By Maston Kaiya
FOR the past three years, residents from the three main cities of Malawi have watched how the mushrooming of offices into residential areas, taking over space, contributes to housing shortages.
Malawi’s main cities of Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu are seized with the ever growing effects of urbanisation as most people flock there looking for employment opportunities.
But it appears that landlords in these cities prefer turning their houses into office premises due to attractive rentals offered to them by business minded organisations.
Most of the offices are housed in decent areas, where rentals are affordable to an average income earner but when rented by various institutions and organisations, surpass the market value for accommodation rates paid by individuals.
Chimaliro, Zolozolo, Katawa and Mchengautuwa.
This has left more offices within the central business district vacant due to the move to residential areas while other institutions refuse to pay rentals, which they claim are too high.
Malawi Housing Corporation (MHC), a statutory cooperation established by the Act of Parliament and wholly owned by government, was solely responsible for constructing houses which were mainly occupied by civil servants who were paying minimal rentals used to maintain the houses during the Kamuzu Banda era.
In 1995, the United Democratic Front (UDF) led government made a decision instructing MHC to sale their houses in all the cities to the sitting tenants, which helped more civil servants acquire houses at reasonable prices. After 24 years since that decision was made, the areas which were meant to be housing most civil servants working in current housing problems and shortage of office space in the cities.
A resident of Area 47 in Lilongwe, Mary Chunga blamed landlords for manipulating rates in residential areas by charging higher rentals to organisations as that also affected individuals.
She said most of the houses turned into offices by organisations were a result of landlords who preferred to make more from businesses rather than renting it out to individuals for accommodation purposes.
Chunga explained that such landlords need to be taken to task since they were also causing housing shortages to city residents.
“Besides blaming the landlords, the fault also lies with our city councils as well who are even failing to control this situation. We can’t be operating offices within residential areas. We want to know what councils are doing in order to control this malpractice?” a businessman from Mzuzu, David Nyirenda demanded.
He said city councils need to plan how to expand cities and put proper measures to counter housing shortages.
Nyirenda claimed that organisations were running away from paying high rental rates in town and by moving into residential areas, they had found hiding places.
Public Relations officer in the Ministry of Lands Housing and Urban Development, Charles Vintula, confirmed authorities were aware of malpractices in the use of land and had already engaged development controllers through the Physical Planning and Urban Development Department to look into the matter.
He said local councils had the mandate to control development and regulate land use in their localities.
“Councils can regulate land through utilising physical planners who sit in development committees that make regulatory decisions,” Vintula clarified. The spokesperson stated that the Ministry of Lands Housing and Urban Development
was there to provide guidance in the implementation of policy by councils and other land developers.
Blantyre City Public Relations Officer, Anthony Kasunda added that the council was worried by the influx of offices within residential areas which was contributing to the houses scarcity.
He pointed out it was illegal to operate offices in residential area unless consent had been granted by the council through the Town Planning Committee.
“In our case, areas such as Chitawira and Naperi, residents are operating the offices illegally and council will close all offices soon. But in areas near Blantyre Central Business District, consent from the council was sought,” Kasunda added.
He explained council was reviewing its by-laws and when done, would enforce them to make sure offices in residential areas were closed. In order to ease housing shortages in the city, Kasunda pointed out council was developing new areas and recently allocated plots in Mzedi, Nyambadwe and Ndirande where there was room for development.
Kasunda added Blantyre City has designated land for office structures so that interested individuals, organisations, institutions and the private sector could invest and construct offices, which they could rent out.