Improving Housing in Liberia: Pillar to Transformation

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About two years ago President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf remarked that her officials were good at developing proposals and strategies about how to address the nation’s many challenges.  The problem, she lamented, was “implementation.”

It would be a good thing for the President to appoint a task force to find out which of her government’s policies, strategies and  pronouncements over the past eight years have been implemented, and which have not.  Admittedly, that would  and should be the task of the media itself.

One of the many areas upon which public policy pronouncements have been made is on the issue of  housing.  Modern and well   organized housing, even for civil servants, paramilitary personnel, low income dwellers, and the public in general is yet a distant dream in a country still riddled with dirty, diseased-infested slums,  even in the capital city, and everywhere else; and backward and poorly ventilated thatch huts littered throughout the country.

This ancient, mean, despicable state in which our people have lived for centuries is in place against the backdrop of significant and impressive housing developments taking place in neighboring countries, including La Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Sierra Leone.  In La Côte d’Ivoire, a US1.1 billion housing expansion project is said to be underway for the building of 5,000 units for soldiers, police, immigration, coast guard, forestry and drug enforcement personnel.  Informed sources say American, Chinese and Moroccan investors are involved in this project.

Our sources further indicate that 9,100 lower income homes are scheduled to be erected in Ghana; and similar undertakings are in the works in Sierra Leone.

But in Liberia, housing does not seem to be a priority, despite the government’s aim to transform the nation into a “middle-income” nation by 2030.  Right now, according to official sources, the government is focusing on three urgent priorities—power (the Mount Coffee Hydro and mini hydros), ports (Free Port of Monrovia, Port of Buchanan, etc.) and roads (Monrovia to Ganta, Nimba County to Grand Gedeh County to Fishtown. River Gee County and on to Harper, Maryland County.

But where will all these wonderful roads lead? To slum dwellings and thatched huts littering the highways, villages, towns and chiefdoms throughout Liberia?  Where will the energy, port and road engineers and other personnel reside; and into what kind of homes and buildings will power transmission lines be installed—in thatched, mat, cardboard and zinc shacks?

The Liberian government’s policymakers need to understand that investment in housing throughout the world has a multiplier effect: it impacts everything, including economic growth and employment for large numbers of people.  Better housing inspires many other positive developments, including better schools, shopping centers, recreational facilities and the general wellbeing of neighborhoods and the populace at large.  

Without proper housing, yea modern homes even for our lower income population all over the country, Liberia can never hope to become a middle income country by 2030.  For middle income does not only mean sufficient jobs, enhancing the entrepreneurial capacity of the people, good energy availability, better seaports and better roads.  It also means lifting the masses of the Liberian people, at long last, out their thatched hut dwellings and zinc shacks and into concrete homes mixed even with clay, of which we have no shortage in Liberia.

In recent years several Heads of the National Housing Authority (NHA ) have announced plans for the building of housing complexes.  Former Director General Charles Harris told Daily Observer that the NHA had begun construction of hundreds of houses in the Juarzon area off the Robertsfield Highway.  What has become of these?    

The National Housing Authority has been seriously handicapped by poor funding.  Even the National Legislature, the representatives of the people, cut the current NHA budget from little over US$3 million to US$700,000.  Part of this money was to develop sites in Brewerville and Kakata.  The NHA has managed to partially complete a meager 58 low income housing units in Brewerville, but lacks funding to build the necessary access roads and septic tanks.

The government must think again and in the coming year convince itself and our development partners that GOL takes Housing seriously as one of the pillars in the drive toward Liberia’s economic and social transformation.    

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