Excerpt from Africa Housing Finance Yearbook 2016


Malawi is a small, landlocked country with an estimated population of 17.66 million,[1] this represents 0.45 percent of the world population.[2] The country has a young population, with 66.6 percent being between the ages of 0-24.  Lilongwe, Blantyre, Mzuzu and Zomba are the main urban areas, with a collective annual growth rate of 3.99 percent, and 14.9 percent of Malawi’s population residing in these areas.[3]

Malawi is one of the world’s poorest countries, in 2010 the World Bank reported that 50.7 percent of its population lived below the poverty line of $1.99 per day,[4] down from 65.3 percent in 1997.[5]  In 2014, its gross domestic product (GDP) per capita was US$272.16 (equivalent to two percent of the world’s average),[6] and its gross national income (GNI) per capita was US$250.[7]  The country has stagnated on long-term developmental progress, moving up by only one point to 173 (out of 188 countries) on the 2015 Human Development Index (HDI).[8]

In its 2014

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Excerpt from Africa Housing Finance Yearbook 2016


Malawi is a small, landlocked country with an estimated population of 17.66 million,[1] this represents 0.45 percent of the world population.[2] The country has a young population, with 66.6 percent being between the ages of 0-24.  Lilongwe, Blantyre, Mzuzu and Zomba are the main urban areas, with a collective annual growth rate of 3.99 percent, and 14.9 percent of Malawi’s population residing in these areas.[3]

Malawi is one of the world’s poorest countries, in 2010 the World Bank reported that 50.7 percent of its population lived below the poverty line of $1.99 per day,[4] down from 65.3 percent in 1997.[5]  In 2014, its gross domestic product (GDP) per capita was US$272.16 (equivalent to two percent of the world’s average),[6] and its gross national income (GNI) per capita was US$250.[7]  The country has stagnated on long-term developmental progress, moving up by only one point to 173 (out of 188 countries) on the 2015 Human Development Index (HDI).[8]

In its 2014 annual economic report, the Malawi government indicated that growth in agriculture, manufacturing, construction, wholesale and retail trade contributed 5.7 percent to the country’s economic growth. The agriculture sector increased by 6.1 percent, and accounted for 31 percent of GDP. However, the International Monetary Fund has revised downward real GDP growth for 2015 by 2.7 percent to 3 percent due to weather shocks like El Nino that disrupted both agriculture activities and transportation services. This is further compounded by high inflation, high lending rates, and a depreciating currency; these factors have collectively affected economic outcomes, business confidence and incomes.

Access to finance

Before 2015, there were 13 commercial banks registered with the Reserve Bank of Malawi.  However, in 2015, state-owned Malawi Savings Bank (MSB) was sold to FDH Holdings Limited. Further, National Bank of Malawi acquired 97.05 shareholdings in IndeBank Limited with remaining shares held by IndeBank staff. There are currently 12 banks and one Leasing and Finance Company.

While the banking sector constitutes nearly 80 percent of the financial sector assets, penetration of formal banking and financial services remains low. A 2015 Brookings Financial and Digital Inclusion Project (FDIP) ranks Malawi 19 out of 21 countries on access to and usage of affordable financial services.[9] A 2014 FinScope Study pegged financial inclusion at 54 percent, with only 22 percent of Malawians having bank accounts.[10] Additionally, a 2015 Findex study showed that only 16.1 percent of adults held a bank account; six percent borrowed from a bank; and six percent had an outstanding mortgage.[11] Access to credit through formal channels is beset by lack of collateral, high lending rates, and low levels of financial literacy.

A 2105 Reserve Bank of Malawi Financial Stability report shows that as at September 2015, the loan book constituted 40.9 percent of total assets, seconded by securities and investment at 26 percent.  The report also indicates a decrease in the percentage of non-performing loans from 14.8 percent in March 2015 to 11.4 in September 2015. In 2014, real estate loans accounted for 1.5 percent of total loans.[12]

There are only a few banks which offer mortgages in Malawi, namely National Bank of Malawi, Standard Bank, FDH Bank and New Building Society (NBS).  Before 1989, NBS was the only mortgage lender, and at 70 percent continues to maintain the largest stake in the mortgage lending market.  However, overall, access to mortgage is limited by strict eligibility criteria including a minimum 10 percent cash deposit, a minimum of six months history with the bank and three months of payslips.

