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Home-seekers between a rock and a hard place

LISTENING to the desperation in Rufus Murwira’s voice, one is reminded of the old aphorism that the only constant in this world is change itself.

Herbert Moyo

“I have been a bona fide member of Vana Vevhu Housing Co-operative for the past seven years, but my dream of owning a house might not be realised after the leaders of the co-operative sold my stand to a soldier who is not a member,” claims the 53-year-old from Kuwadzana Phase 3 in Harare.

Murwira works as a town planner in government.

Under normal circumstances, civil servants should at least qualify for mortgages as was the case between 1980 and the turn of the millennium.

Back in the 1980s, amid the euphoria over the hard-won Independence, a significant number of black Zimbabweans began migrating to previously all-white residential suburbs like North End, Khumalo and Matsheumhlope in Bulawayo, and Borrowdale, Avondale and Hatfield in Harare.

Among those that made a bee-line for the spacious, tree-lined suburbs whose bougainvillea’s purple jacaranda flowers added colour and vitality in the summer were nouveau-riche Africans and ordinary civil servants like teachers and nurses.

Building societies like Cabs, Founders and Beverly gave out mortgages with the standard 25-year repayment period — a trend that continued into the early 2000s.

“Housing for all by the year 2000” was one of the catchphrases of those heady days, but which for most remained a pipedream.

Murwira, like the vast majority of Zimbabweans whose meagre earnings fall well below the poverty datum line of about US$570, cannot afford the high prices of residential properties.

The country has over half a million people on the housing waiting lists of various municipalities, with Harare at 500 000. There are reportedly 100 000 in Bulawayo, 59 000 people in Mutare, 18 000 in Marondera, 17 000 in Gweru and 6 000 in Masvingo.

Although in 2010 the banking sector re-introduced long-term mortgage lending which had been suspended in 2008 when the country’s economic meltdown and hyper-inflation eroded both interest income and loanable savings, most Zimbabwean do not qualify due to their low salaries.

The lowest paid civil servant gets about US$297.

Cabs recently introduced mortgage schemes for low-income earners and those who qualify should earn a monthly salary of at least US$750, and should pay 25% deposit for a two-roomed house worth US$17 000 in the case of Budiriro, a high-density suburb in Harare. The mortgage also attracts a 15% interest per annum paid back over a 10-year period.

Traditionally, mortgages were payable over a 25-year period.
FBC Building Society in Harare said it is currently offering mortgage facilities to assist home-seekers to buy properties at the Masotsha Ndlovu scheme in Waterfalls valued at US$130 000 each, but the stringent conditions attached to the loans automatically disqualify the majority of workers, particularly civil servants.

“You must raise 30% of the US$130 000 as deposit before you come to us,” said an FBC official speaking on condition of anonymity as company policy forbids him from commenting in the media.

“The bank will advance the remainder of the amount as mortgage which you have to repay over a 10-year period with interest at 15% per annum.”

In the case of the Masotsha Ndlovu scheme, the home owner will have to fork out US$1 800 as monthly repayment, a figure which even those considered high-earners cannot afford.

The failure to access the banks’ highly-priced mortgages have forced Murwira and other home-seekers to turn to housing co-operatives, but these have made many headlines for being run by fraudsters.

Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo acknowledged in November that co-operatives are short-changing thousands of desperate home seekers through double allocation of stands, unilateral removal of members from the co-operatives without notice and threats of repossession of stands.

“Independent audits are not being carried out to ensure that there is sound administration of the co-operatives,” said Chombo after instituting an investigation in November.

“Members (of co-operatives) are made to pay subscriptions in perpetuity even decades after the allocation of a residential stand; there is an ever-present threat of repossession of the stands upon default by the member; executive committee members have become permanent features in the administration of the co-operatives and most have since left formal employment to take up full-time jobs at the co-operatives,” he added.

High-profile cases of home-seekers being swindled of their money include that of flamboyant musician Energy Mutodi, who is facing charges of defrauding desperate home-seekers in Harare and Mutare of a combined US$8 million in a housing scandal.

He is accused of hatching a plan to defraud unsuspecting civil servants and forming the National Housing Development Trust through which he allegedly lured civil servants into paying monthly payments to buy land in Mutare’s Gimboki South housing project, which was to be pegged and serviced. Mutodi’s case is before the courts.

Chombo’s ministry has advised home-seekers to hold on to their payments to co-operatives until investigations into their operations have been completed or risk being taken for a costly ride.

Until mortgage rates improve or housing co-operatives are reined in from fleecing desperate home-seekers, owning homes will continue to be a pipe-dream for the majority of Zimbabweans.

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