The government's National Forum on Housing and Land Use this Wednesday is being held after the coronavirus epidemic has exposed the gravity of the housing crisis. During a lockdown, how do people Res Lakaz the whole time when they have no home to live in, or live in overcrowded or even toxic asbestos housing?
National Register for those in need of housing
The last Statistics Mauritius housing census of 2011 states that 88.9% of households are “owners”. The census does not tell us, however, how many of these house “owners” live in lakaz zeritye. This is a house, room or flat so small that it cannot be divided between (all heirs, by law, being all the children and spouse if any, of the deceased). Often, attempting to do so would cause family warfare, so people generally leave things be. Heirs and their families living in the deceased parent's housing do so without any security of tenure compared to a tenant. Another “heir” can just move in any time if he is desperate and imposing enough to.
Yet people in lakaz zeritye are defined as house “owners” by Government. And over the years, successive governments have leaned on statistics based on this absurd definition to cut down drastically on building new housing.
This is why LALIT is calling for the government to open up a “national register” for those in need of housing. Everyone with a housing problem should be able to register at their local CAB. Those in urgent need, like those living in asbestos, or women-headed households, can be fast-tracked.
New institution providing rented housing based on CHA model
The Jugnauth government, despite the false statistics, knows there is a housing crisis. That is why in its 2014 mandate, it announced it would build 10,000 houses (it only built 3,000) and in 2019 it announced 12,000.
The problem is not only the number of NHDC houses being built. There is another fundamental question to be addressed: How many families qualify for the NHDC housing? The 190,000 self-employed without stable monthly revenue are not eligible. With the pandemic, government is predicting 100,000 unemployed, who will not be eligible. Those who cannot afford an NHDC house are supposed to apply to the NEF, but to qualify, you need to own land. So where is everyone who is not eligible for NHDC or NEF housing supposed to live?
In the past, the Central Housing Authority (CHA) employed workers to build houses for those in need of housing. Everyone who registered got a ticket ensuring that, in turn, they got a rented house.This is how 177 CHA housing estates got built. In 1993, The Jugnauth-Berenger government closed down the CHA, sacking some 800 workers. This is how 27 years later, we have a massive housing crisis. A new institution based on the CHA-model that employs people to build houses to provide rented housing needs to be re-introduced. This would both decrease unemployment and address the housing crisis.
100 new villages for housing, jobs and food security
The government must requisition land from sugar estates to build, say, 100 villages each with 100 houses around a large plot of land to plant food crops on – providing housing, jobs and contributing towards food security. This is nothing new: land has been requisitioned for housing throughout post-colonial history – for CHA housing, VRS, ERS and blueprint housing for cane labourers and artisans, for ex-tied housing, even for NHDC housing. Sugar cane still covers over 50% of land surface on Mauritius Island despite the fact that the price of sugar is so low that production has no future.
Instead of subsidising cane, the government should be subsidising food production that can create jobs by the thousand, bring in revenue and ensure food security – while easing the housing crisis. Stop all luxury gated communities!
The government currently subsidises housing for billionaires. Smart City and IRS companies benefit from enormous tax breaks: no land transfer tax, registration duty nor morcellement tax, an 8-year Income Tax break, no TVA or Customs Duty on building and furnishing material. Meanwhile, putting the villas on the international real estate market has resulted in increasing the price of land to unattainable heights for the majority of Mauritian workers.
Subsidies on luxury villas gated-communities and Smart Cities must be re-chanelled to subsidise housing for those in need.
(Published in Le Mauricien 18.08.20)