Since the early 2000s, stakeholders in the housing sector have accepted without much question the notion that the nation faces a housing deficit of about 1.7 million housing units.
This has been quoted so often both in the media and academic publications that it appears to have been cast in stone and become an incontrovertible truth.
It is, however, curious that a figure that was supposedly estimated at around the year 2000 would remain impervious to demographic changes and ensuing developments in the housing sector.
In fact, the lapse of time alone should cause us to legitimately question the continuous references to the 1.7 million housing deficit figure in public and academic discourse.
In this article, I seek to draw the attention of stakeholders in the housing sector to the obvious inaccuracies inherent in the housing deficit estimates including fundamental misstatement of facts.
I must stress that this article is not seeking to downplay the seriousness of the housing crisis the country faces.
Rather, it is seeking to properly situate the challenges in the housing sector in the light of publicly available data on the deficit. This clarification is important for the following reasons.
First, public discourse on matters of national interest must not be based on incorrect statement of facts especially where such facts are easily verifiable.
Second, in situations where the public’s perception of the severity of a problem is shaped by inaccurate facts, policy responses by the government might be viewed with skepticism and face credibility deficit.
Third and more importantly, there is a real possibility for such inaccurate facts to distort the judgment of policy makers is designing policies to solve the problem.
A good starting point is to examine the source of the 1.7 million deficit figure, the 2000 Housing Profile report. This report estimated the housing deficit at 1.7 million rooms as at the year 2000.
Note the use of the word “rooms” instead of “units”, which is often quoted in the press and other publications. The difference between the two words should be apparent.
It would not make economic sense to build houses in response to demand that is not backed by purchasing power.
It is in this regard that urgent attention is required in developing a sustainable formal housing finance system that can deliver affordable finance to households across the different spectrum of incomes.
A related issue is the non-segmentation of the housing market in discussing the deficit. There is no doubt that Ghana faces challenges in the supply of affordable and decent houses for the middle and lower income segments of the market.
However, same cannot be said of the high-income segment of the market. Anecdotal evidence points to the fact that supply in the upper-income segment is adequate and there are even fears of possible oversupply.
Housing remains central in every effort at improving the socioeconomic wellbeing of the Ghanaian and stakeholders in the housing sector must fully understand the extent of the problems the nation faces in providing decent and affordable housing for all.
This requires an up to date, reliable and accurate data on the housing need. The current situation where even basic facts such as the housing deficit are questionable does not inspire a lot confidence in our ability to solve this problem.