Housing: Kinshasa is for the rich
A long the principal avenues of the chic and expensive neighbourhood of Gombe, there are countless high-end buildings under construction.
However, this proliferation of new apartments for rent and for sale are not pushing housing prices down.
prices did not drop because people were ready to pay those rates – international organisations, foreign companies and the UN mission in the DRC
Kinshasa is one of the top 10 most expensive African cities to live in according to a 2014 study by the US research firm Mercer.
The Gombe neighbourhood of Kinshasa, the capital of the DRC, is home to rich locals and expatriates.
Rents for apartments vary from $1,200 to $5,000 per month, while a villa can cost anywhere from $2,500 to $10,000.
To purchase an apartment, you will need somewhere between $200,000 and $450,000, depending on the size of the unit.
So why are prices so high in a country that is amongst the poorest in the world? A first factor is that the market for medium and top-end housing was extremely weak before 2006.
“Before that date, it was difficult to find beautiful apartments in Kinshasa. The supply was weak, so prices were high.
“Then there were new constructions, but prices did not drop because people were ready to pay those rates – international organisations, foreign companies and the UN mission in the DRC,” explains Youssef Mansour, a finance director for real-estate developer Achour.
Those are organisations with means and which prefer to have their employees live close to their offices, as political stability is still volatile in the country.
Other factors influencing the high rents in about three well-off regions of the capital are the huge traffic jams in this city of 14 million people and the frequent power and electricity cuts in other neighbourhoods.
In Kinshasa, renters argue that prices will drop with the planned departure in six months of a large number of officials from the UN mission.
For Achour’s Mansour, prices should decline soon: “Economically, the country is stable. What remains to be known is what will happen with the next presidential elections.”
Nonetheless, housing and office buildings – built mainly by Congolese, Lebanese and Chinese companies – are largely too expensive for locals.
This is pushing middle-class and poorer people farther and farther away from Kinshasa’s central business district.
In less central areas like Route de l’Aéroport, residents can rent a house for $400-$500 per month, but even that price is too expensive for many Congolese, as civil servants earn about $100 per month.
There is almost no social or low-cost housing in the capital.
The government launched a programme in 2012 to build 4,100 low-cost units, with 1,000 of them to be located in Kinshasa.
The project quickly collapsed, with some suggesting that the money was misappropriated.
“Donors were discouraged. I do not know why,” says Bob Kadima, the inspection director at the ministry of urban planning and housing.
“We relaunched construction a couple of months ago and experts are now on the ground to evaluate the costs,” adds Kadima.
Other low-cost projects have faced their own delays.
A Chinese company announced its plans to work with the government to construct 10,000 housing units in the neighbourhood of Kinkole in September 2013, but the project has been slow to advance.
The government has had trouble attracting serious investors, and previous low-cost housing projects in Kinshasa – like the Cité du Millenium project launched in 2005 – have failed to materialise.
In order to regulate the rental market, the government has created a new policy so that property owners cannot ask for more than three months’ rent in advance.
Landlords had typically requested the payment of six months’ rent for new renters.
Kadima says that the measure has been effective: “For two years, 70% of complaints have concluded with penalties imposed on landlords.”
The government also tried to set up a price spectrum per square metre for allowable rents, but failed. ●