Can a failed Rwandan housing project offer lessons for the future?
Marie-Claire Kayeze sat in front of her home, surrounded by her seven children, clutching a letter. “They keep moving me,” she said angrily. “This is a good home, and I want to stay here.”
Kayeze was forced to move to Batsinda, a cheap housing estate in a northern Kigali suburb in 2007 after her old neighbourhood was cleared to make way for a proposed new business district in the Rwandan capital.
Residents of around 260 households were offered the choice of compensation based on the value of their homes or to move to a new, low-income housing village, known as Batsinda. The purpose built homes were offered for sale at 3.5 million Rwandan Francs ($4,300) each, affordable thanks to a 50 percent government subsidy. New residents could pay in installments and would be granted titles once they were complete, they were told.
Batsinda was the first affordable housing programme of its kind in Kigali and most families, including Kayeze’s, opted to relocate to the new neighbourhood. With its well-ordered gridiron layout and comfortable hillside homes, the village offered its residents the chance of a new life away from the hustle and bustle of the city. But as Kigali expanded over the following decade, and the areas around Batsinda gentrified and rents soared, many residents were forced to sell their homes and look for cheaper housing elsewhere. Now Kayeze’s family, alongside around 15 others who received letters from the city authorities, fear they too will soon be forced to leave.
Rwanda had the world’s fastest urbanization rate from 2010-2015, according to U.N. figures, while Kigali’s population is expected to swell from just over 1 million in 2011 to over 3 million by 2030. A study by the City of Kigali published in 2012 predicted the capital will need 344,000 new homes by 2022 to house the 70 percent of residents currently living in informal settlements.
Over a quarter of the projected supply of new dwellings were apartments, the 2012 study noted, mostly intended for wealthy expatriates.
Meanwhile, rents for the poorest in Kigali increased over 50 percent on average between 2011-2014, according to an upcoming study by the International Growth Centre (IGC).
For residents of Batsinda like Kayeze, this new wave of development is worrying because while they occupy increasingly valuable land, they do not yet have formal title or ownership. City authorities, she said, gave residents just one month to complete their payments and if they failed to do so, their homes would be put out for official auction. Residents told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that in 2007, they were given the option of paying in installments over 20 years, although this was not written into their contracts. In January, residents elected a local, Karamira Clemont, to protest the eviction plan at City Hall and demand a three-year period of grace.
Kigali authorities offered the group another year to find the money or sell their homes. A spokesman for the City of Kigali, Bruno Rangira, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation efforts were being made to support those unable to raise the money. “We believe this issue will be solved,” he said.
Pressures of Urbanisation
The plight of Batsinda’s residents echoes those of many other communities across Kigali as city authorities grapple with a burgeoning population. In Batsinda, residents worry that if they are forced to move it would be impossible to find affordable alternative housing. “I could sell my house but I would have to use the money to pay the 3.5 million Rwandan francs that I owe,” said Beatrice Mukandoli, another longtime occupant who lives with her husband and three children. “Then where would I go?”
The Rwandan government introduced a new housing policy in 2015 in an effort to address the problems of residents forced out by the city’s rapid growth, development and gentrification. New incentives and subsidies were introduced for affordable housing construction. Kigali authorities hope a new housing estate known as Batsinda II – now being built just down from the original project by the national pension programme, the Rwanda Social Security Board – might become a model for the future. Unlike the original Batsinda, only low-income residents would be eligible, with rules to stop them selling their units on to wealthier ones.
“The idea was to show that you could build a functioning community on a hill – including a school and other services – and still supply the low-cost market,” said Fatou Dieye, a urban planner based in Kigali. Several similar schemes are being rolled out across the city, many involving private investors keen to take advantage of incentives to build affordable housing.
Despite the new programmes, urban planning experts fear that it will not be enough to plug the housing shortage. “People still don’t really understand the scale of the demand,” said Dieye. Even low-cost homes at Batsinda II will cost on average 25 million Rwandan Francs ($30,500) for a two-bedroom apartment, city authorities said.
The fundamental problem is that land is too expensive, and the government owns almost none of it, Dieye added. Ninety-seven percent of land in Rwanda is privately-owned, though there are now plans to establish national land banks in every district, according to Didier Sagashya, Director General of the Rwanda Housing Authority. But for residents of Batsinda, facing relocation once again, such proposals provide little comfort. “A person who is relocated becomes poorer than he was before,” said Clemont, the community leader. “That is the reality.”