Is GREDA living up to the task?

Some of the apartments built by Regimanuel Gray LimitedSome of the apartments built by Regimanuel Gray LimitedIt has been 25 years since real estate developers in the country grouped themselves into one body, the Ghana Real Estate Developers Association (GREDA). Their aim is to, among other things, provide a central point for players in the sector, advocate favourable government policies and help increase the country’s housing stock.

Although the association consist of businesses in the real estate sector, the main reason for its establishment was not too much of monetary value.

It was to help persuade estate developers and members for that matter to construct moderately priced houses which would be affordable to all Ghanaians.

That objective has been pursued earnestly, at least in the early days of GREDA’s formation.

The construction of the Tema Community 18 Estates, the Teshie-Nungua Estates, Spintex Road Estates are among a host of other developments that  members of the association have undertaken.

These efforts by members of GREDA at the time helped to raise the national housing stock, made decent houses available to many and in the process reduced housing related challenges.

But things are now changing. Membership of GREDA has risen from about 10 in 1988, when it was established, to about 400.

However, the  sustained economic growth in the country, upsurge in foreign direct investments (FDIs) and an urge for money rather than service by most real estate companies have caused many members to build primarily for the  middle to high income earners.

That leaves those in the lower end of the market to fend for themselves or at best rent.

With this coming on the back of increasing population growth and urbanisation, demand for houses has expectantly overran supply, thus, leaving millions without decent accommodation.
Currently the housing deficit is estimated at 1.5 million.

This chronic housing deficit, which pushes prices of the units up, has forced many to make do with kiosks, containers and wooden structures.

Slums now spring up in almost every corner of the country and the regional capitals in particular.

The Ghana Statistical Service estimates that about 5.8 million, nearly a quarter of the national population, was residing in slums as of 2010.

Dr Alexander Tweneboah, the  immediate past President of the association, admits that there was more to be done to close the deficit gap in the housing delivery.

“GREDA’s existence has brought some phenomenal success in the housing industry but its downside or failure, perhaps, has been its inability to build for the average Ghanaian,” Dr Tweneboa said, pointing to the highly priced houses in the country.

“One of GREDA’s core objectives was to build for the average Ghanaian but that is no longer the case. The economic motive is now far stronger than the urge to help the ordinary person,” he added.

Averagely, a two bedroom terrace house in Accra or any of the many cities currently sells at about US$35,000. That is almost the lifetime saving of an average income earner in the country.

Although Dr Tweneboah, like many other developers and experts in the housing industry, sees this trend as worrying, he argues that it is not the making of the individual developers nor GREDA.

To him, these factors are beyond the control of the GREDA members.

It is obvious that housing is a major challenge to the country. That challenge is even compounded by the rising cost of raw materials for the sector, constraints in access to land and credit and the lack of a single housing policy for the entire country.

With these bottlenecks still in place, there is no sign the cost of housing will ever come down to make it possible for those who earn less than GH¢600 a month to also own and/or reside in decent accommodations.

What this means is that although more investors and companies could be trooping into the real estate sector, as is the case now, their presence there will do little to lessen the housing worries of the majority poor unless the government makes a more conscious and pragmatic intervention.

That intervention could be done through a national policy skewed towards encouraging developers such as members of GREDA to build for people to buy or construct compound residential houses that can be rented at reasonable prices.

Government can also create a distinct interest rates policy and land blocks specially for estate companies interested in partnering it to provide affordable houses, establishing a single institution to deal with housing in the country, lowering taxes on raw materials and reviving the challenged State Housing Corporation (SHC) to again build for the poor.

As Dr Tweneboah put it, housing is just not about expenditure; it is more of policy direction, a conscious effort and not the years of rhetoric and lip service from the government and a genuine partnership between the public and the private sector.

And as for GREDA and its members, its past President said “they will always be working and market will continue to be there for them. But if we as a country are committed to bridging our housing deficit, then we really need to do more than just talking. If we don’t, then we are confining generations into residing in kiosks, containers and wooden structures. That is shameful,” he said.

By Maxwell Adombilla Akalaare / Graphic Business / Ghana

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