Liberia’s Housing crisis: An adequate supply of affordable housing is the foundation of a healthy economy

By Nyankor Matthew

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
January 23, 2007


News coming out of Liberia that the government of Liberia has created a “pilot project” to build new community of housing units in the Gben-Gbar Town area on the Robertsfield highway is a giant step in the right direction in dealing with the current housing crisis in Liberia. When one speaks of economic development in Liberia, creating affordable housing is seldom mentioned in the discussion, when in reality affordable housing development is an essential component of economic development. Case in point, in the 1960s in Singapore, shortly after independence, Singapore faced a serious problem of housing shortages. In response, the government passed the Housing and Development Act in 1960 which created a Housing and Development Board. The first priority of the agency during its formation was to build as many low-cost housing units as possible, and a Five-Year Plan was introduced to undertake this enormous task.

The housing that was initially built was mostly meant for rental by low income groups. Between 1960 and 1965, about 54,000 housing units were built by the HDB. According to the HDB approximately 80-90% of Singapore's population is currently living in HDB housing and majority of these people own their homes. Most of the residential housing developments in Singapore are publicly built. Thus, public housing in Singapore is not considered a sign of poverty or a lower standard. As a matter of fact very few people in Singapore live below the poverty line. In 1964, the government introduced the Home Ownership for the People, to give citizens an asset in the country, a means of financial security and to hedge against inflation. This push for home ownership also helped in the overall economic, social and political stability of the country. That such difficult goals were met reflected the soundness of the strategy adopted in the approach to public housing, which proved effective in handling Singapore’s housing crisis.

In many developed and developing market economies, where private housing rent levels are normally set to make a profit, and decent and affordable housing is unaffordable for citizens with lower income, there exist a modest level of affordable housing for these lower income residents, because market rent and price levels often cannot be afforded by these individuals who, without having access to affordable housing will need either welfare or live in the projects – at least in the U.S. Unfortunately, many developing countries/economies such as Liberia generally do not have such a welfare system in place that can benefit citizens who lack access to not only adequate housing, but the funds to finance such housing.

As is the current trend now in Liberia, due to the influx of Liberians with money moving back to Liberia, those developing new private housing for rent usually set rent levels high to make sufficient profit, after allowing for both development costs and running costs -but their high rents generally limit demand from the majority of the Liberian population who are unable to afford rent and feed their families at the same time. The current trend coupled with more than a decade of civil war has exacerbated slum living in Liberia that is all too common across Africa. According to a UN-Habitat report, sub-Saharan Africa hosts the largest proportion of the urban population residing in slums (71.9 per cent); 166 million out of a total urban population of 231 million are classified as slum dwellers. The region has the second largest slum population in the world after South-central Asia.

The UN-Habitat report, "The Challenge of Slums: Global Report on Human Settlements 2003", shows that slum life often entails enduring some of the most intolerable housing conditions, which frequently include sharing toilets with hundreds of people, living in overcrowded and insecure neighborhoods, and constantly facing the threat of eviction. Slum dwellers are also more likely to contract water-borne diseases, such as cholera and typhoid, as well as opportunistic ones that accompany HIV/AIDS. Slum life, therefore, places enormous social and psychological burdens on residents, which often leads to broken homes and social exclusion.

Although I applaud the government for its recent beautification efforts, I believe that it’s somewhat inhumane for us to undertake a beautification project when thousands of Liberians lack decent and affordable housing and many are plagued with substandard housing conditions, slum living, and a lack of financial capital to enable them to reverse their conditions even if they wanted to. Having said all of this, I believe that the creation of affordable housing is essential to development and the democratic process.

The government of Liberia in partnership with the private sector and international not-for-profit organizations need provide resources to support a comprehensive housing development effort that will address the unique housing needs of all Liberians, not just those living in Monrovia, as is often the case. A housing development policy will improve land tenure and property rights system for most Liberians, thus allowing many of our people the ability to collateralize these assets to obtain loans for education, businesses, and other enterprises.


• Develop and implement regional and national housing strategies

• Creation of a national housing finance corporation to encourage the investment of private capital in residential housing through the use of public financing to stimulate the construction of residential housing, and facilitate the purchase of affordable housing

• A sole corporation or agency in charge of public housing will enable more effective resource planning and allocation. This will make it possible to secure land, raw materials and manpower for large-scale construction to optimize results and achieve economies of scale.

• Build public-private sector partnerships to address pressing housing development needs, by fostering increased collaboration between the private development sector, local and national government, and international and community-based not-for-profit organizations.

• Lastly, strong government support in the form of political and financial commitment

Finally, the lack of adequate housing is a growing crisis that can not be ignored any longer in Liberia, especially with the population influx of people migrating into an already congested Monrovia. Therefore I am glad that the government of Liberia has taken a bold step to address this nightmare, but more still needs to done in the area of affordable housing development in Liberia. The government of Liberia in partnership with the private sector needs to come up with strategies and resources to support innovative and affordable housing in Liberia. Ever the optimist, I truly believe that support for housing in Liberia could spur economic development activities in Liberia if and only if the government is committed to using locale technology, locale employment, and local material when feasible.

About the author: Ms. Nyankor Matthew is a Liberian residing in Tallahassee, Florida, and works as a senior Asset Management Analyst for the State of Florida Housing Finance Corporation. She holds a Masters degree in Public Finance. She can be reached at

© 2007 by The Perspective

To Submit article for publication, go to the following URL: