RAMBASSUN (SANDEEP) SEWPAL
Chartered Architect
Principal at Sandeep Sewpal Architect

Following the eviction of squatters during the COVID-19 lockdown, the term ‘housing crisis’ entered our national vocabulary in a dramatic way. There is a general perception that the housing problem is a fairly new phenomenon; however, the problem has existed over decades and at this specific time, we are witnessing the worst consequences. In the last 10 years which could also be referred as the ‘decade of decadence for Mauritius housing’, the government failed year after year to meet their housing target while the number of people on NHDC’s waiting list nearly doubled over that period of time. Now, we are facing an issue which has proven fairly intractable. In this article, we look at some of the reasons for the housing crisis and its implications across Mauritius and some of the proposed solutions.

Causes and Implications

The primary cause of the housing crisis is the lack of new subsidised housing units being constructed. With the creation of the NHDC in the early 1990s, it was expected that enough affordable housing units would be built for our hard working poor. But since 2005, the number of housing units built fell so drastically that in 2007, 2008 and 2010, no housing units were built. Moreover, in November 2013, the Office of Public Sector Governance (OPSG) heavily criticised the NHDC in its report. According to the OPSG report, statistics showed that 1 out of 2 NHDC occupiers was unable to repay their mortgage; administrative cost of NHDC rose from 64M in 2009 to 77M in 2012; house buyers had to pay unnecessary overheads of 15% towards administrative cost, a record-low profit of 19.6M for NHDC in 2012, an average of 473 housing units has been built annually between 2001 and 2012 instead of 1000 housing units per year and the NHDC takes between 2 to 3 years to deliver a housing project. The NHDC even spent lots of money on waterproofing works, treatment of cracks, rehabilitation of water reticulation networks and site cleaning, enough to prove that the housing units were of poor quality. Coupled with this, the Catholic Church sent a ‘distress call’ in 2013 to condemn the shoddy noddy boxes (boîtes d’allumettes) called family homes by NHDC which were pathetically small to house a family of 3 to 4 persons. The decline in house building, not seen since just after cyclone Carol has taken place just at the same time as Mauritius entered a period of unprecedented economic growth. However, since the 2000s, the inequality gap between rich and poor widened even more, leaving the poor further disadvantaged as NHDC housing units were no longer affordable. To make things worse, there has been a considerable lack of political will to deal with the housing problem.

Solutions

In some 22 articles in the Forum page of Le Mauricien during the past five years, I have discussed the strategies to reform social housing in Mauritius. We now have a newly-elected Prime Minister and a new Housing Minister and there are calls for the latter to put back housing on top the government’s priority list. It is clear that there is no single formula for getting social housing policies right, but by not adopting the most commonly suggested opinion to reform the housing sector, the crisis would definitely worsen in Mauritius.

♣The government has to prepare a Housing Needs Assessment to know exactly how many households are in housing need for allocation to the right people.

♣Put more emphasis on ‘Good Quality’ in housing and meet the size of new housing according to occupancy.

♣Build new housing units to international minimum space standards for housing.

♣Replace Object Subsidy with Subject Subsidy in the form of Housing Allowance.

♣Provide social homes to rent with ‘right to buy’ scheme.

♣Set up a new Housing Corporation for the construction of social rented housing.

♣Include the right to have access to adequate housing in our constitution.

♣Prepare reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to achieve the progressive realisation of the right to have access to adequate housing.

♣In Mauritius, no one should be evicted from their home, or have their home demolished without an order of court made after considering all the relevant circumstances. No legislation should permit arbitrary evictions just like is the case in South Africa.

Till now, the Housing Minister has given no clue on how he intends to tackle the housing crisis but Mauritians seem quietly confident that he will address some, if not all of these suggestions by the end of his mandate.