Why Uganda Needs a Housing Policy

“Housing policy is the single most important factor in Africa’s economic development. It needs to be elevated to the highest political level” (Sir Paul Collier. Professor of Economics. Oxford University.)

Why does housing matter in Uganda?

The effects housing has on living standards are significant, for instance the impact that it has on the health of children, has a knock on effect on the productivity of the family. Decent housing leads to better health of children, which in many instances directly determines women’s ability to take part in economic activity. This is an opportunity to earn additional income for the family unit as well as channel resources away from healthcare to income generating ventures.

The reason that major towns and cities in Uganda feel congested is due to the fact that the infrastructure, housing and economic activity is all very scattered. This is only exacerbated by the fact that there are hardly any investments, particularly in affordable and low-cost formal housing, as well as infrastructure; to keep up with the population concentration in these towns and cities.

Towns in Uganda typically grow out of clusters of small, fragmented communities mainly through expansion from the outer edges as opposed to infill. The implications being that inhabitants are live further away from schools, hospitals and workplaces with poor access to reliable sources of transport. They suffer long slow commutes to and from work, dropping children at school; due to heavy traffic congestion, a common characteristic of streets in Uganda. In cases where companies have to factor in these higher commuting costs; higher wages mean they become less competitive, to investors that are looking to maximise their economies of scale which directly impact their return on investment.

Poor plumbing facilities and the related low sanitation levels are characteristic of poorly constructed housing structures which lead to the spread of contagious diseases like typhoid or cholera that spread through contact with water contaminated by faecal matter or sewage.  Illness comes at a high cost to companies as a result of the frequent employee absenteeism due to their illness or that of their children or relative that they then have to take to a health centre. The effect of which, is reduced labour productivity for companies as well as negatively impacting the income generation potential of employees due to lost wages[1].

A frequently neglected issues the workers state of mind and how this is directly correlated to their levels of productivity. Research from the Ohio State University, discovered that workers moods at the beginning of the day can last throughout most of the day and have an important effect on job performance[2]. The low living standards weigh heavy on the mind of workers and this does have a financial impact on their employees in the form of reduced productivity, slackness, errors, and accidents all due to not paying proper attention to their tasks.

Therefore there is an urgent need for an effective Housing Policy in Uganda that can be implemented through the adoption of new and innovative construction technology due to how the dire the housing situation is in Uganda with a current housing deficit of approximately 1.7 million and it is estimated that just the capital city, Kampala: has a housing deficit of 550,000 units[3]. On top of this deficit, the annual need for new housing for the entire country is estimated at 200,000 habitable housing units[4]. Innovative building solutions like reinforced polystyrene panels manufactured by TechBuilding Group, offer a quick solution given their durability and speed of construction, where a bungalow of 140m2 can be constructed in just 18 days that is 5 times stronger than conventional brick and mortar.

A housing policy would typically gazette land specifically for planned housing projects; Uganda needs such initiatives that cater for all classes of society: from affordable to low-cost formal housing. Tax incentives for real estate developers that invest in housing estates, would spark interest and further incentives from the central bank targeting more affordable interest rates for mortgages would grow and strengthen the market further.

There are a large number of unbanked Ugandans, only 20.3% of Ugandans have bank accounts[5] which directly impacts on the numbers with access to mortgages, a major hurdle for growth in the housing market. The rise in financial inclusion for low income Ugandans in recent years has been on the back of innovative financial services by mobile phone operators, through mobile money.  The mobile phone companies could again be the key to overcoming this hurdle.

The only limitation to innovation is how high one is willing to soar; imagine for a moment that mobile phone operators like MTN, Airtel and Africell to construct affordable and low-cost housing mortgages for 2-bedroom bungalow raw building shells that could be built in 3 weeks. They could offer 5 to 10 year mortgage products in their mobile money menus and using the same alternative credit scoring algorithms calculate a customer’s ability to afford a mortgage; this could revolutionize the housing market overnight. Phone companies could then deduct funds from peoples’ mobile money wallets on a daily basis for as low as 18,000/=, transfer this to the construction and real estate companies that will build these housing estates and offer the customers a raw building shell with a commitment to continue making the payments for the remaining years. Customers can then complete the raw building shell with the finishings of their choice.

Affordable and low-cost housing in Uganda has huge political stability implications especially in the urban regions. Slums are a breeding ground for crime and their growth in cities in Uganda will have dire consequences in the near future ranging from sharp rises in misconduct to possible riots. This is a concern that needs to be addressed and fast.

[1] https://www.newvision.co.ug/new_vision/news/1425266/sh306b-lost-diseases

[2] https://hbr.org/2016/07/how-your-morning-mood-affects-your-whole-workday

[3] http://www.hofinet.org/countries/description.aspx?regionID=8&id=171

[4] http://mlhud.go.ug/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/National-Housing-Policy-May-2016.pdf

[5] https://www.bou.or.ug/opencms/bou/bou-downloads/Financial_Inclusion/Finscope-Report-2013.pdf

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CGTN Television Interview

Watch the CGTN television interview here, about the TechBuilding Group model house in Bukasa and the potential of this technology to help fill the housing deficit in Uganda.

Blending the New with the Old

When the term disruptive innovation is used, what comes to mind is an innovation or a concept that builds a new market, in due course transforming the existing market and displacing the established products and companies. In most instances, the innovation’s ability to blend with the existing products and systems is completely overlooked, yet blending the new with the old is a huge advantage.