Currently, RBM has pegged the base lending rate at 36.29 percent.[13] Mortgage financiers have different rates: FDH charges 37 percent; National Bank 34 percent, and NBS 36 percent.[14].NBS’s maximum term is 15 years with a maximum loan-to-value ratio of 80 percent to 90 percent.

Malawi’s lending spread, increased by 9.8 percent between 2012 and 2014, 2.8 higher than the Sub-Saharan average of seven percent.[15] It has been argued that higher bank overhead costs and relatively low productivity have contributed to this. Additionally, the current funding base, through retail funds, has meant that extension of loans for more than 10 to 15 years is unusual. Fundraising through the capital markets has been limited, with NBS Bank raising money through the capital markets and being partially listed on the Malawi Stock Exchange.

The microfinance sector also provides some leeway to housing finance. As at September 2015, there were 43 registered microfinance institutions in Malawi.  Their overall assets declined by 6.7 percent in 2015 from MK29.3 billion to MK27.4 billion.[16] And, in 2015 the first deposit taking microfinance institution (DTI) was licenced. Of the 43 MFIs, only three offer short-term housing loans and they are: Select Financial Services, Epik Finance, and Greenroot Microfinance.  Epik Finance, for example, offers incremental building loans to low and middle income earners; the maximum loan value is US$900 (MK500, 000), repayable over 18 months. Then there is Select Africa Malawi which works in partnership with Habitat for Humanity Malawi in which the former provides incremental housing loans and the latter provides construction support service.

Some MFIs reported delays in loan repayments due to late salary payments of clients who are government employees, and clients with irregular income. Despite this, MFIs that provide housing loans noted a repayment rate of around 98 percent.[17]

Another innovative programme within the sector, involves the partnership between Habitat for Humanity (HfH) and two housing microfinance lenders: Opportunity Bank of Malawi (OBM) and Select Financial Services. Through this partnership, low income households access small habitat loans from the microlenders and HfH provide them Construction Technical Assistance.(CTA).

Malawi’s modest pensions sector is mainly invested in equities, Treasury bills and property development; with only a few in housing finance lending. Access to housing finance is further restricted by limited tenure security and lack of a national identification system. In 2010, Malawi passed the National Registration Bureau Act which led to the formation of the National Registration Bureau (NRB) mandated to manage and maintain the National Registration Information System (NRIS). The Bureau is piloting issuance of national IDs targeting 5000 Malawians.[18]

Most banks have excess liquidity, their funds consisting primarily of a combination of equity plus retail funds from savers. Some have external lines of credit, but only for special schemes such as SME lending or access to foreign exchange. The main source of funds for mortgages remains retail funds, with most surplus funds being invested in Treasury bills.

The legal framework for credit information sharing was established following the enactment of the Credit Reference Bureau (CRB) Act in 2010, together with overarching financial sector legislation and the Financial Services Act of the same year.  As a result, two credit reference bureaus were licensed, namely Credit Data CRB and CRB Africa.

According to the World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2015, Malawi ranks 164th of 189 countries (compared to 171th place in 2014 and 157 in 2013), and in 2014 ranked 85th in terms of ease of registering property (an improvement from 97th in 2013).  In 2013, government passed the Personal Properties Security Bill that allows borrowers to use, and lending institutions to accept moveable assets as collateral or security as one way of easing access to finance.  Land in Malawi is usually managed by one of the following, the Ministry of Lands, Housing, and Urban Development; Malawi Housing Corporation; and City Councils, traditional leaders, and private entities. Most households live in unplanned settlements using customary practices due to the scarcity of serviced land for low income housing.


A 2015 Oxfam study on State of Inequality in Malawi shows that the richest 10 percent of Malawians spend 34 times more that the poorest 10 percent. And, a 2014 FinScope study revealed that 41 percent of Malawians earn under MK10 000 (US$18) a month. Nationally, only 10 percent of adults earn a wage or salary, 23 percent do businesses and 43 percent farm. Low income levels constrains access to, and affordability of mortgages; less than one percent of Malawians qualify for a mortgage. The above further affirms the opportunity that exists for housing microfinance.

