Interview: Paul Mapessi
What are the latest projects and developments in the social housing segment in Gabon?
PAUL MAPESSI: There are several operators involved in the construction of social housing in Gabon. The national operator, Société Nationale Immobilière, is building 3800 houses across the country, while SNLS is currently constructing about 2000 houses in 2014-15 and developing 650 serviced lots in the city of Bikelé, under our 2014-18 strategic development plan.
SNLS should also start the development of 12,000 lots at Essassa, near the Nkok economic free zone, by the end of 2015. Additionally, National Agency for Public Works is building 872 units in the city of Akanda, in the north of Libreville, and running a programme with 1100 social houses for people that had to be relocated during work on sanitation infrastructure in Libreville’s catchment areas, a project being managed by Coordination Unit for Studies and Works.
SNLS’s objective is to meet the growing demand for housing among Gabonese people, as the housing shortage has grown every year alongside population growth and is now estimated to be between 160,000 and 200,000 units. President Ali Bongo Ondimba has prioritised the development of social housing programmes by setting a goal that 5000 units be built annually. We hope to incrementally raise the share of social housing in the total housing offer as most of the population is entitled to have access to social housing, due to their financial situation.
Nonetheless, it is worth noting that the development of social housing as an affordable option tends to reduce real-estate prices in the private market and help the middle class gain access to housing. Generally speaking, it remains very difficult for Gabonese to access housing, even though they benefit from high incomes, because market prices are still very high, especially in the private segment. It is worth also highlighting that construction materials are quite expensive in Gabon, especially cement, sand and gravel, which has affected housing prices. In addition, Gabonese people tend to have a negative perception of construction materials other than cement.
What sources of financing can be further developed to foster better access to social housing?
MAPESSI: Several financial schemes have been developed in recent years to help Gabonese access housing. The vast majority of banks now grant credits to their clients with a ceiling rate of 10%. Firms are also increasingly involved in helping their employees get a house by negotiating credit rates and guarantees with bank. As for SNLS, we have partnered with several banks to fund our housing projects as we do not rely on state subsidies for our development.
How challenging it is to for construction firms to obtain land for real estate development in Gabon?
MAPESSI: Recent legislation has had a positive impact by easing access to land in Gabon, as the former law stipulated the land belongs to the state. The new legislation led to the creation of the National Agency for Urban Planning, Topographical Works and Land Registry, which regulates the attribution of land titles. Now, more land titles are given during a transaction as a guarantee of property. The development of the land title should accelerate, as the vast majority of Gabonese cannot show a land certificate.
How well are sustainable development principles integrated into social housing projects?
MAPESSI: The use of good practices related to sustainable development is tangible in Gabon. For instance, the Law on the Orientation of Sustainable Development, passed in 2014, compels operators to carry out environmental impact studies for their projects. We are also engaged in working with constructors that are ISO certified to make sure the houses are built in accordance with quality standards.
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