Habitat for Humanity International’s (HFHI) engagement with the National Housing Authority (NHA) of Liberia, as part of the five year Liberia Country Program (LCP), has resulted in a significant policy shift by NHA towards supporting slum upgrading and the housing needs of low-income and vulnerable communities. The LCP, led by Cities Alliance in collaboration with the government of Liberia, is a five year program that focuses on addressing the specific urban development needs of greater Monrovia in a holistic and integrated manner. The program is implemented through several partners, with the overall goal of contributing towards sustainable urban development, poverty reduction and social and economic inclusion.

The NHA established a Slum Upgrading Unit (SUU) in September 2017. This decision was influenced by the evaluation of existing NHA housing programs, findings of the assessments undertaken by HFHI and exposure to new approaches and thinking through the LCP. The objective of the SUU is to ensure that low-income households and vulnerable communities have access to safe, adequate and affordable housing through effective mobilization and allocation of public resources, subsidies and grants. This will include facilitating the installation of public services and necessary infrastructure improvements with relevant government departments, coordinating with the Liberia Land Authority for alternative land tenure measures to increase security of tenure, unlock potential housing improvement and slum upgrading, and advocating for policy interventions that incentivize private sector investment in the delivery of affordable housing for low-income households.

The establishment of the SUU is a major step forward for Liberia as it signals a readiness by the government to support slum upgrading and affordable housing for low-income households. Prior to this policy shift the government efforts were focused on supporting the delivery of highly subsidized mortgage housing projects for a select few public servants with permanent employment or who were retiring. These government housing programs only served a very limited and privileged portion of the population in a country where the majority of households are unemployed, 68% of the population participate in the informal sector (Report on the Liberia Labour Force Survey 2010), and 70% of the population of Monrovia live in slum settlements; many of which are exposed to major climatic and environmental risks and hazards. Given a delivery rate of 1,978 units from the NHA over the last 5 decades, a significant paradigm shift was absolutely necessary to meet the growing demand for housing especially in urban areas and to provide for the 152,000 households in need of new housing and 144,000 homes requiring renovation (UN Habitat, Liberia Country Profile 2013).

As a demonstration of the support for this policy shift and the growing partnership with the NHA, HFHI funded the launch of the SUU and ran a design competition to develop innovative housing designs for slum upgrading. The criteria for the competition included the development of designs that were socially and environmentally responsive, encourage public, private and community sector collaboration, and promoted the use of local materials and technologies to reduce cost but maintain quality. The overall objective of the competition was to engage vocational schools and the private sector in thinking innovatively around slum upgrading and affordable housing delivery and to create opportunities for people, public, and private partnerships to support housing delivery.

The delivery of affordable housing in Liberia remains a huge challenge for the NHA to achieve, given their limited resources and capacity. However, the establishment of the SUU is a significant step in the right direction and an acknowledgement by government that they need to focus their efforts and resources to support the most needy and vulnerable citizens of Liberia.

The links below are reports by the local media on the launch of the SUU and the design completion. In addition, the story has been aired on two local radios and one TV station (Truth) and published in 9 leading newspapers in Liberia.

https://www.liberianobserver.com/news/512000-new-dwellings-needed-to-address-liberias-housing-needs/

https://www.frontpageafricaonline.com/index.php/news/5625-nha-un-habitat-partner-to-improve-living-conditions-of-monrovia-slums

Habitat for Humanity will continue to work with the National Housing Authority of Liberia on the development of further policy interventions over the next four years as part of the Liberia Country Program, including the development of Voluntary Relocation Guidelines and Slum Upgrading Guidelines. HFHI’s work also includes other community level and market level interventions to facilitate increased access to housing and improved living conditions for low-income households.