The cheapest newly built entry-level house, built by a developer, costs around MK 7.5 million (about US$13 500). Given that only 30 percent of a household’s income is allowed towards servicing of loans or mortgage payments, the total monthly income that a borrower would have to earn to pay for this house would be MK680,747 (US$1 222). This means that even the cheapest house is only accessible to the highest income earners, who make up less than one percent of the population. All mortgage lenders target salaried individuals and those operating registered businesses with Business Accounts. NBS provides a facility of 80 percent of the collateral value while National Bank and Standard Bank calculate a maximum of 30% of the applicant’s monthly income. National Bank provides a mortgage as small as MK500 000 (US$704.22) while the least mortgage value at Standard Bank is approximately MK4 million (US$5633.80). NBS and National Bank mortgage have a maximum repayment period of 15 years while Standard Bank goes upto 20 years. The house to be bought or constructed remains a property of the lending bank until the whole mortgage is settled.


Housing Supply

Ninety percent of houses in Malawi are self-built. A 2014 Integrated Household Panel Survey (IHPS) highlighted a drop in the percentage of traditional houses from 47.6 percent in 2010 to 41.4 percent in 2013, semi-permanent housing increased from 24.2 to 26.4, and permanent housing increased by 4.3 percent over the same period. The average household size increased slightly from 4.7 persons in 2010 to 4.9 persons in 2013. The IHPS report notes that 78 percent of households live in their own houses, while 12 percent rent; 46 percent of urban dwellers rent homes compared to five percent in rural areas.

Malawi’s high urbanisation rate has led to increased demand for decent housing in urban areas with an annual demand of 21 000 new units.[19] This demand far outpaces the supply capacity of developers.

Housing developers in Malawi includes public and private providers. Parastatal Malawi Housing Corporation (MCH) is the main public provider that builds and rents out relatively cheaper houses targeting tripartite of low, middle and high income urban households. MCH delivers on its mandate through construction of conventional houses and development of ‘traditional housing areas’ for low income groups. The cheapest MCH house, a bedsitter, attracts a monthly rental charge of MK9 000 (US$12.67) while the most expensive is rented for MK300 000 (US$422.53). Occasionally, the Corporation puts some houses for sell and the purchase prices  is determined through a due valuation process where factors like  house size, recentness, location, and house condition are  considered. Existing tenants are given first option to purchase the houses.

Since its inception in 1964, MCH has constructed approximately 7 000 housing units countrywide. A plan to build 4 200 additional houses and develop 5 800 plots between 2007 and 2011 did not reach fruition, with only 481 houses completed. However, in the spring of 2015, MHC’s CEO announced that the institution was planning to construct 25 000 houses in the country’s three major cities to cater for the national housing demand. However, as of June 2016, the Corporation had only started constructing 17 houses.[20]

Historically, rentals for most of MHC’s residential properties have not kept pace with increases in cost. This has not only led to the Corporation posting losses, but also dwarfed its capacity to scale and sustain services. Since 2011, MCH rentals have increased by an average 12.3 percent but each adjustment has been met with resistance from tenants who argue that MHC does not fully meet its maintenance obligations.[21] And, in its rental accounts of 2014 and 2013, the Corporation posted loses of US$95 556 and US$84 444 respectively.[22]

In 2014, the Ministry of Lands, Housing, and Urban Development indicated that they would be reviewing the Malawi Housing Corporation Act in order to allow it to build houses for profit, a path the existing Act prohibits.

The list of private providers include, inter alia, Press Properties Limited, Kanengo Northgate, NICO Assets, Knight Frank, Enterprise Development Holdings, and FISD Limited.

Since 2013, Enterprise Development Holdings (EDH), a social enterprise formed from Centre for Community Organisation and Development (CCODE), has been working with UK-based Real Equity for All (Reall)  supporting poor urban communities to plan and implement local solutions to challenges of inadequate land, housing and infrastructure. As of 2015, EDH had successfully negotiated for more than 2 000 plots of land and constructed over 780 low cost  rental houses in Lilongwe and Blantyre. The cheapest houses, which is a bedsitter, is rented for MK22 500 (US$31.69) a month, MK32 500 (US$45.77) for a one-bedroom, MK42 500 (US$59.85) for a two-bedroom, and MK52 500 (US$73.95) for a three-bedroom house.

