Ethiopians adjust to life in Africa’s most ambitious social housing
By Tom Gardner
25 October 2016
ADDIS ABABA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - On weekday mornings traffic
on the road northeast from Jemo into the centre of Addis Ababa grinds
to a near standstill, as taxis, minibuses and tuk-tuks wrestle for
space along the narrow arterial highway.
Situated near the slopes of the hills that circle the Ethiopian
capital's southern flank, Jemo is a colossal condominium complex,
completed in 2010 and comprising over 10,000 apartments.
When it opened, Jemo was the largest such housing site in the city, and
today is home to some 50,000 people, many of whom work several miles
away in the city centre.
Sitting in a cafe on the ground floor of an apartment block on a leafy
boulevard a few streets across from the highway, Tedros Worku gestures
in the direction of the traffic.
"It is too far from Addis," he says. "It is too far from work, and the
road is too busy."
Like several of the men he sits with, Worku is unemployed.
When he moved to Jemo four years ago, as a beneficiary of the Ethiopian
government's low-income housing scheme, the Integrated Housing
Development Programme (IHDP), Worku planned to set up an informal
business, as he had done when he lived in slum housing in the inner
But when his friends in Jemo tried to set up a small street stall, the
local authorities quickly shut them down.
They were told that only formal businesses in the area's expensive
ground floor units were permitted.
Despite waiting seven years to receive his single bedroom apartment in
Jemo, Worku now plans to rent it out and use the income to move back to
his old neighbourhood.
"I miss my friends, my social life, my work," he says. "I have a nice
house but no income."
Ethiopia's housing boom
Worku's predicament is one felt by many residents of the multi-storey
housing units, known as condominiums, that have sprung up all across
the city since the programme was launched in 2005.
As governments in much of the Western world have fallen out of love
with top-down mass-housing schemes, the Ethiopian authorities have been
rolling out what experts consider to be the largest social housing
project in Africa, and one of the most ambitious in the developing
"In Africa, there is nothing comparable in terms of numbers," says
William Cobbett of Cities Alliance.
Addis Ababa's skyline is now peppered with construction and from the
sky, vast estates can be seen sprawling out from the edges of the city
towards the wooded hills.
In order to deal with rapid population growth and an acute shortage of
affordable housing, authorities in Addis Ababa and in smaller cities
across the country have been building condominium units targeting low
and middle-income groups, financed entirely with public money.
Although Ethiopia is one of the least urbanised countries in the world,
Addis Ababa's population is now thought to be close to four million,
and growing at a rate of nearly four percent per year.
The number of houses needed to meet supply is estimated to be as many
as half a million.
Housing lottery for poor
The new housing complexes are typically four storeys high, with the aim
of promoting densification and containing the city's urban sprawl.
Poor residents like Worku, who do not own property and are instead
reliant on insecure tenancies, are encouraged to register for a lottery
system which allocates the units as they become available.
Those who can afford the deposit and the scheme's generous mortgage
repayment terms are then granted ownership of their units, although all
land in Ethiopia is still formally owned by the government.
The aim is to transform a housing sector historically characterised by
rental occupation into one based on private home ownership.
Under the previous communist regime, known as the Derg, approximately
60 percent of housing in Addis Ababa was rental accommodation and
government-owned housing in the Kebele municipal divisions accounted
for 93 percent of the sector.
Kebele housing today is of typically poor quality, with homes made of
wood and mud and without proper sanitation and infrastructure.
According to a report produced for the World Bank in 2016, the IHDP
marks a "radical departure" from previous approaches to housing in
The government aims to regenerate the inner city by replacing Kebele
slums with condominiums.
But many residents want to return to their Kebele homes.
Emeret Tadese, a mother and housewife whose husband is a mechanic, now
lives in Yeka Abado, a new condominium site on the eastern edge of
Addis Ababa that is still under construction.
The 200-acre (80.94 hectares) expanse will one day provide 18,000
apartments, according to authorities.
But Tadese, like Worku, wants to move back to her kebele neighbourhood
in Piazza, the old Italian quarter of central Addis Ababa, although
even with an income from rent the area would be too expensive today,
"I live away from my relatives and friends," she says. "It is empty,
and there are no churches around here."
"Transport is really tough. My husband struggles to get to work."
Some residents complain that they have been forced to downsize.
Yehaulaishet Feleke, who sells eggs beneath her apartment in an inner
city complex called Balderas, says that after four years waiting for a
unit she was eventually given one that, though cleaner than her old
home, is much smaller.
In her kebele house she had three bedrooms, whereas now she has one,
sleeping five people.
"If I had a choice I would have stayed," she says.
Improve don't demolish
Slum upgrading, rather than demolition and reconstruction, can be a
more effective - and less disruptive - way of promoting urban
development, experts say.
But upgrading programmes in Addis Ababa remain piecemeal and small
scale, despite 80 percent of the city still consisting of informal
settlements, according to a UN report published in 2010.
However, many are impressed by the IHDP, despite its drawbacks.
"For a country like Ethiopia, being able to complete more than 200,000
units between 2005 and 2015 is a huge achievement," says Bisrat Kifle,
a PhD student at the Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building
Construction and City Development.
The programme has done a significant amount to address Ethiopia's
historically under-developed housing sector, he says.
And teams from neighbouring countries like Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania
are looking to Ethiopia to learn lessons, he notes.
The real problem is that the IHDP has failed to target the city's
poorest effectively, he says.
The 2016 report for the World Bank notes that the poorest cannot access
the programme because they struggle to afford the deposit.
Moreover, the lottery system does not allocate according to need,
although a new rule stipulating that 30 percent of new units must be
allocated to women aims to address this by targeting poor, single
mothers with little education.
The UN also notes that many of the poorest beneficiaries are unable to
service their mortgage repayments, and are forced to rent their units
out and move to cheaper accommodation.
Well-located complexes like Balderas are inhabited increasingly by
reasonably well-off professionals, while peripheral sites tend to be
populated by those on lower incomes.
Gottera, also in central Addis Ababa, is known by locals as the
"Facebook site" because it is popular with young graduates and
professionals in the technology sector.
There is a risk of "ghettoisation", experts warn.
boom fuels jobs
However, admirers point out that the IHDP is about job creation as much
The sight of independent metalworkers, bricklayers, and carpenters hard
at work in the building sites of Yeka Abado is testament to the IHDP's
distinctiveness as an urban planning scheme.
A study by the Cities Alliance in 2012 said it had created 176,000 jobs.
"This is one of the successes of the programme: to create housing with
employment," says Mekonnen Wube, an urban planner with the Addis Ababa
Housing Development Project Office.
The government says small businesses are also encouraged to set up and
provide for the new estates.
Mulgugeta Sherefa, a butcher and martial arts instructor in his early
twenties, rents a single-bedroom apartment in Jemo with his two
brothers and sister for 3,000 birr ($135) a month so that he can work
on the site.
REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri A general view shows a section of the Yeka Abado
condominium on the outskirts of Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa
He is not yet registered for the scheme, but hopes one day to own an
Worku, sitting drinking coffee beside him, shakes his head. "In the old housing you could always find work," he says.
($1 = 22.13 birr)
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