Perceived usefulness, ease of use, compatibility and result demonstrability have been revealed as the four key features that determine adoption and use of new technology innovations according to research on the diffusion of innovation and the acceptance of new technology.

Compatibility is a key feature that most of the players in the construction industry look for in any new technology is; its ability to be combined with the conventional building systems and existing technology; for instance: brick and mortar.  Blending the reinforced EPS panels is very common, especially for high-rise buildings, apartment blocks and malls constructed with steel, brick and mortar. Reinforced single panels of width ranging from 100mm down to 50mm, are highly sought after for use as partitioning walls for bedrooms, offices and stalls because they save a lot of space in terms of the wall area while still providing excellent strength.

The TechBuilding System is designed to work seamlessly with conventional support structures and this is incorporated in its design.

slab panel
TechBuilding Slab Panel

The TechBuilding slab panel demonstrates this perfectly, it is specially designed to construct floors and roofs in storeyed buildings. It has ribs (hollow shafts running along the entire length) that are filled with concrete. In cases where floor spans are greater than 4.5 metres; additional reinforcement and support structures like conventional steel beams and bar joists are added in these hollow shafts.

A single panel weighs 15kgs and can very easily be moved by hand, making handling onsite much simpler because a wall area of 3.6m2 can be installed by a single site worker, without the need for cranes. As a consequence, there are no cranes required and minimal scaffolding.

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Onsite crew erecting panel

A team of just eight onsite workers can complete the raw building for a bungalow in only 18 days compared to the average of 4 months with brick and mortar. The ease of use of the TechBuilding panels translates into savings in terms of a shorter time to market, especially for large construction projects.

In the majority of cases, real estate developers and government institutions work with very tight deadlines on projects usually for 2,000 housing units or more; with a constraint of 1,000 housing units. In such scenarios, the conventional brick and mortar is not the appropriate solution because of the limit to the number of housing units that can be built in one year; for a typical 3-bedroom bungalow, a maximum of 1,000 housing units can be built using brick and mortar in one year for a single project. This is because the transportation, laying and setting of the bricks/blocks takes significantly longer. Whereas for reinforced polystyrene panels, up to 5,000 housing units can be constructed in one year.

The heightened interest from largest real estate developers and construction companies in Uganda prompted the TechBuilding Group to construct a model house to demonstrate the usefulness and properties of this innovation, in particular the durability and safety.

In terms of safety, the polystyrene core is a fire retardant; which means that it is self-extinguishing. Therefore, structures built with reinforced panels have a significantly lower risk of destruction by fire; the spread of fire is actually slowed down significantly as it is not transmitted unlike conventional building materials. Another safety feature, is the resistance to earthquakes; which is relevant, given the earthquake experienced in Uganda last Sunday. The connected steel wire mesh wraps around the building, creating a monolithic structure, a proven survivor of tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes due to its greater resistance to tremors, shakes and shocks.

When it comes to durability: polystyrene does not degrade over time, it is also: water resistant, impervious to damp and mould, as well as termite proof ….and blast proof! So it lives forever!

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Model house with shotcrete applied to the outer walls

 

Raising the Roof

The TechBuilding model house construction has been a pleasant experience, a new adventure, working with a new building system. Now that we have raised the roof (click here to see the process)…

…our model house is looking more complete everyday.1-13-07-2017

The next phase is shotcrete application. This is how the concrete is mixture is applied to bothsides of the wall using a spray gun connected to a compressor.

Curious about how this works? Well click here and watch a short clip of the process.

Faster Construction, Faster go-to-market; Now a Possibility.

This week has been a whirlwind at TechBuilding; we started assembling the EPS panels for our Model House in Bukasa, Muyenga and the speed at which the structure came up from the foundation was astonishing to say the least. In only three days; we moved from a raw foundation to a fully walled structure of reinforced Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) panels, assembled onsite. View the photo slideshow here and follow the progress; the excitement is palpable!

IMG_20170630_081422On the First Day, the EPS panels were moved to the site and re-bars drilled into the foundation according to the model house building plan. The re-bars are used to hold up the EPS panels, securing them to the foundation; this is done by connecting them to the reinforcing steel mesh.20170630_095608

20170630_101520Assembling of the panels started on Day Two; the outer corners were first to be erected, this was meticulously done using plumb bobs, the rest of the wall span for the entire perimeter structure then followed. Moving the panels was very quick due to the lightness of the polystyrene core; a single on-site worker can lift an entire panel and shift it to the assembling point, alone. What this means; is that in one go, an area of 3.6 sqm is erected.

cropped-img_34178.jpgThe sections for the plumbing and electrical installation lines were installed on the Third Day; for this, a hot air gun was used to melt the polystyrene sections where these lines would pass. We took a short video of the process here.

“The future was getting here faster than I’d expected.” This quote by Maggie Stiefvater brilliantly describes the pace of innovation in the construction industry. Faster construction means faster go-to-market, which translates into a quicker return on investment; for any large construction project, this is the end all and be all. Typically, most large construction projects get bogged down by delays, resulting in significant budget overruns and missed project deadlines which many times spell disaster for the contractors and final clients.

As the first company in Uganda that will manufacture reinforced Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) panels that are assembled onsite (manufacturing at our production plant will begin shortly), TechBuilding will guarantee significantly faster project completion times: a faster go-to-market is now made possible.

Visit our Website: http://www.techbuildinggroup.com/