Furthermore, the Cities Alliance, a global partnership for urban poverty reduction, initiated a slum upgrading programme in partnership with UN-Habitat in January 2011. The project aimed to formulate city development strategies and a slum upgrading programme covering cities of Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Zomba.

Low-income earners, especially those living in peri-urban and rural communities, receive financial and technical assistance from NGOs such as CCODE and HfH, as well as government through the Decent and Affordable Housing Subsidy Program (DAHSP). Previously, both CCODE and HfH provided housing loans to low-income households, but they both changed their approaches to only provide construction training assistance.[23]

Habitat for Humanity, which has been operational since 1986, has built over 3 000 low-cost houses and latrines in Malawi. In 2005, HfH launched the ‘building in stages’ programme, an incremental building scheme which allows low income families to improve their living conditions over time, based on the availability of their resources. By December 2012, 250 homes were completed in Lilongwe, helping to secure simple, decent housing for over 700 people previously living in the city’s Mgona, Mtsiriza and Mtandire slums.

The DASHP was launched by government in 2014. By March 2016, the project had disbursed MK5.8 billion across the country for the first phase,[24] which saw 12,508 houses improved[25]. Also in 2014, Lafarge launched a social enterprise housing scheme aimed at providing low income families with ‘economical but decent houses’.  The scheme, called Maziko Houses, provides pre-designed houses (1-3 bedrooms) which can be built for 20-40 percent cheaper and significantly quicker than conventional houses. Lafarge is offering two financing approaches, one for self-financed construction and one through a loan facilitated by the company in partnership with a MFI.[26]

Property Markets

According to property consultants Knight Frank, the residential market in Malawi is still suffering following devaluation and floatation of the national currency; demand has fallen in both the rental and sales markets. For example, in 2013 MHC teamed up with Chinese Henan Guogi Development Company to develop an integrated estate in Lilongwe’s Area 49  to deliver high quality houses for sell at US$60 000 for a two-bedroom house to US$115 000 for a four-bedroom apartment,[27] which was then equivalent to MK20 million and MK38.5 million respectively. However, since the prices were dollarised, the continued depreciation of the local currency has meant the purchase value has at least doubled, consequently pricing out many potential buyers. At current exchange rate, the two-bedroom house would cost MK42 million while the four-bedroom house would cost MK81 million. As a result, most of the houses are now being rented out.

In Lilongwe and Blantyre the market continues to benefit from the large expatriate community (nearly 25 000 in Blantyre), which has traditionally influenced the linking of rents to the US Dollar.  As of June 2016, rental for single bedroom ranged from MK49 288.20 (US$ 69.42) to MK271 056.70 (US$381.77) while a three bedroom cost between MK175 661.1 (US$247.41) and MK759 572.20 (US$1 069.82) depending on location and proximity to the city centre.[28]

Recently, there has been considerable activity in upgrading older, well-located buildings in an effort to meet expatriate demand for high quality residential properties. Nevertheless, there is a real constrain in the supply of housing, which has caused rapid property price increases.

Policy and regulation

Housing related policies feature amongst national priorities in Malawi’s strategic papers. Malawi’s Vision 2020 places greater focus on developing and upgrading human settlements for ‘equitable access to housing for all’.  Further, the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS II), a medium-term growth framework, contains a sub-theme on Housing and Urban Development. The country has also ratified the Global Agenda for Housing, Habitat III, which binds governments to ensure everyone has an affordable home by 2036.

However, the existing laws and polices fall short of fostering land access, housing provision or access to housing finance. In July 2016, Parliament passed four land-related Bills: Land Bill, Physical Planning Bill, Land Survey Bill and Customary Land Bill. Already, the Customary Land Bill has ignited debate over the need for the role of chiefs in land administration with opposers of the bill arguing it strips chiefs of their traditional powers over land and overburdens poor people to pay for land leases. Proponents argue the new law gives rural communities an opportunity to own land individually (as opposed to communal ownership), which they can register and therefore use it as collateral.

The Land Act 1995 sets out the classifications of land and recognises various types of land tenure. Presently, an estimated 90 percent of land is customary. However, there are no defined laws that deal with property rights of customary land, making transferring customary property rights difficult. The Customary Land (Development) Act largely recognises customary land as agricultural land. Both the Deeds Registration Act, which supports and regulates deeds registration, and the Registered Land Act 1967, which provides the legislative foundation for the transfer from a deed registration system of land administration to a title registration system, apply to customary land but it remains highly unregistered.

