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Achieving Affordable Housing In Ghana: Embracing Indigenous Materials

The question of affordability in housing is a pressing concern for many Ghanaians. With the average annual income of the working class below $3,000, the current cost of “affordable” houses at $80,000 is clearly misaligned with the economic realities faced by the population. This article explores why government-provided affordable housing remains out of reach and proposes solutions to make housing truly affordable.

The prevailing consensus is that a house is affordable if it consumes no more than 30% of a household’s total income. Given this definition, it becomes evident that the current affordable housing initiatives are failing. A significant segment of the Ghanaian population questions why these houses are unaffordable despite the government’s well-intentioned efforts.

During my studies in Scotland for an MSc in Real Estate, I observed that almost all residential houses, commercial properties, and other structures were constructed with locally available materials such as granite and slate. In England, bricks—produced from the country’s rich clay deposits—are widely used. These materials are chosen because they are locally abundant and do not need to be imported, making their usage cost effective. This starkly contrasted with my expectations of seeing shiny glass or sandcrete residential houses.

In 1952, the Ghanaian government sought assistance from United Nations housing experts to address housing sector challenges. These experts recommended—among others—improving indigenous technology and building materials. Unfortunately, this advice has been largely ignored over the years, leading to the continued use of expensive imported building materials.

To achieve truly affordable housing, the use of local building materials must be prioritized. Indigenous technologies, such as laterite interlocking bricks, offer significant cost savings—up to 24% reduction in building costs according to research.

The government should assess the feasibility of these materials for its affordable housing projects and encourage private developers to do the same. Reducing reliance on imported building materials and focusing on local alternatives will bring us closer to the goal of providing affordable housing for the Ghanaian working class. There are certain barriers, however, to the adoption of local materials. Barriers such as technological, cultural, and regulatory.

Current building codes in Ghana does not fully support or recognize the use of indigenous materials, favoring conventional materials like concrete and sandcrete blocks. Revising these regulations to include local materials is essential for encouraging their adoption. Also, cultural perceptions often view traditional materials as inferior to modern, imported materials. Changing this mindset requires education about the benefits and durability of local materials. Pilot projects showcasing attractive and durable buildings made from local materials can help shift public perception.

The production and use of local materials such as laterite interlocking bricks require specific skills and equipment. There is often a lack of investment in the necessary technology and limited training programs for builders. Addressing these gaps through investment in machinery and training is crucial.

In sum, that the unaffordability of government-provided housing in Ghana stems from the use of imported materials. Embracing local building materials and indigenous construction technologies is essential for creating affordable housing solutions that align with the economic realities of the Ghanaian working class.

Rahim Newton

Real Estate Professional

abdulrahimnewton@yahoo.com

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