October 2 commemorates the World Habitat Day which was first celebrated in Nairobi, Kenya. Housing means decent houses, with good infrastructure and not a kind of ghettoization of the housing system. To address this theme, the ki nouvo moris set has invited Kunal Parapen eco-socialist activist and member of the national committee of Rezistans ek Alternativ(ReA) and Sandeep Sewpal architect by profession. The question of land management, land use planning and the housing plan established in Mauritius remains an issue. The gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen over the years and the structures put in place to bring equity, reduce poverty is unfortunately insufficient.
What is your assessment of the housing issue in Mauritius?
Sandeep Sewpal highlights that the situation concerning the housing system in Mauritius has not really evolved and this despite the United Nation Economic and Social Council report of 1994 where they made several requests concerning the establishment of certain legislation for the creation of a right to an appropriate housing for Mauritians. Legislation such as the Housing Act and Homeless person Act as well as for tenants’ right such as the security of tenure and protections from eviction should also be implemented.
It is difficult for interested people to talk about the housing system in Mauritius because of legal failure. The housing sector in Mauritius is unfortunately not regulated, underlines Sandeep Sewpal. There is no law for the habitation system, there are only electoral promises that political parties make in their manifestos. The demand for social housing in Mauritius is particularly high at 35,000 and the supply is relatively low. The current government, for example, in its electoral manifesto, promised the construction of 12,000 houses, but that is not enough, and the people unfortunately cannot do anything about it because there is no law that they can use to guarantee their access to an accommodation.
For instance, if there was a Housing Act in Mauritius, it would require a government to prepare first of all a housing need assessment to find out who are in need of a house. Outside Mauritius, the NHDC only has a list with 35,000 people without really knowing if this people are really in need. In the absence of a good structure of law such as the Housing Act, the government has no obligation towards the population and that is really a shame. The concept of well-being that the leaders of Mauritius want to bring does not reflect the reality of the citizens says Kugan Parapen. The reality is that many Mauritians struggle to live in this society because the standard of living has been drastically increased over the past few years. What Mauritians are experiencing is not at all what the island’s leaders want us to believe. Unfortunately, the majority of Mauritians do not benefit from this high-income economy. Kugan Parapen is of the opinion that the structure of our society is changing.
“The vision of capitalism and capital itself is also changing. The way leaders want to develop Mauritius is also changing and this will create repercussions on both the short term and the long term. These changes will unfortunately be very difficult, if not catastrophic, for one segment of the population.”
Is Mauritius able to close the gap between rich and poor?
The fight against poverty is not yet won and the gap between rich and poor continues to widen. In 2013 for example, the demand for social housing amounted to 7,000 out in 2023, the demand reached 35,000. It is an indicator to demonstrate that there is indeed an impoverishment of Mauritians because it is those who are at the bottom of the social ladder who apply to benefit from an NHDC houses. It’s hard to imagine that 35,000 families are in need.
Other figures published by the statistics Mauritius show that in 2007 the poverty line in Mauritius was estimated at 7.8% and in 2023 it is just over 10%. The figures confirm that poverty has increased in recent years. Mauritius is 70 years behind in terms of the housing system and it is only through a real housing policy that the situation can be remedied. The government must pass a Housing Act because that is the only way to make a real change.
A law to provide a home for every Mauritian will be the result of a long battle, says Kugan Parapen. Like any big systemic and constitutional change, the people need to get moving. It will be necessary to mobilize people but also to raise their awareness. In the unprecedented context in which the country finds itself, access to land and housing is not obvious to everyone and has had to go through it. In the past, access to resources and land was concentrated in the hands of an elite, a small handful of people, but when we look at the statistics, we see that a majority of Mauritians own their own houses. Housing affordability has worsened because of this new economic model put in place since 2014 which is largely based on the land industry and real estate development.
However, this capitalist model is still based on demand and supply. In the past, the demand for housing was between the different Mauritian social classes. Now the demand can be divided into two, a local demand and a foreign demand. The liberalization of immigration laws and to become residents in Mauritius is done in a way where today foreigners who are very wealthy are moving to Mauritius.
“Gone is the economic model that exploits sugar cane, even the field of textiles and tourism is starting to phase out. The new development slots of Mauritius are at the land level. Land development necessarily means smart cities.”
Watch the debate here: