This article was originally published by The New Times. The views expressed in this article are of the writer and not attributable to SHLC.

This opinion is a reflection on the recent cabinet resolutions on 4th January 2021, tightening the existing health measures in order to contain the spread of the Covid-19 virus in Rwanda.

They say every crisis offers opportunities, and that exceptional times provide an opportunity to reflect on the different realities of our co-existence on earth.

Covid-19 has indeed changed our ways of living and increasingly made us reflect on Housing a little more seriously, especially on the aspect of adequacy, confronted by the appeal to “stay home” aka ‘guma murugo’ as an act of public health solidarity. In the absence of a cure or vaccine, stay home remains a key operational control measure and mechanism to fight the pandemic.

These directives and emergency responses have given us a new conceptualization of housing- beyond a home. Indeed, the house we live in has also became; the school for our children, the office for our online work, a health facility for care/isolation for those that fall ill, a gym or playground as sports centres remain closed, etc.

Amid all the uncertainty brought in by Covid-19 since March 2020 (At least for Rwanda), one thing is assured: the pandemic has forced us into newer relationships with people and spaces around us on unprecedented scales and in a manner that may not be reversible.

Poor quality housing, informal settlement, Kigali, Rwanda. Credit: Ya Ping Wang, University of Glasgow.
Poor quality housing, informal settlement, Kigali, Rwanda. Credit: Ya Ping Wang, University of Glasgow.

Restrictions on movement were severally set as a protective measure and this has provided to us a tangible demonstration of how housing environment can feel for someone whose movement has been permanently or temporarily restricted.

Moments like these indeed highlight both the challenges and the opportunities associated with transforming our homes into multiple use spaces: used by multiple people for multiple purposes, potentially with issues of safety, privacy, noise etc. and all of which come with health and well-being related implications.

While architects can figure out for us what attributes of designing a house plan can make the stay home or worse still, the quarantine conditions feel more tolerable, with or without architecture, it has become evident that each on is tasked to rethink how the daily experience in our homes can help shape a better today and tomorrow.

The dining tables become classrooms between family meals, we were forced to use out gardens and porches more when we need a small escape from the indoors, we have mastered how to make use of neighbourhood streets as recreational areas, etc.

At a policy level, Covid-19 pandemic also brought in innovative practices to cushion citizens from the near-term adverse effects of the crisis, including unforgiving landlords, especially for the households who were/are struggling to pay rent following job losses or reduced work and hence pay. Governments have also responded to the pandemic with a wide array of measures to protect tenants and mortgage-holders, as well as support builders and lenders. These ought to be sustained even in the post-Covid era because it does have implications on other sectors of the economy.

For instance, study has shown that restrictive regulation of landlord-tenant contractual relationships is linked with lower residential mobility and consequently with labour mobility. Therefore, if not well embedded into policy, the post-Covid-19 recovery can be rendered difficult, as it will require unintended reallocation of labour and capital, which further impact on prospects for social and spatial inclusion in cities.

At a planning level, countrysides became more desirable as they provide cheaper living standards and offer greater freedom to people. It is expected that some district towns such as Gicumbi, Bugesera, Karongi, Kayonza and Rwamagana are increasingly becoming economically comparable to secondary cities.

At practical level, there is evident rise in ‘home offices’ and hence the need to incorporate dedicated working spaces in our homes. Institutions have been encouraged to operate with 30 per cent staff capacity and have others working from home. This trend is likely to cultivate the culture of online work and digital business, since there is growing proof that it works just fine. It is believed that in the future, whilst missing the social and working life in an office, many people will prefer work from home for at least part of the working week.

Yet another significant change in our homes has been improved digital connectivity, which is no longer a nice to have, but an essential service. Many homes have now acquired better internet connectivity, which makes homeschooling of working from home much more tolerable.

There is every potential to gradually transition from these immediate emergency responses and rescue measures to long-term practices and policy interventions that can support the recovery and the development of efficient, inclusive and sustainable housing for all. Not all is lost, after all.