FOLLOWING an increase in the number of private colleges and universities, the demand for student accommodation has become the biggest challenge in the country.
As a result of this challenge, some learning institutions have entered into agreements with property owners to lease out their premises to students to be used as boarding houses.
But when these facilities are converted into boarding houses, the owners were supposed to apply to the respective local authorities in their areas for change of use.
After this application, owners of these boarding houses are given stipulated guidelines on how a boarding house was supposed to operate.
This was not the case as some of the boarding houses in Kabwe, Lusaka, Ndola and Kitwe were operating without any guidelines from the local authority.
There is a growing concern that some of the boarding houses are operating as brothels and this has also increased the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Kitwe.
According to the latest statistics released by the Kitwe District AIDS Task Force (DATF), about 1,000 out of 8,000 people doing HIV tests on a monthly basis were testing positive.
Kitwe City Council (KCC) public relations officer Dorothy Sampa says the local authority regulates boarding houses that register with the institution.
Ms Sampa says property owners were supposed to apply for change of use and change into a commercial property at a fee of K10,000.
She says the council inspects the premises and also consults the residents if it was alright in a respective area to have a boarding house.
Following successful applications, these property owners were guided on the importance of proper ventilation and limited beds per room.
The property owners are also guided on electrical installations, security and students are given specific time to report back.
She says property owners are granted a licence when they meet the stipulated regulations under the Health Act.
The local authority conducts random checks and early this year closed down some of the boarding houses which were not operating according to the stipulated guidelines.
“ We don’t have enough manpower but we do conduct random checks, early this year, we closed down some of the boarding houses which were operating illegally,” she said.
Those that were closed for not meeting the required regulations were in Nkana East, Nkana West and Mindolo.
Despite having a high number of boarding houses, the city only has one registered boarding house and the rest of them were operating illegally.
Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) has appealed to the local authority to regulate boarding houses.
Copperbelt region coordinator Sharon Chisanga says councils should come up with a policy guidance on how these boarding facilities should operate.
She urged students to make the betterment of the boarding facilities because they were in school for a purpose.
Theresa Choongo a parent expressed concern at the money the students were paying for bed space.
Ms Choongo said despite the high fees, there was no security and students were being exposed to a number of vices.
“Schools should make their own arrangements to have a boarding house rather than allow students to make their arrangements,” she said.
She has since appealed to the Ministry of Education, Science Vocational and Early Education to ensure that private institutions that offer boarding facilities have hostels to accommodate students as opposed to the current trend.
A check at some of the facilities among them a three bedroomed house was accommodating 25 students and each pays K800 per term to the landlord.
In another house, the students pay K350 per month but some students have also complained about the lack of security and the premises not being habitable.
Some of the boarding houses lack proper sanitation facilities and the houses were not even secure which was unsafe for the students.
One student from Nkana College of Education said the area was not safe and would not return to the same place next term.
Crossway College says the institution offers its own accommodation to the students where it has stipulated guidelines.
Vice-principal Nyendwa Newa says some of the students make their own private arrangements to stay in other boarding houses.
“We normally advise our students to stay within our boarding houses but the problem is that there is limited space,” she says.
But National Institute of Public Administration (NIPA) head of Campus Hasting Nyirongo said the school demands that the boarding houses register with the school.
Mr Nyirongo said the institution demands that the boarding house has specific rules and regulations for students.
“ We make sporadic visits and also receive reports as we also need to have security controls for the students,” he said.
In 2013, the Copperbelt University banned squatting at the institution and decided to look for alternative accommodation in form of boarding houses.
The management at the institution felt that squatting and subletting of rooms had a potential to expose students to communicable diseases associated with congestion and overcrowding, hence its decision to ban squatting.
There has been a growing concern that some of the boarding houses were not habitable and not conducive for the students.
In Ndola, the situation was different as students from Crossway College, Nkana College of Education and students from NIPA enter into private arrangements to stay in a boarding house.
There was an incident in Ndola where some members of the public purported to be students and started staying in a boarding house but never attended class sessions.
The people were involved in commercial sex and after the discovery, the owner of the boarding house chased the said group.
Some students, who declined to be named, said these private colleges should make arrangements for boarding houses unlike subjecting students to make their own arrangements.
With this challenge of student accommodation, property owners should work with local authorities so that they adhere to the health and safety regulations.
Apparently, boarding housing in the cosmopolitan city of Lusaka seem to be a lucrative business where owners are able to cash in more than K7000, per month.
Aside this fact, the students, who occupy these facilities are somewhat content with the arrangement as they perceive it better than living in the actual school hostels.
Joyce Chanda, a second-year Journalism student at ZAMCOM, who is paying K500 in a boarding house that accommodates 17 girls behind the Civic Centre, says she finds the arrangement conducive and affordable.
“You can’t compare our boarding house to the mess and filth at Evelyn Hone College hostels, I can’t just imagine living there… that is why diseases like Typhoid cannot elude them, the hygienic standards at Hone are pathetic” she says.
Justifying their moral stance, the girls admit that they do have male acquaintances that they claim are not intimate and would not enter their rooms but chat from the lounge.
Daniel Phiri, a Lusaka resident says boarding houses for students are both a good and bad idea depending on which side the coin falls.
He says given the reality of accommodation deficit, the boarding houses are in some way helping out only that in most cases they breed immoral behaviour.
According to Mr Phiri, most of the boarding houses are slowly losing the initial intent as they are being turned into pleasure resorts.
He says in some cases, where a boarding house accommodates male students, hygiene is usually highly compromised without proper regulation.
“In fact most of these houses are not even registered to operate as a business, what happens in case of an accident or a fire? There are simply no proper security and regulations for most of these houses,” he says.
But Chanda says the issue of boarding houses encouraging immoral behaviour that can lead to contraction of diseases like HIV/AIDS does not arise given the fact the primary objective of renting a bed space is to get education.
He says it is wrong for people like Mr Phiri to assume that boarding houses encourage immorality when the same act of decadence can take place inside the walls of a college or university hostel.
“If I want to have sex, it will not matter where I am, I can still have it even under lock and key restrictions. So it’s just what we are here for that deters us from such acts,” she says.
Another student Charity Kamanga says Government should be proud of people coming up with boarding housing initiative as it cushions the deficit of accommodation among students of higher learning institutions.
According to her, boarding houses have proved to be cheaper than bed spaces at some institutions like Lusaka’s ZCAS.
I live far from here and if it meant commuting everyday, I would be spending K20 on transport alone per day and another K20 or K30 for food meaning K50 per day or K1,500 per month. This is why I find this arrangement cheaper and conducive,” she says.