Thus, the formal mortgageable tenure system only covers eight percent of the land, held under leasehold, and almost all of this land is in urban areas. This has resulted in tighter eligibility criteria, which limits access, as the property cannot be used as collateral for the mortgage. Further, the formal land registration system is generally inefficient; it takes up to 118 days to register land and 69 days to register a property.

The rural housing market is currently informal and, by evidence from policy and practice, it will remain such for a while. The Local Government Act of 1998 devolves powers to local assemblies to administrate Traditional Housing Areas (THAs), a function formerly performed by MHC. But the Act has not been fully utilised as most land in rural areas remains customary. This hinders rural communities, who own vast acres of land, from benefiting from the Personal Properties Security Bill. Worse still, rural land stands ‘unzonable’ and unplanned despite the Town and Country Planning Act of 1988 regulating zoning across the country. Town and Country Planning Standards and Guidelines are applied only to urban areas because rural areas are not included amongst planned areas. Ultimately increasing the barriers in investing in rural housing, and approving rural housing loans.

Legally, the sole shelter parastatal, MHC, cannot extend its work to rural areas; and private developers shun the rural market because of unattractive collateral assets. While institutions like UN Habitat have quantified urban housing demand, currently at 21,000 units annually, no such effort has been devoted to rural housing despite that 80% of Malawians live in rural areas. On the contrary, government is developing the National Urban Policy framework (funded by Cities Alliance with technical support from UN-Habitat) aimed at shifting national development from its rural focus to urban growth in light of rapid urbanisation.

The existing National Housing Policy has been in draft form since 2007. The polices accentuates increasing access to housing for all income groups through improving urban land markets, enhanced access to housing finance, upgrading of informal settlements, better quality of rural settlements and housing, and adoption of a decentralised approach to housing delivery.

Apart from laws, policies and strategies, housing is also a matter of political correctness and remains a major highlight in political party manifestos. It features in the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)’s 2014-2019 manifesto as a ‘cement and malata’ project, now being implemented as DAHSP. It hinges on provision of subsidised cement and iron sheets to enable low-income earners to improve their houses. An estimated 16,000 grass-thatched houses with earth rammed floors are expected to be improved, annually through this programme. However, similar past initiatives have not been sustained once political governments change course.


Accelerating rural-urban traffic and high population growth rates provide both challenges and opportunities in terms of housing supply and demand. While Malawi’s population remains predominantly rural, the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (UNCHS) forecasts a reversal in population dynamic by 2050.[29] UNCHS has since urged authorities and sector players to take proactive action to ensure that social services move with population dynamics.

Given the predominant self-build housing provision method used and the existence of a budding microfinance industry, lending for housing microfinance has good potential for growth. Growth of the middle class has boosted the mortgage market. Greater competition in the banking industry has spurred on the mortgage markets, and access to mortgages will be greatly enhanced if this trend is sustained.

A World Bank Financial Sector Technical Assistance Project was initiated in 2011 (expected completion in 2016) to increase access to finance for the currently unbanked population in Malawi. By increasing financial inclusion, the project is expected to contribute towards a more enabling environment for the housing finance sector.

Nevertheless, this potential can be met only with substantial reform of the land administration system, and sustained, prudent macroeconomic reform and management. By present evidence, government is committed to implementing legal, policy and structural reforms in preparation for the imminent urban boom. The passing in parliament of four land-related Bills gives credence to the commitment.


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Demirguc-Kunt, A. and Klapper, K. (2012). Measuring Financial Inclusion: The Global Findex, World Bank Policy Research WP 6025.

Government of Malawi (2016): Draft Estimates of Expenditure on Recurrent and Capital Budget for the Financial Year 2016/17. Budget Document No. 5.

Kadale Consultants (2009). Access to Housing Finance in Africa: Exploring the Issues. (No. 8) Malawi. Paper commissioned by the FinMark Trust with support from Habitat for Humanity.

Heymans, M. (unpublished, 2011) Credit Bureau Activity in SADC countries. Report commissioned by the FinMark Trust.

Khanje T (2016): APM assents to Credit Reference Bureau Act. Daily Times, February 26. Blantyre Newspapers Limited.

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Lafarge Maziko Houses Brochure

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