Saturday, July 13, 2024
NewsOmbudsman summons City Admin over persistent housing auction disputes

Ombudsman summons City Admin over persistent housing auction disputes

Close to 3,500 units up for sale in latest round

The Ethiopian Institution of the Ombudsman has asked officials at the Addis Ababa City Administration Housing Corporation to respond to public outcries over controversial housing auctions it organized recently.

Two weeks ago, the Corporation and the Administration’s Design and Construction Bureau floated an auction for the sale of 3,146 condominium housing units and 306 retail shops. The units were constructed under the 20/80 housing scheme.

The auction notice referred to unspecified “financial constraints” that the Corporation says are forcing it to sell units for capital needed to build more low-income units under the housing scheme.

However, the planned auction drew vehement opposition from 959 people registered for the 20/80 scheme since 2005. They argued the units up for auction rightfully belong to them as they have been saving for the housing for close to two decades, and filed grievances with the Ombudsman on the day the auction was publicized.

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The following week, the Corporation announced a two-week extension, pushing the auction to March 12. It said the postponement was to allow the residents of Addis Ababa to be part of the sale.

The Ombudsman replied this week with a letter instructing Corporation and city officials to provide a fitting and evidence-based response to public discontent over the planned auction, setting a seven-day deadline.

The letter signed by Endale Haile (PhD), head of the Institution, demands the Corporation provide it with legal evidence to prove it has the right to auction and transfer government housing units. The Ombudsman has requested a full explanation as to why the Corporation has chosen not to prioritize people that have been saving for the housing scheme for close to two decades.

Endale would like to see a justification for the decision to announce the auction without due process on lot and placement and without any acknowledgment of what the fate of the frustrated savers will be.

The Ombudsman has also inquired why the Corporation does not consider low and middle-income residents of Addis Ababa when setting prices for housing units and payment structures.

Sources that have seen the auction documents told The Reporter that starting bid prices range from 50,784 birr to close to 65,400 birr per square meter. The price range is similar to property values of 55,000 to 90,000 birr in Addis Ababa, casting serious doubt on the affordability and inclusivity of the low-cost housing scheme.

The Reporter’s attempts to reach Shimeles Tamirat, head of the Corporation, did not garner a response.

It is not the first time the Corporation has been under the Ombudsman’s spotlight in relation to complaints from 20/80 scheme participants.

The 959 people organized and represented by close to two dozen committee members had also aired their grievances following the announcement of lots and placements for the 14th round of housing auctions in February 2023.

The committee had filed a letter with the Addis Ababa Mayor’s Office, venting their frustrations at the unending wait for housing. The letter included the complainants’ information, including names and bank account details, as well as the total amount they had saved up for the housing scheme – close to 145 million birr.

The letter details the problems complainants say they have been facing as a result of not owning their own houses, and requests the City Administration to make a final decision on their fate.

It also mentions an offer from city authorities to provide land plots that the petitioners could develop through unions. However, the committee says it lacks the financial capacity to take up the alternative offer.

This letter was also submitted to the city Housing Development Administration Bureau, the Ministry of Urban and Infrastructure Development, Prosperity Party Head Office, Federal Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, and the Ombudsman.

Only the Ombudsman acquiesced to discussions with the committee.

Following the discussions, the Ombudsman relayed the findings of an inquiry to the committee at the end of May last year. The findings included a response from the Corporation, which maintains the city had transferred 18,630 one and two-bedroom units in 2012 to savers registered in 2005.  

The Corporation denied it had aired any claims that the 14th round of housing unit transfers would involve the remaining savers from 2005, and maintains that it had prioritized these savers during the round.

The Ombudsman then announced it would continue investigations if the second round of savers from 2012 were given priority over savers who registered in 2005.

It was against this backdrop that the Corporation announced the latest round of auctions, prompting the Ombudsman to request further explanation.

The Corporation is expected to respond in the coming week.

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