By Kizito Makoye
DAR ES SALAAM (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Ezekiah Mageni's memory is still fresh of the flood that engulfed his home in Dar es Salaam's Jangwani Valley slum a year ago - and left his family without a roof over their heads.
"I will never forget that terrible experience. I had to carry my children on my shoulders to save their lives," said Mageni, a 34-year-old shop owner.
But for Mageni and other residents of Jangwani and nearby slums, the threat of flooding, lack of services and insecure tenancy are just part of life in Tanzania's biggest city.
One of the fastest-growing cities in East Africa, Dar es Salaam has seen a huge influx of rural migrants in recent years, putting extra pressure on its strained housing supply and forcing poorer residents like Megani to move to the periphery.
The steep cost of building a home, the shortage of houses to rent and lack of a legal mechanism to regulate rent have allowed landlords to charge exorbitant rents in a city where almost 75 percent of residents are tenants, according to a 2011 housing study by the government.
"If you are an employee looking for a place to stay in Dar, God knows how much you would pay for it," said Levina Chacha, a primary school teacher who also lives in Jangwani.
High rents push many residents to the brink of survival as many spend the lion's share of their income on accommodation.
The average rent for a modest two-bedroom apartment in the city is estimated at 600,000 shillings ($275) a month - almost three times the national average - according to real estate agencies that track the market.
Chacha said young professionals who once had no worries about building their own homes have started to feel the pinch.
In turn, this pushes rents up, said Mustafa Ahmed, managing director of Rentex, a real estate marketing company.
"Fewer households are making the transition from renting to owning, which is pushing rental prices up," he said.
In terms of population growth, Dar es Salaam is on course to be Africa's fastest-growing urban center, with an estimated annual growth rate of eight percent, the United Nations says.
The current population of 4.5 million is expected to swell by more than 80 percent after 2025, according to the African Development Bank, and could reach 21.4 million people by 2052.
Squeezed out from the suburbs, more than 70 percent of the city's inhabitants now live in settlements on land not recognized by the government, according to data from the United Nations Habitat for Humanity.
Mageni, who moved to Dar es Salaam from the drought-hit central region of Singida in search of work, is one of around 800,000 residents forced to live in slums in the city because they cannot pay high rents charged elsewhere.
Mageni pays 70,000 shillings ($32) a month for a small, two-bed roomed house in Jangwani.
"Most house owners charge on an annual basis, which most people find very hard (as they can't) accumulate the money," he said.
"Some families opt to stay in single rooms because they can't afford to pay for a whole house. I don't like staying here (Jangwani), but it is too expensive to rent a good house."
The involvement of middlemen further complicates the situation as some of them collude with unscrupulous landlords to inflate rental prices, Mageni said.
"It's not easy to find a home without a middleman but he will charge 10 percent of the prevailing rental price."
Sprawling across the Msimbazi river, the low-lying area of Jangwani is acutely vulnerable to the rising sea waters and coastal erosion that threaten the city.
Children playing hide and seek in the narrow passages trample on raw sewage that flows steadily from a pit latrine into the river, as fresh fish is fried on an open fire nearby.
With the population projected to rise by tens of millions of people in the coming decades, experts say they anticipate a parallel growth in unplanned urbanization, which has made areas of Dar es Salaam an environmental and health hazard.
"As expansion is driven by the informal sector ... more people build on land that is unsuitable for settlement and prone to seasonal flooding, exposing them to health risks," said Lusuga Kironde, professor of urban development at Ardhi University.
Once a sleepy fishing village, over the past half century Dar es Salaam has been transformed into a thriving, smoke-belching metropolis and Tanzania's commercial and cultural hub.
At the northern end of the harbor, boats dock to offload the night's catch at a bustling fish market in Kivukoni district, where there are several restaurants and craft markets.
According to the National Housing Corporation, a government real estate agency, the country has a current housing deficit of three million units, growing at a rate of 200,000 units a year.
The authorities have been working to address the housing shortfall and to improve the city's resilience, with the city's original master plan redrawn recently to cope with worsening urban sprawl and flooding in unplanned areas, officials say.
The government has a long-term strategy to formalize informal settlements so that non-transferable property rights are granted to more than 400,000 inhabitants of unplanned areas, but implementation is slow, they say.
"Changes won't happen overnight, it's a gradual process that involves compensation and setting up infrastructures and services that were missing," said Bertha Mlondwa, a senior official in the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Human Settlement Development.
The government is considering a policy to stimulate investment in real estate to rescue tenants from costly rents, and prevent arbitrary rent increases, officials said.
"I think the policy would be of great use to poor tenants, especially since landlords now set higher rent as they please," said Swedi Mayala, a tenant in the Kinondoni area.
The Tanzania Tenants Association generally welcomes the move, but said political will to protect tenants is lacking.
"There's nothing new in this initiative; many promises have been made to protect tenants but they have not been implemented," said Mujengi Gwao, the association's chairman.
Back in Jangwani, Mageni still hopes that building his own home is a solution.
"I have bought a plot of land outside the city. I am hoping to start building my own house soon," he said. "My children deserve to live in their (own) home."
(Reporting by Kizito Makoye, editing by Jo Griffin. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)