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Governing by False Housing Statistics or Putting a Flimsy Lid on a Volcano

20.04.2018

Ministers love saying that nine-out-of-ten Mauritians own their own homes. Finance Ministers claim “89% of Mauritians are homeowners”. Some even give more precision, announcing pompously that 89.3% of Mauritians were home-owners in 2011. LALIT has been denouncing this since 2013. We have also denounced the Mauritius Commercial Bank for perpetuating this same myth (1). Recently, however, when the President of the Republic on a private radio program made this claim, he was quickly corrected by the Vicaire Général of the Catholic Church, Jean Maurice Labour. Finally, someone has picked up on LALIT’s campaign against these brain-numbing statistics that are the Government’s pretext for not building enough social housing. The real problem is what people call “lakaz zeritye”, housing trapped on the no man’s land of archaic inheritance laws when the State builds so little new social housing.  


 Definition of home-ownership?


The first thing to check in any statistics is the definition. And that is invariably where part of the manipulation creeps in.


 What question do the Statistics Mauritius people ask to find out if someone owns a house?


1. “Do you own the deeds to the house you live in?” “Are the deeds in your name?”


2. As a supplementary question to confirm the answer, “Could you, if you choose, take a loan against the deeds?”


 No, Statistics Mauritius does not ask this question. That might give the real figure.


 Yet, this is the very question we challenge the Pravind Jugnauth Government to get Statistics Mauritius to ask.


 And this is the question we challenge Statistics Mauritius, as a group of professional statisticians, to ask anyway, by their own integrity.


 The question actually being asked, according to Statistics Mauritius in a written reply to a written query from LALIT, is “Do you pay rent.”


 Then, if you are not an illegal squatter, they put you down as “home-owner”.  For them, 


            total home-owners = total non rent-payers – total squatters


 So, generations of Ministers, flatterers, tailors sewing emperors’ new clothes, heads of banking institutions, top academics, the World Bank and IMF trying to curb any spending in the interests of the people, and everybody else of any supposed weight in the world says, “Oh, what a lovely model Mauritius is for Africa.”


 All based on lies. All based on asking a question whose answer masks reality, instead of unmasking it.


 Let’s analyse this.


 The 10% who do pay rent are, in reality, the 10% who live as tenants in rented accommodation. We have no reason to challenge this figure. Let’s say that is some 30,000 – 40,000 families. And most of them probably do need Government housing, not just 21,000 who have put their names down. But the main problem, statistically speaking, from LALIT’s experience, rests elsewhere.


 Lakaz Zeritye


Mauritius, being an ex-French colony (as well as ex-British colony later), inherited something called “forced heirs” from the Code Napoleon. Everything you own – for most families it is a house on a small bit of land – you are forced by law to leave to all your children in equal parts. (Wills cannot undo this, except for a fraction.) In France, the State is, of course, only too well aware that it would be impossible to sell off HLM social housing units precisely because forced heirs laws persist there, too.


 And it is by ignoring the over-crowding amongst generations of “forced heirs”, none of whom pay rent to anyone, that is the problem.


 It is this that allows the Government to claim that the 21,000 people have put their names down for housing (no doubt an accurate figure) coincides with the 10% who say they do not pay rent (also an accurate figure), thus (if you subtract those who want to stay in rented accommodation for some reason) confirming their statistics. 


 The Government is not counting people living rent-free on “heirs’ land”. In reality, these families are not owners. They are less protected by law than tenants.  They live in the reign of the jungle. The most domineering big brother rules. And this is where the bulk of the housing problem lies, curtained away from the official statistics by asking the wrong question.


 The reality


In villages


So, in villages in Mauritius, most families live on small plots of family land acquired during generations of parcellization. This was done by sugar estates, together with the colonial and then post-colonial Governments who moved workers off the tied housing on the sugar estates. The plot of land was reasonable in, say, 1950. A mother and father with six young children were comfortable. There was space for a house, a kitchen, a loo, a cow-shed for two animals, a mango tree and a vegetable patch. The six children by 1970 were all married. Five of them, say, have no other choice than to build a room or two on to the house on each side and at the back and out front, concreting up the land, and having, say, three children each. These 6 families (the mother and father plus, the five children who have stayed on with their families) are all, by Government statistics, “home owners”. By the year 2000, the fifteen grand-children have all grown up and married, and have, say, two children of their own. Of these, maybe 10 have stayed on, building a second story on the original house for two of them, and on top of some of the other additions – now in very cramped quarters. The grand-father, in whose name the deeds often still are, has meanwhile passed away. So, there are 16 families living on the one plot of land. There is no space for anything, including any way of dissipating family rows.


 This is pretty crowded housing. And the figures just mask non-home-owners as happy home-owners.


 On Housing Estates of Cité


For housing estate houses on small pieces of land, it’s the same story. Since the 1970’s, houses have been sold off to the head of household who used to rent it. So, the same pattern of forced heirs has evolved in all the housing estates – from Cite La Chaux in Mahebourg to Cite La Ferme in Bambous, from Cite Argy in the East, to Cite EDC and CHA in Riv. du Rempart, and in towns, from Cite Vallijee in Port Louis to Cite Malherbes in Curepipe, via Cite in all of Plaines Wilhelms. The original owner, in whose name the deeds are, had four or five children, who have since married and had children. And so, while many families live on the land, only one person owns it. And he may well be dead by now. Other heirs still live abroad or are minors, and even the most organized of extended families has little hope of putting order into who owns the deeds.


 So, the housing problem is huge.


 Register of People living in Lakaz Zeritye


What we challenge the Government to do is to run a nation-wide campaign, calling for every family which needs housing to come forward and register with the Ministry of Housing, through the local CABs. The Government needs to specify that “heirs’ housing” does not count as being the owner of a house already. The only owner is “someone in whose name the deed is” and “who can borrow on the basis of the deeds”.   


 We, in LALIT are not keen on everyone being forced to become a home-owner. We think people should have the option of life-long leases as well. These leases can, as was done by CHA in Mauritius and as is done with HLM in France, be extended to a family member after the moving away or death of the lessee.


 We think everyone, on their 18th birthday should be able to apply to lease a house from Government. When they decide to marry and/or have children, they can opt for a larger place to lease. The houses need land enough for a tree or two, a place to sit in the shade, and space to plant a few greens.


 And when people age, they should be able to opt for a smaller house again.


 But successive Governments refuse to see the social problems that arise from this unacknowledged housing crisis. They use Statistics Mauritius’ figures as a flimsy hat balance on top of a volcano.


 It just won’t work.


 Every week, there are incidents, often mortal, where long-standing feuds over these “lakaz zeritye” explode into intra-familial violence. It will be better, instead of fighting those close to you, to organize. The genuine need for housing to be built must take the shape of a big mass movement to force the State to recognise the problem. And this is precisely what LALIT is doing.


 We need your help to mobilize the thousands of families, maybe one hundred thousand families, who need housing. People who need housing need to stand up and join the movement to oppose the Government’s policy of using all the arable land in the country for villas for billionaires, and throwing money into highways and other infrastructure for real estate speculation all over the country.


 Housing, together with job creation – which also needs land – is the big problem of the day.


 Lindsey Collen


 (1) http://www.lalitmauritius.org/en/newsarticle/1950/when-statistics-tell-lies-mcb-perpetuates-myth-of-mauritian-home-ownership/