Living in state housing: expectations, contradictions and consequences
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Living in state housing:
expectations, contradictions and consequences

Introducing the special issue

This special issue focuses on state housing in Africa as a space of living. This topic is prompted by two factors: firstly, an empirical recognition that increasing numbers of African citizens are living in state-supported housing, particularly in urban areas; and secondly, an academic awareness that there is insufficient scholarship addressing the everyday realities of living in (as opposed to legislating or delivering) state housing. The special issue has a history in a panel session convened by the authors at the 6th European Conference on African Studies held in Paris in July 2015, and we are grateful to the conference organisers for providing the physical and intellectual space for the ideas presented in this special issue to emerge.

A focus on state housing as a space of living is particularly timely in the current empirical context of urbanising Africa. It is of course by now well-known that the majority of the world’s population live in urban areas, and that the African continent is experiencing rapid urbanisation, predicted to transition from 40 per cent of the population living in urban areas in 2014, to 56 per cent by 2050 (UN 2014).1 At the same time, the rapid urbanisation that has been experienced in many countries since the 1960s has not been accompanied by adequate economic growth or improved economic prospects, in contrast to the urbanisation that accompanied industrialisation in the North (Jenkins et al 2007). Contemporary urbanisation is thus characterised by poverty, both at the level of households and governments unable to adequately support and service their populations. Consequently, [End Page 1] urbanisation, and the challenges associated with it, has become a dominant theme of popular and scholarly work on contemporary Africa, typically presented alongside dystopian slum imagery. As Rao (2006), echoing the work of Mike Davis (2006),2 reminds us, the ‘slum’ has become a shorthand for the contemporary global South urban condition.3 In view of this, housing has long been a key policy mechanism for responding to urbanisation and urban poverty, typically framed around alleviating slum conditions, as exemplified by the Millennium Development Goal 7/11 ‘to improve the lives of 100 million slum-dwellers’. More broadly, UN-Habitat’s global urban agenda has prioritised a human settlement-centric focus on shelter for the urban poor. For example, while Habitat I (1976) set the stage by raising awareness of urbanisation and poverty, Habitat II (1996) built on this by prioritising policy action and promoting housing as a human right (Pugh 1997). Most recently, Habitat III (2016) is attempting to widen this agenda, from housing and services to a broader ‘right to the city’ (Parnell 2016). Within this UN-led context, several African governments have responded to burgeoning urbanisation alongside poverty and weak access to shelter and services through state housing delivery that takes various forms. Responses have by no means however been universal across the continent, with varied interventions evident, for example a reliance on slum demolitions and private-led informal housing provision dominating countries such as Nigeria, while South Africa has implemented a national programme of house-building.

State housing and housing policy for the urban poor

There are a multitude of ways in which the state invests in housing, from informal settlement upgrading, sites and services, social housing, land titling, and the mass construction of new houses. Indeed, the idea of ‘state housing’ exists only as a broad heterogeneous framework for these various forms of interventions aimed primarily at low-income groups (and sometimes middle-income groups). Within this special issue, the case studies focus on housing construction financed by the state that is both small- and large-scale (Charlton and Meth, Buire, Melo), different forms of social housing for tenants (Mosselson, Erwin), and slum upgrading (Schramm). In all cases the housing is directly facilitated by the state and widely identified as ‘state housing’ post-delivery, although the legal relationship to the state often shifts into private ownership. The diverse types of housing discussed by the articles in this issue represent the [End Page 2] dominant contemporary ways in which...