Partnership for Housing in Sierra Leone -

 

How about a new type of public-private partnership?

I recently was in my home country of Sierra Leone where I conducted a study on housing. I was interested in knowing how the private market is doing and how the housing stock has improved since government's "liberalization" policies. For starters, unlike Uganda, Sierra Leone does not have much of a viable "private sector" when it comes to housing finance. Due to its prolonged conflict in the 90s, the person-per-room ratio in most cities has quadripled, and density in Freetown is unlike no where else, and many of the houses are in pretty bad shape and disaster waiting to happen. Succesive governments have been trying to tackle this to no avail becasue of lack of finance. It is no secret to housing experts that housing is capital-intensive. But something interesting happened in Sierra Leone. Government through its social security scheme did what Ghana did several years ago. They used the retirement funds that was just sitting there to invest in housing. They opened up a Housing Finance Scheme through the HFC Bank. Unfortunately, they are building high-scaled homes that virtually nobody ( but themselves) can afford. Part of the reason is based on a "city-competitive" model - Making Freetown look like other modern cities. My question thus became; how can we use funds that are already available to maximise housing stock and at the same time make these funds solvent so that people's retirement is not jeopardised? I thought of a new model of public-private partnership. Its based on investing these funds into homes already owned by people- by doing improvement, creating more space ( converting some one-flat homes to story buildings), and hence renting those new spaces to people who badly needed homes and can afford to rent. I am talking here of teachers, police, city workers, regular civil servants who could not find decent places to rent even when they could afford. The idea is that govt could put a lien on those homes ( to guarantee return of their money) for the duration of the renting until it has got all of its return in investment. Once the first batch of funds have been recouped, (typically five year period), government could reinvest in another area of the city. This idea solves a number of problems that countries like Sierra Leone, or maybe Uganda is grappling with.

1. It provides much needed housing for the over abundant population in Sierra Leones's cities

2. It improves the mostly delapidated bulidngs in the central city and hence ensures code compliance and safety issues

3. Such funds will stimulate the economy as it provides construction jobs

4. Government will be able to recoup its fund much quickly and return the homes back to the owners who can continue to rent and increase income.

These ideas which sound pedestrain are in a way backed by some fundamental theories in housing including JF Turners's Self Help Model and World Bank's Sites and Services in some aspect.  But even more importantly, taking into consideration the constraints associated with land and its paucity in places like Freetown, I think some type of creative-destruction ( not in the typical Harvey-dian concept) could be well meaningful. And most importantly, it would regentrify those neighborhoods without displacing its people - a departure from many urban regeneration programs we have seen in industrialized worlds. If anything, the homeowners will be the ones gentrified, and not just the neighborhood. To me, it will be a combination of place-based and people-based economic theory of housing development.  Just my quick thoughts and would really like some feedback on these.

Steven