Rental markets — a new housing solution?

By Gemma Todd

Discussion on urbanisation across the Global South is often synthesised with images of slums and the growing problem of informal housing. There is a housing crisis in urban Africa, and research is focusing on understanding where urban dwellers dwell. Estimates suggest around 70 percent of urban Africa live in slums; an increasing, invisible homeless population, and limited land governance – with only 85 land surveyors practicing in Kenya. Within such statistics are a rising number of urban renters. The rental market remains an important source of habitation, however, has been given minimal attention within development policy and practice as the discourse focuses on ownership.

The benefits of renting

An efficient rental market provides numerous benefits for urban Africa. Firstly, academics are emphasising the importance of rental houses for housing the urban poor internationally (i.e. Alan Gilbert). Secondly, renting provides flexibility. Migration remains prominent within Africa, and circular migration is historically rooted. Renting therefore provides flexibility to continue using, and initiating, a culture of mobility. Thirdly, an urban housing rental market provides dual benefits for the user and producer. The case of India, Kumir highlights the interrelation between rental markets and livelihoods, generating an income for landlords and providing a space for dwellers to engage in income-generation. However, such markets remain increasingly informal due to the discriminative contexts. Formal rental markets are limited and continue to cater to an elite market (i.e. South Africa).

Finally, in rural Ethiopia an efficient rental market has laid the foundation to providing rights for smallholder farmers and women. Renting puts the poor on a map, visible, and therefore a foundation to claim additional rights.

Catch 22?

However, reflections are needed. Firstly, are we introducing a new crisis? Over the past few years the Global North has been plagued by a financial crisis, of which housing remains a central component. Recent research carried out by the Urban Institute showcases the continuing legacy of the crisis across US cities. The research provides indication of a rental market crisis by mapping the availability and accessibility of affordable, decent rental housing. Locations are ranked based on the ease at which one can meet one’s rent, and the extent to which location caters to extremely low-income household needs. Results emphasise the inequalities of renting – not one county meets the demand for low-income rental homes, forcing such groups to use a larger proportion of income to access decent accommodation and with limited choices. So if renting is to be introduced within the Global South, what precautions are needed to prevent a new housing crisis spreading in the future?

How can the disparity between demand and supply, of affordable units, be fixed? A functioning rental market is not a solution in itself and requires consideration of access, affordability, and quality.

Secondly, we cannot look at rental markets as separate from home ownerships. In emerging cities buying land requires having someone who can guard your land 24/7. Therefore landowners frequently build a small home and place a renter in their territory. However, such renters can be removed at any time, and with minimal notice. In positions of poverty the families placed in such acquired land are missing opportunities to get on the property, or land, ladder. Renting provides temporary security and income-generation but is it a long-term solution, and what kinds of rental properties are being offered?

Rental markets need to be included in housing policy. However, a paradigmatic shift is needed in government structures, public-private partnerships, and how the poor are integrated. Therefore what are the next steps for renting to be a viable housing solution, offering equal benefits across our social strata? Can universal standards, or criteria’s, be set for an emerging rental market in Africa?

Photo credit: Marsmettin Tallahassee


many people don't have capability to buy house thus demand of rental houses are increased which is beneficial for landlords

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