Ghana can learn from Dutch housing associations

News - 24 May 2018 - Communication BK

In many places in Ghana, the management of housing stocks is associated with chronically poor maintenance. Research conducted by doctoral candidate Samson Aziabah reveals that the way in which the Dutch housing associations operate could provide some useful guidance. 

In the past, this West African country had a public housing sector that applied the British model. In the 1970s and 1980s, social housing stocks were partly privatised. Parts were sold to residents or private organisations and the rest became the property of local municipalities. The State Housing Corporation and Tema Development Corporation, previously responsible for managing social housing, became private organisations, with the state as the majority shareholder. “The idea was that this transfer of responsibilities would result in better maintenance”, explains Aziabah. “But things did not work out as planned.” Today’s Ghanaian housing stocks are characterised by leaking roofs, flaking paint and dilapidated plumbing. 

For his doctoral research 'Better public housing management in Ghana, an approach to improve maintenance and housing quality', Aziabah went in search of what went wrong. He also explored a series of potential solutions to the problem. His search for the causes of the deplorable state of the housing market led him to visit a number of municipalities in the north of the country. Case studies and interviews with residents, representatives of residents’ organisations and municipal officials revealed that the main culprit is a lack of effective management. There are no clear regulations, it is not obvious who is responsible for maintenance and there are hardly any professional property managers. Local government authorities have no funds for maintenance, because the central government that collects the rents does not transfer the rent money back to the local authorities. “There are no offices for residents to go to if they want to report overdue maintenance work”, explains Aziabah. “They simply don’t exist.”

Of course, the big question is: how can things be improved? In the United Kingdom, Aziabah looked at how tenant management organisations (TMOs) operate. Since the 1970s and 1980s, when Great Britain was facing similar issues with poor housing, these organisations played an important role in turning the tide. Here, residents and owners take the lead and also foot the bill. Generally, TMOs manage several hundreds of homes and have proved very effective in the British situation. But are they suited to the situation in Ghana? “That is the question”, says Aziabah. “In Ghana, the sense of personal responsibility is lacking and there is no confidence that any money collected will be used properly.” 

He believes that the Dutch system of housing associations would be more suitable. This system offers tenants somewhere to go to report their complaints, and a hierarchical system with clearly-defined responsibilities and more transparent protocols. Another important factor is that housing associations are independent and professional, and work on a non-profit basis. In the Ghanaian situation, funding from the central government is unlikely to be forthcoming. Associations will need to be funded from rental proceeds. This will require a gradual increase in rents. Aziabah proposes a system in which local government authorities take responsibility for collecting the rents. They will then need to account for the rents collected and provide complete transparency as to what happens with the money. “Even if you start with just a single apartment: when tenants see what benefits maintenance can bring them, they will be prepared to make a contribution.” 

Now that his PhD research has been completed, Aziabah will be working in Ghana on the new management system he proposes. Read his entire research here.