Uganda: Housing Co-op Helps Gulu Locals to Construct Decent Housing

Residents of Gulu district are witnessing their dreams come true as Awach Housing Cooperative helps them build permanent decent houses.

Uganda: Housing Co-op Helps Gulu Locals to Construct Decent Housing
[The first two-bedroom permanent house was built by members of Awach Housing Cooperative in Gulu district. Photo/Courtesy]

In a community where a majority of the rural population lives in grass-thatched huts, Richard Ojok, a teacher at Paicho Primary School in Gulu district is seeing his dream of owning a permanent and affordable house come true.

This became possible partly because Ojok joined Awach Housing Cooperative where he is an active member. The Cooperative was established in 2019.

The 31 members of Awach Improved Housing Cooperative Society share the dream of owning a permanent house to avoid the costs and losses that come with living in grass-thatched houses.

The costs include regular replacement of the roof because of termites besides uncontrolled bush fires and lightning. Lightning is quite a common occurrence in the Acholi sub-region with the most recent case being where a 30-year-old man identified as Felix Okello was struck dead by lightning on June 19, 2022, in Te-Olam village, Paicho Sub County, Gulu district.

Okello’s wife, Lucy Apiyo, was rushed to Paicho Medical center with a serious burn while their unidentified daughter survived unhurt after neighbors rushed to the scene and pulled them out of the burning hut.

[The first two-bedroom permanent house was built by members of Awach Housing Cooperative in Gulu district. Photo/Courtesy]

Statistics show that over 10 people and several animals have been struck dead by
lightning in Acholi Sub Region in the last 3 years. To minimize this kind of harm, Awach Improved Housing Cooperative Society is supporting each other in activities like laying bricks, doing weekly savings, and even exchanging building materials they have in excess for those they lack.

The cooperative is a member of Uganda Housing Co-operative Union-UHOCU, an apex body for all housing cooperatives in Uganda whose mandate is to enable its members to have access to adequate housing.

UHOCU is a member organization with a total membership of 33 Housing Cooperative Societies.

Ojok Richard, a member says joining the cooperative helped him kick start his
house construction easily. “They surveyed my land, gave me a plan, and an engineer who was on-site to ensure that the construction was done according to plan,” Ojok said.

Edward Kiyinji, the project officer at Uganda Housing Co-operative Union says it was cheaper to develop one house plan for members to share. The house plan comprises two bedrooms, a kitchen, a bathroom, and a large living area to accommodate a dining space that is similar for all members.

The house is estimated to cost UGX 35 million but could fluctuate depending on
the cost of building materials. Under the Housing Co-op, a housing development fund where members can access loans to build their houses was introduced in June 2021.

“We figured that being low-income earners, commercial banks may not provide affordable financial packages for them so we came up with a housing development fund where members can access loans at 11 percent,” he said.

Kiyinji adds that the idea to have a housing development fund came after discovering that sometimes members had raw materials but were stuck due to the lack of one major item.

“You will find that someone has timber, iron sheets, sand, and bricks but lacks cement so they ask the union to buy for them cement from the development fund which they pay back in one year,” Kiyinji said.

The development fund is from member savings. Members of Awach Housing Cooperative save a weekly amount of UGX 10,000 which has now been revised up to UGX 30,000 starting in June 2022.

This dream has, however, not survived the challenges imposed by coronavirus and climate change which has made weather patterns unreliable. Jackline Aber, a member of Awach Improved Housing Cooperative Society says her dream of owning a permanent house has been slowed down by long dry spells.

Aber says that she embraced the production of commercial food crops to earn good money from farming but that she has instead incurred losses because of poor weather.

“Last year I planted Soy beans and sunflower but the harvest was very poor. I'm now finding it difficult to even pay back the UGX 1 million loan I picked from a financial institution,” the resident of Paduny-Payuta village in Awach Sub County said.

The dry spell experienced in May and the first two weeks of June left crops like maize, beans, ground nuts, soy beans, and sunflower withered.

Grace Atenyi, the chairperson of the cooperative says that members are now considering starting to farm near swamps if the poor weather conditions persist as they are unable to acquire irrigation equipment.

But Kiyinji says that much as they are not keen on changing the cooperative into a
farmers’ cooperative, but they would work with West Acholi Cooperative Society that
mainly deals in cotton to see how farmers can be helped.

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