Working in partnership to solve the housing problem in Africa

Housing a continent

Working in partnership to solve the housing problem in Africa

Access to affordable housing in Africa is a multidimensional problem that includes issues ranging from the high cost of land and construction materials to the lack of financing. Only a multidimensional and partnership response can provide a solution, writes François Perrot.

With less than 10% of Africa’s urban population able to afford a home built by a developer, there is no doubt that access to affordable housing is a complicated problem to solve.

It is a multidimensional issue by nature, which requires finding solutions to problems ranging from land and infrastructure high prices, to the cost of construction materials, to the scarcity of mortgages and the lack of financing solutions for developers.

No single actor has the answer to all of these challenges, and it is also a multidimensional and partnership response that is necessary to try to crack the code of the affordable housing market in Africa.

It is from this conviction of having to provide a complete and integrated solution that 14Trees was born. This company is an innovative joint venture between the world leader in construction materials and solutions, LafargeHolcim and CDC, the UK impact investor.

In 2016, the company introduced the first large-scale production plant for stabilised earth bricks in Malawi, named Durabric. The company now has two fixed factories complemented by two mobile factories producing in rural areas, making this technology available for the first time across an entire country.

In 2020, 14Trees also pioneered by introducing construction 3D printing: the company printed a 3D house, still in Malawi, allowing even cheaper solutions, with houses of 45m² starting at less than $10,000.

Those 3D printed houses are also more environmentally friendly, with CO2 emissions reduced by up to 70% when compared to conventional construction methods, such as burnt bricks in Malawi.

Tailor-made solutions

To offer a complete solution, 14Trees also works on the demand side of the equation and the company signed partnerships with several banks in Malawi and Kenya to facilitate access to financing solutions; it also joined forces with landowners in both countries.

With its in-house design office, the company is able to provide a complete solution tailored for the needs of local developers, diaspora and NGOs.

Gathering all those solutions and turning them into economically viable affordable housing projects is a core part of the activity of the company, hence the reason for establishing its own design office and a small team of business developers who play the role of gathering all partners under one goal.

As an example, 14Trees is now introducing Kenya’s first and the world’s largest real estate project to be 3D printed and fully focused on the needs of the Kenyan low to middle income class.

Another example is the platform that the company launched to gather the interests of Africans living outside their home country and interested to invest back home.

In this endeavour to crack the affordable housing code, 14Trees benefits from the core expertise of its two shareholders. LafargeHolcim brings its unique R&D competences, relying on its innovation centre based in France, which is the largest in the industry, with critical patents such as those related to 3D printing.

LafargeHolcim’s know-how in terms of R&D, which ranges from material optimisation to structural engineering to on-site execution support, enabled 14Trees to quickly deploy 3D printing and make the first 3D units printed in Malawi – a clear example of how this technology can contribute to solve the affordable housing challenge.

CDC also brings a wealth of expertise and support to promote the transition towards a more sustainable African economy, with a unique network of partners who also contribute to 14Trees’ commercial developments.

At the heart of 14Trees’ approach is the notion of partnership between development agencies, material producers, inventors of new technologies, local and international banks, and landlords.

But there is an important dimension in the approach of 14Trees – that of being an integrator that brings together solutions and seeks alignment among partners, while ensuring the projects remain affordable and replicable.

François Perrot is Head of Affordable Housing & 14Trees Ltd at LafargeHolcim. 14Trees is a LafargeHolcim and CDC Group joint venture dedicated to accelerating the provision of affordable housing in Africa.

To read more articles from our special report on affordable housing in Africa, coordinated by AFFORD UK, visit the Housing a Continent webpage.

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