Bamako’s ‘Marshall Plan’ for housing won’t help urban poor

Alpha Diallo has not yet moved into his new home in Bamako’s N’Tabacoro neighborhood but he has already picked the perfect spot for the sofa. When the Malian Housing Office (OMH) announced they would accept applications for 1,500 new homes, part of the government’s new social housing program, Diallo made sure he had the necessary paperwork before heading to the OMH bureau. A couple of weeks later he picked up the keys to the family’s new home.

“It’s perfect. Finally the salon is big enough to fit all our furniture and the children will have their own room,” says the 42-year old father of two who works as a civil servant.

Finding affordable housing in Bamako is becoming increasingly difficult. High rents in the city centre and the scarcity of available land has forced many to move to the city’s outskirts.

When the Bamako housing office announced that 1,500 rent-controlled houses in N’Tabacoro were up for grabs, it received 15,000 applications in just one day. “The need for housing in Bamako is real,” said the Minister of Urban Development and Housing, Dramane Dembélé, when staff informed him of the large number of applicants.

N’Tabacoro is located several kilometers outside the city centre, passed the last toll post on one of the main routes going north, but at least the new housing development has electricity and running water. “You don’t have to deal with all the problems, such as leaking roofs and connecting to the power grid, as you do in many other parts of the city,” says Diallo.

Another advantage is that the tenants sign contracts stating that they are indeed the legal owners of the houses for the next 25 years, he says.

Government to build 50,000 new homes

In a 33 billion CFA (West African francs) bid to improve the housing situation, the Bamako government has decided to build 50,000 new homes, houses and apartments with affordable rents, over the next five years.

But what the housing minister calls a “Marshall Plan” for the capital fails to provide housing for those who need it most, mainly the urban poor, says Issa N’diaye, a researcher at the University of Bamako. “For the authorities to think that poor people will be able to take on a new affordable rent home in one of these areas — it shows just how unaware they are of people’s living situation,” he says.

While the new housing is destined for poor and middle-income earners, few people with a low or medium income can afford them. Diallo pays 94,000 CFA a month ($160) for a house with three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a salon.

For a three-bedroom house the applicant is expected to pay an additional fee, or ‘personal contribution,’ of 100,000 CFA ($170) plus three months rent amounting to 234,000 CFA ($390). Prices for the most expensive houses are over 2 million CFA ($3,300), a fortune for many Malians who lack a stable income.

In Bamako, the official unemployment rate is 30 percent, but it’s likely much higher. On average a Bamako resident makes around 85,000 CFA ($140) a month according to, which lists incomes and living costs.

The criteria to pay a ‘personal contribution,’ often between 500,000 and 1 million CFA ($830-$1660) depending on the type of accommodation, is seen as a way to exclude the poor.

The payment of personal contributions is not new. It has existed in previous social housing programs, said Dembélé, the housing minister. “Someone who wants to have a house in Bamako should be able to save at least 500,000 CFA.”

The deposits will be used to fund new social housing. Authorities ask those who have submitted their applications to not remove the deposit from the bank. According to the minster, deposits and personal contributions collected in banks, following the initial application round, amount to 7 billion CFA. New homes will be available within the next 18 months, according to the minister’s office.

To be eligible for one of the new houses, however, the applicant has to go through a tedious process.

The long wait for a house

Moussa Cissé, an industrial worker and Bamako resident, spent a week taking time off from work to make sure he had all the right documents, besides a bank statement, a residence permit, marriage certificate, copies of his three last salaries and birth certificates for his four children. The night before the application was due he slept outside the housing office. When the department announced the names of those who would be moving into the new homes, Cissé’s name was not on the list.

“All that work and for nothing,” he says.

In July the Malian housing office (OMH) released the names of the first 700 future inhabitants of the 1,500 new houses, part of the government’s social housing program, in N’Tabacoro. 15,000 people had applied for housing, according to authorities. Priority was given to those who had applied several times, said a civil servant in the housing minister’s office. A closer look at the list showed that several members of the minister’s cabinet had been given housing. Photo: Abdalla Ousmane.

In the allocation process priority has been given to those who have applied for social housing more than three times this year, says Zhao Bamba with the Ministry of Urban development and Housing.

But corruption claims in the allocation process and rumors of bribes have angered some of the applicants. “It’s plain corruption. Houses go to government officials, relatives of politicians and those who know someone in power,” says Cissé.

Allegedly, 30 houses in N’Tabacoro were reserved for the national youth soccer team for their performance during the Africa’s cup for youth in neighboring Niger. Several houses were also given to staff members of the minister’s cabinet.

Meanwhile, Cissé is waiting to have his deposit back from the authorities. His current living situation, in a home where he didn’t sign a tenancy agreement, leaves no security for him, his wife and their four children. At any time, the landlord can raise the rent or ask the family to leave. Cissé, who was unemployed during the last call for applications, says he will open a bank account and save part of his salary for the when new housing is available.

“Now that I have a job with a steady income I can afford to submit a new application, hopefully in the next two years or so,” he says.


Katarina Höije is a Bamako-based freelance journalist. Follow her on twitter: @katarinah

Main photo via flickr user Juan Jiménez Martínez.

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