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Government to lead the way

Manasa Kalouniviti
Tuesday, October 31, 2017

GOVERNMENT should be actively involved on the issue of providing affordable housing for Fijians, says Professor Vijay Naidu

of the School of Government, Development and International Affairs at USP.

"They should take the lead in this matter in research and development relating to this and working in conjunction with the private sector and stakeholders in identifying how we can really move toward affordable housing," Prof Naidu said.

"If we left it to the market alone then as you now see, the prices keep rising so you need Government intervention and lead on this."

He said various governments in Fiji had given some emphasis on the issue of affordable housing during the post-independence period.

"The Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara's Alliance Government had formed the Housing Authority (HA) and gave them the low-cost housing mandate and this was the beginning of the Raiwaqa/Raiwai low cost housing estates," Prof Naidu said.

He said back then there was no encouragement at looking at urban development as something that would keep happening and that Government would take leadership on.

Prof Naidu said even during the Alliance Party Government in the '70s, they were always reacting when there was a demand. But urbanisation, Prof Naidu said was here to stay.

He explained that back in the early colonial period, it was considered better for people to stay in their villages, settlements and rural areas engaging in agriculture.

"That was the idea then, but over time the urbanisation process has grown so fast and governments have become compelled to say, hey this is getting out of hand."

He said it was out of hand because informal or squatter settlements were mushrooming all over Fiji.

"And this is a new problem. It's a 30-year-old problem at least. This are people, who upon finding a piece of land move in and builds self-built homes, many substandard and not built to regulations for housing.

"These are people who taking the initiative because buying a house is so expensive relative to peoples' incomes.

"And I still dare say that about 80 per cent of Fiji's income earners earn below $20,000 a year.

"So it makes it near impossible for an average blue collar worker to afford a home so they go and build in the squatter settlement where there is no security of tenure."

Prof Naidu said on Government housing initiatives, HA was doing reasonably well until the more market-oriented policies began to take hold.

'We were moving away from subsidising these houses and making people pay market rates.

"And this was a problem with working class people with very low minimum wages for them to afford it and that became a challenge."

He said the result of overcrowding in the housing estates led to the Catholic Church working with Government to set up HART homes which are still in existence today. It established homes/ estates around the country for the desperately poor and the destitute.

"And the majority are in these settlements because they just can't afford rent and they can't buy homes. They are there out of desperation," he said.

"But it is correct to say that this current Government is particularly keen on upgrading squatter settlements, resettling people in squatter areas to other locations. And also other NGOs, it's not only PCN that has been helping.

"And on affordable housing it's good on the Government because housing is a fundamental human right and under Fiji's Constitution, an important initiative relating to socio-cultural economic rights which means rights to employment, right to decent housing and so on."

He said the reason there was a housing crisis in Fiji and other parts of the world was that the stock of housing had not kept up with demand.

"Therefore it's very difficult to enforce the laws in squatter settlements because the demand for housing is so great and Government knows this.

"It's a human right and the Constitution makes Government obligated to it and also because the Government itself has an interest in the welfare of citizens across the board. It is now concerned about the housing situation," Prof Naidu said.

"I did a study with some of my students and we found that between 2004 and 2012 there was a 1000 per cent increase in property prices in Suva, and that was across the board including freehold, iTaukei lease land and crown lease. On freehold alone the increase would be more.

"A lot of new apartments like the PRB flats now in Raiwai has just become expensive and unaffordable for ordinary Fijians," Prof Naidu said.

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