Housing a real conundrum in Dakar

An interview with Alé Badara Sy, from the Club de Réflexion sur l’Urbain, a think tank focusing on Senegal’s urban issues, about Dakar’s housing problems.

Ababacar Ndaw: The issue of access to housing has become a major concern for public authorities. What is your perspective?

Alé Badara Sy: Through the authorities’ discourse we can sense the State’s fierce desire to act in favour of housing. To do this, the State must activate all the levers at its disposal but it’s first necessary to bring the real estate sector under control and to combat speculation in the housing sector. The habitat issue can only be tackled seriously if land and spatial factors are taken into account. Housing is a conundrum in Dakar, to which a sustainable solution is hard to find.

AN: Is a reduction in rental prices possible in Dakar?

ABS: The supply of housing and land development projects remains largely insufficient. It does not meet current needs and this is why housing is becoming less and less accessible to an ever-growing social strata.

There is a housing shortage in the large cities of Senegal, in particular in Dakar. To be able to reduce rents, a long-term vision is necessary, a real housing policy that would take into account the needs of all socio-professional categories. A housing policy that would put emphasis on rental housing because there are more tenants than owners. Renting is a solution that should not be overlooked, in particular for the urban poor and in particular for those who are not ready, or who are not in a position to buy or build their own accommodation.

The government should support the residential rental industry to make up for the lack of housing and to make rent more affordable. In parallel, it is necessary to plan land use by making special planning districts and serviced plots widely available.

AN: Which levers can we rely on to better control the rental price hike?

ABS: The State can activate any lever it wishes. Materials such as cement required for construction are expensive. Interest rates on bank credits are very high. These are the levers on which the State should rely. The State, if it wants to, could also abolish land tax in order to encourage investment in the rental housing industry.

AN: What is the private sector’s role?

ABS: The State cannot build for everybody. The State could make land resources more easily accessible to the private sector and promote partnerships between the public and private sectors in the field of rental housing. They must also rely on those who have the opportunity to build several residences. The State must encourage private individuals to invest in real estate.

AN: Isn’t it too late to speak about reductions in rent?

ABS: Personally, I do not think home owners can be forced into lowering the rent without providing them with incentives. I believe it is necessary to anticipate the factors affecting the cost of housing and rent. In this light, a Commission responsible for observing housing and urban changes could potentially be set up. In addition to contributing to a better understanding of the housing shortage, this Commission would also facilitate the authorities’ decision-making process and analyse urbanisation trends and their impact on habitat.

AN: Are rent prices currently rising, stationary or dropping?

ABS: It depends on the region. People are moving away from zones such as the Maristes District because they are isolated and lack equipment. In this area, rent prices are currently dropping. In other areas, the recent floods affected the districts’ land value, resulting in a reduction or stagnation in rent prices. In general, we can observe that rent prices are following a downward curve but all the while remaining expensive.

UA: Will the new toll highway have a role in lowering rent?

ABS: The motorway will facilitate the urbanisation of rural areas, of formerly distant areas. Land is available on the periphery of Dakar which should be developed. Thanks to the motorway, many people will have the possibility to live outside Dakar while working in the city because mobility will improve. The motorway will allow for traffic decongestion, the opening up of certain areas and the development of these areas. This would have a real impact on land and housing prices and make a reduction in rent possible in Dakar. But there is heavy land speculation in peri-urban regions; the real estate sector is not under control. Land occupation is disorderly. It is thus necessary to plan spatial development on the periphery of Dakar because, currently, land use is not regulated. Urbanisation in these areas must be channelled in order to protect farmland. The settlement and the promotion of the urban areas of Diamniadio and Lac Rose represent an opportunity to control urban expansion and to develop housing.

AN: Is Dakar over-populated or poorly planned?

ABS: In Dakar, the urban structure is marked by spatial disequilibrium and by inconsistencies in its urban fabric due to the careless spatial divisions associated with long periods without any city planning. The population of Dakar represents a quarter of the national population and half of the urban population. Young people under the age of 35 represent more than 70 percent of the regional population. This population is distributed unequally and is mainly located in the large towns of the urban conglomeration (Dakar, Guédiawaye and Pikine). Indeed more than 97 percent reside on a little more than 40 percent of the regional area, with the remainder being sparsely populated rural and agricultural areas. This illustrates a ‘one-way urbanisation’ with social consequences (insalubrity, begging, delinquency, etc.).

Half of the conglomeration of Dakar is uninhabited. The population is concentrated in large towns like Dakar, Pikine and Guédiawaye which have become cramped. Spatial disequilibrium must be corrected. This disequilibrium intensifies social and spatial disparities. We must act on the form and substance. We must urgently rethink the urbanization of the Dakar region through a new urban plan which would take into account the urban changes and spatial transformations in progress. Today’s observation is that Dakar is changing and becoming a “city of the rich” where the poor are increasingly excluded from the capital because rent is too high.

Image: Dakar skyline. wikimedia.

Alé Badara Sy and Ababacar Ndaw are based at the Club de Réflexion sur l’Urbain, a think tank focusing on Senegal’s urban issues.

For more on Dakar read “Dakar: a fragmented agglomeration

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