With Rent and Utility Costs Rising, Owusu Hopes to Move on From His Accra Rental
Between 1984 and 2013, Ghana’s urban population more than tripled, increasing from about 4 million to 14 million. Like many rapidly urbanizing African cities, Accra, the country’s capital, has experienced tremendous economic growth. However, access to affordable and secure housing remains a pressing challenge for the majority of the city’s underserved residents. As the city has grown, it has resorted to building compound-style public housing units, where as many as 20 families live in one or two rooms with shared toilets.
Owusu lives with his wife and four children in a compound-style house in the Tantra Hills neighborhood of Accra. The 44 year old shares the residence with five other tenants and their families. Built of cement block with corrugated iron roofing sheets, the house has access to a toilet, but it is not connected to the city’s water supply, so Owusu must buy water from expensive private vendors.
Rent policies for low-income families like Owusu’s have been notoriously pro-landlord since the country’s 1963 National Rent Act. While current law prohibits landlords from taking more than six months of rent in advance, many take up to two years rent in advance. Owusu pays his landlord US $392 each year but expects this to increase. These erratic increases not only impose a financial burden—they also diminish people’s rights to land tenure, maintenance, and a quality home.
Owusu says he lives in “perpetual fear” of being evicted from his home. “In the event that the landlord increases the rent and you are unable to pay, he would be willing to give it to someone else who is ready to pay.” Market liberalization policies since the 1980s have made housing rents less affordable by forcing Ghanaians to pay commercial rent prices and driving up the cost of public services. Owusu says he pays more each month for electricity than he does for rent— $33 per month for rent and $50 per month for electricity.
Public transportation is also not a convenient option for Owusu. The nearest bus stop is about one kilometer away, and he typically waits up to 30 minutes for the bus. His 18 kilometer commute to work takes him about two hours if he beats traffic. In order to miss the rush, Owusu has to leave the house by 4:30am—a routine he’s been following for the past 16 years, Monday to Saturday, as an employee at the Shell gas filling station where he earns $175 dollar per month.
With four young children, safety is a primary concern. “Each day we are careful and security-conscious,” he says. He has not heard of murders in his neighborhood but says there have been burglaries and armed robberies nearby. But Owusu’s goal is to
buy a bigger house for his growing family. “I do not intend to pay rent my whole life. In the next five years I hope to move into my own house. I would like to get a place at the periphery of the city because it is difficult and expensive to purchase lands.”