Living in Insecure Housing Far from Accra, Gladys Struggles to Meet Her Basic Needs
It’s a common practice in Ghana’s cities for home owners to let low-income families take care of their homes while they are away in order to watch over the property and protect against re-sale. Gladys, a 45 year old resident of Accra, is currently occupying a two story, concrete building without flooring or doors in a suburb called Olebu Estate with her 19 year old son.
A growing neighborhood similar to suburbs in the Global North, Olebu Estate is home to many working class professionals who commute into Accra during the day. Despite its remote location, recent development has driven real estate prices up considerably. “Before we moved here five years ago,” Gladys says, “this place was practically a bush and uninhabited. There were few buildings sparsed [sic] around the whole area. But now I think the place has really developed. We even have street lights.”
Gladys was born in Accra, but spent most of her life in Agona-Swedru in central Ghana. She returned to Accra five years ago in search of a job, but has not found formal employment as she had originally hoped. Because she cannot pay rent, her current living arrangement is the next best alternative. “We were fortunate to meet a houseowner who was putting up his new house, and agreed to allow us to live in his uncompleted house and watch over the house for him while he was out of town.”
Gladys has turned the home into a source of income by stationing two kiosks in open rooms on the first floor, where she trades simple goods and earns a monthly income of US $25. By contrast, most domestic workers, who are also typically paid very low rates, earn almost double Gladys’s income—about $50 per month. For example, a female security guard working in an informal settlement in Accra makes approximately $88 per month.
Although she does not know how much he makes, Gladys says that her son supports their family as a construction worker, which has a national average daily wage of about $10. Because of the neighborhood’s rapid development, many young people are employed as construction workers.
Gladys says she has not given much thought to other areas of the city in which she would like to live. “I would love to live anywhere so long as I can make a living,” she says. In the future, Gladys hopes she can find her own place, but that she needs to take things one step at a time since the future is always uncertain. “I hope that through my hard work I am able to get some money and get own place. I think gradually people want to live in their own house and stop paying expensive rent. In the long term owning your house is cheaper.”
Living on the periphery of Accra has affected Gladys’s life in many ways. If she wants to take the bus into the city, she must pay nearly $2 roundtrip, which is unaffordable with her current income. Fortunately, she now has access to the piped water connection in her neighborhood. “We purchase water from the Roman Catholic Mission house just behind us,” she says. “We purchase about $1.50 worth of water that is able to last us four days.” She also says that she has access to electricity but that the tariffs make it unaffordable.
Safety is another serious concern. Disputes over land between property holders and land guards can often result in death, Gladys says. Burglaries were also rampant until homeowners recently installed streetlamps. At the crux of these issues, however, is the issue of urban sprawl and road safety. While the Awoshie-Pokuase highway, a government-funded project, has improved access for middle- and upper-income commuters with cars, residents like Gladys gain little, if any, of the promised benefits. “Drivers speed on the nearly completed road. This has resulted in a lot of people being knocked down by vehicles,” Gladys says—a reality that is not sustainable, or ethical, for Accra’s continued growth.