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Housing Cooperatives; An important ingredient in implementation of the National Housing Policy

Housing Cooperatives; An important ingredient in implementation of the National Housing Policy

By Fiona Nshemerirwe,

“The two extreme outcomes of the current shelter systems that are being witnessed today are affordable shelter that is inadequate and adequate shelter that is unaffordable” (UNHabitat, 2005) [1]

The lack of sustainable housing policies coupled with poverty has led to growing informal settlements in many African countries.  Access to adequate and affordable housing in many ways revolves around housing finance and the ability of households to access loans, to save or through subsidies by government or employers. With over 50% of households in Africa living on less than a 1USD per day, adequate housing has become inaccessible to many. Overcrowding, housing shortage, poverty, unemployment, and inadequate infrastructure services are terms used to define urban areas in Uganda. It is estimated that 60% of the urban population lives in slums and informal settlements.

On 3rd October 2016, Uganda joined the rest of the world to celebrate world habitat day under the theme “Adequate housing for all”. For Uganda, the celebrations were even more exciting as the country also launched the National Housing Policy.

Right from the colonial era in the 1890s, to the late 1960s, Uganda attempted to tackle the need for decent and affordable housing for all through the public housing provision approach; a move orchestrated by the colonial era. In this approach government engaged in massive construction of housing flats and quarters for public servants in major towns of the country including Kampala, Jinja, Mbale to mention. However, this was later found to be unsustainable for the government given the high rate of population growth and unprecedented development.

In a change of approach, from the early 1990s to date, Government of Uganda adopted the enabling approach as a strategy to improve housing conditions in the country. As a result, the 1992 National Shelter Strategy (NSS) was developed to allow government facilitate individual households and private suppliers to play a noticeable role in developing the housing sub-sector (ibid). Under the strategy, government was committed to creating an environment in which households, NGOs and Community Groups can operate effectively and efficiently and thus be in a position to provide decent, affordable shelter as well as promoting social development and improving the quality of life.

None the less, after two decades of no significant change in the housing sector, the Government resolved to develop the Uganda National Housing Policy approved in May 2016. Unlike 1992 NSS, the Uganda National Housing Policy focuses on addressing critical housing issues in Uganda today. These include inadequate housing, the housing backlog arising from the high population growth and inadequate house production, deterioration of the housing conditions manifested in congestion and the development of slums and informal settlements characterized with the lack of basic services and infrastructure.

Key policy areas have been identified to improve the realisation of adequate housing for all. Among them, housing finance, appropriate building and construction technologies and co-operative housing to mention. Through partnerships between government, private sector, co-operatives, and financial institutions, the implementation of the policy seems closer to reality even for the low-income groups. The support of co-operative housing for both low and middle-income groups is one of the strategies towards affordable housing

Housing co-operatives are a type of service co-operative in which the members are the residents and thereby the consumers of the service, in this case the housing provided by the co-operative. As with other co-operatives, the organisation is owned and controlled by the members and follows, to various degrees, the International Co-operative Principles. People come together on a democratic basis with a common goal of pooling together limited resources to build and own houses. A Housing Co-operative is formed on a non- profit basis.

The Housing Co-operative movement has been in existence in Africa since the 1970s under collective principles such as “Ubuntu”[2] that culminated in the formation of co-operatives. In Kenya the National Housing Co-operative Union was formed in 1979 and has a membership of 486 Housing Co-operatives, while in South Africa the first housing cooperatives were formed in the 1990s.

As a legal entity, a co-op can contract with other companies or hire individuals to provide it with services although many housing co-operatives strive to run self-sufficiently and to have as much work as possible completed by its members. The main distinction between a housing co-op and other forms of home-ownership is that in a housing co-op a member does not directly own real estate. The member buys shares or membership in a housing co-operative. As part of their membership (being a shareholder) in the co-operative, the member has exclusive rights to live in a specific unit as long as they do not break any of the rules or regulations of the co-operative. As part of his/her membership, the member also has a vote in the affairs of the co-operative.

Every member of the co-operative purchases a share (or the minimum number of shares is fixed by the members) and signs an occupancy agreement (also referred to as a proprietary lease) which gives them the legal and exclusive right to occupy a dwelling unit according to the agreement laid out by the co-operative.  Through collective action, low-income communities increase their ability to access adequate and affordable housing.

The National Housing policy fits well within the global Habitat III New Urban agenda that seeks to see cities better prepared for the ever growing urban population that will have hit the 60% mark of the overall world population by 2030. Cities must think of how to improve the housing conditions, increase productivity and boost economic growth of all city dwellers regardless of their income levels.

The cooperative housing model is one of the many solutions that will enable people acquire affordable housing taking advantage of the economies of scale. Uganda’s launch of the National Housing policy and participation in the upcoming Habitat III conference are first steps in creating synergy towards achieving adequate housing for all.

[1] UNHabitat (2005) Financing Urban Shelter. Global report on Human Settlements 2005. Nairobi: UNHabitat

[2] An African principle translated as ”human kindness”


  1. Addia Peter Comfort

    This presentation is excellent. In some parts of Uganda like my region, Karamoja, housing cooperatives are not there. Information on housing/shelter is lacking. The region has not had a single National Housing Policy seminar, conference or celebration since. Housing conditions and indicators are the poorest in the country. There is no civil society or development partner engaging the communities and their leaders in housing/shelter as a legal right worldwide. For the National Housing Policy to work in Karamoja, there I assistants as well urgent need for technical and financial assistance including legal aid to facilitate regional and district shelter forums, formation of housing co_cooperatives, work exposure visits, celebration of world town planning day abd world habitat day. skills training and research/studies or housing policy implementation and housing law reforms. I am based in Karamoja and ready to create rights awareness, housing leadership forums and formation of housing co_operatives at community, and local government levels.

    • Dear Addia, Thank you for the wonderful comment. It is true the concept of co-operative housing has not yet reached all parts of Uganda although this is our target. We are happy to hear of people like yourself that are committed to the spatial development of this nation. we hope that when the time comes we will be coming to Karamoja.

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