Keep the housing debate alive

Editorial

IT is good that discussions on the critical shortage of housing and the high cost of what is available have once again surfaced in the news.
For good reason, the conversation should be kept alive so people other than those in government are drawn in to contribute ideas to tackle this critical socio-economic issue.
We have heard, for instance from institutions like the National Research Institute, the Office of Urbanisation and the National Capital District.
This week, Paul Barker of the Institute of National Affairs also joined the discussion, mainly pointing out a trend that is on the rise in Port Moresby and could also be experienced in other centres as well.  That is, workers are being forced to take their families to settlement dwellings or single-room rented accommodation which they can afford.
The time is right to draw in those involved in the real estate industry and others who have an interest in the matter. It would be worthwhile to take heed of not only what they see as contributing factors for the acute housing shortage but importantly what they have to offer in terms of affordable housing solutions.
While there has been a fair amount of criticism levelled at the industry players, they are not solely responsible for the high rental costs.
For the industry, price is largely determined by the law of supply and demand.
The provision of affordable housing is not about government controlling of regulating rentals but meeting the high demand for housing.
Barker says the inadequate quantity of houses in the National Capital District is a major factor contributing to the high rental rates, making housing available only to high income earners.
He says is not just about government imposing controls or regulating prices of accommodation rentals but about ensuring to meet the high demands for accommodation in the city.
There has been a modest investment in lower cost housing but the quantity is still inadequate to substantially alter the supply and demand equation making it impossible for Papua New Guineans in the city to afford houses for their families.
Although banks and other financial institution have also launched longer term lending schemes that has not helped much in altering the demand and supply for housing.
The solution to the problem, says Barker, needs to be a multi-faceted one, in ensuring real estate developers and investors are able make reasonable gains in their investments while prices are pushed down. The main factor driving the cost of housing in the city and even the country beyond the reach of most citizens is the scarcity of available state land to sell or lease to real estate companies or individuals for housing development.
All state land in Port Moresby city has been taken up and settlements and other developments are already are now encroaching upon customary land.
There needs to be cautious approach to dealing with customary landowners so they are not coerced into foregoing their land and leaving nothing to posterity.
Some have suggested that incorporated land groups and registering of traditional land as the way forward for customary landowners so the land remains in the hands.
This is important because while other Papua New Guineans living in Port Moresby have a second home and land to return to if they so choose, the Motu-Koitabuans and surrounding Central villagers have no such alternative.
A viable option proposed by the Office of Urbanisation and the NCD Governor is to upgrade existing settlements into organised and serviced suburbs.
This will not only improve living standards for the current settlement dwellers but also attract improved housing development so more people could life.
For this to happen, residents of these settlements need to cooperate with the government agencies like the Office of Urbanisation to properly plan the settlements for the provision of basic services like roads, water and electricity.
If NCD Governor Powes Parkop has his way, the city’s settlements and urban villages will be developed into proper suburbs within the next five years.
And he needs the backing of all concerned to make this a reality a large part of the city population can enjoy decent housing for a change.

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