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Laws, Funds & Mass Housing as solutions to housing deficit in Nigeria

It was not an unusual gathering, considering that it held in the precincts of a citadel of learning. It was the inaugural lecture of Prof. Timothy Nubi, a lecturer in the Housing and Urban Regeneration Department of the University of Lagos (UNILAG).

The theme: “Beyond bricks and mortar” naturally, would elicit interest, especially considering the 17 million estimated deficit being experienced in housing. And when the figures were reeled out, not many agreed less on the urgency of the state of housing in the country.

“In Nigeria, the slum population is put at 70 per cent with a higher annual growth rate of 4.55 per cent. The widespread development of slums in our towns and cities is a physical manifestation of poverty in its entire ramification. As stagnant water is to mosquitoes, so are slums to criminal activities. Our lack of understanding in this regard has led to government frustration and wrong policy shift to private sector driven provision for basic social needs even when people cannot pay for these services,” began Nubi.

According to him, in developing countries, the emphasis on private ownership of houses has reduced the importance of government participation even as needs escalate and private sector participation yielding lesser impact than expected. This situation has made access to adequate and affordable housing remain a huge challenge to both dwellers in urban and rural areas.

Now, to tackle this malaise, the University don said there is a need for the creation of a workable mortgage system to tackle the difficulty of housing provision in the country. This plan, he said, should engage the public sector as against the current system that has left housing in the hands of the private sectors. Besides, government, he explained, should make consistent housing policies based on elements drawn from the developed countries, whose policies have produced massive, positive outcomes, since the early 1930s when such countries have put in place effective mortgage plans.

“About 60 per cent of the present population of over 167 million lack adequate housing in Nigeria. Current housing deficit is about 16million units. Housing inadequacy is felt more by the less privileged groups (low income earners, the displaced, youth, elderly, physically challenged), even the middle class have started to feel the pain of the acute housing shortage. The current deficiency, in addition to projected demography trends, points to the need for several million housing units to be built across the country in the coming years,” he said.

Nubi, who reiterated that it is a necessity for government to ensure that every Nigerian is sheltered, believed that a Housing Act should also be passed to make this mandatory. According to him, when this is done, it then becomes compulsory for government to be alive to this responsibility.

The Act, he canvassed, should specify the age at which a Nigerian can get his own house and the quality of housing. “We have a building code, which should be an important part of the Act; the building code has not become law, but it should be made an important component of the Act,” he canvassed.

Similarly, the Principal Partner, Kola Akomolede & Co., a firm of estate surveying and valuation, Chief Kola Akomolede, agreed that if enacted, the Housing Act would strengthen the housing sector. This, he argued, is because any government that fails to obey the Act can now be prosecuted.

This position may be right given that the provisions of the National Housing Fund (NHF), has been flouted many times simply because it is not an Act. The NHF policy, which makes provision for the local and state governments to contribute a certain amount into the housing fund scheme and make workers pay a certain percentage of their salaries into the fund, has not been very effective since it was not passed as an Act like that of taxation.

“The housing policy is very robust and is so large for every government to execute; if the housing policies and the building code are put together and we are able to back them as a law, when there is violation, it will be addressed in court. And the court will force the government to implement the law; it is a stage in any national development. There must be a law before it can be enforced,” he explained.

But a former Federal Controller, Federal Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, Mr. Olayinka Onaeko, saw it differently. He insisted that the country needed more funding than laws to bridge the housing gap.

“As far as I am concerned, we don’t have problems of laws or statutory problems. The problem with housing is funding and not relevant laws; we have more than enough laws, Acts and policies in the housing sector that are relative to housing provision,” he argued, insisting that the Land Use Act and National Building Code, among others, were all statutory laws for housing.

Putting another law in place, he argued, is tantamont to duplication, which may not necessarily improve the number of housing units or reduce the deficit in the sector. The major problem for the sector, according to him, is funding, which he said can be resolved by repositioning the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN) and other primary mortgage institutions (PMI).

In planning laws, construction standards, housing finance vehicles, availability of legal, fiscal and physical infrastructure among others, the professor opined that the private sector is heavily dependent on the existence of a public sector for efficient operations, as privatisation might not work if housing funds are left in the hands of profit driven private sectors.

“The crucial question seems to be ‘can the private sector operate in all housing submarkets?’ Does policy transfer recognise that private sector participation is taken for granted in some submarkets and carefully avoided in others? Is it recognised that policy transfer in housing sub markets fails where the policy allots market function to actors that are neither suitable nor willing to operate in that sub market?”he asked.

Nubi, while proffering solution to the seeming increase in shortfall in housing, argued that a mass housing provision should be made available. He contended that such step would account for a significant portion of annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP), as it is capable of triggering the creation of micro and small scale businesses in such low income neighborhoods. He added that the desire for home ownership motivates savings, investment and means for generating extra income from rentals.

Already, the private sector has since begun to key into the provision of mass housing. For instance, a frontline manufacturer of polyurethane prefabricated buildings in Nigeria, Vitapur Nigeria Limited, is seeking partnership with the Federal and state governments to bridge the country’s estimated 17 million units of housing deficit in the country, by constructing mass houses at low cost and high speed.

“With the enabling environment in place, we are ready to assist in reducing building shortfall in Nigeria. Such an enabling environment will include available policy on land, housing, finance, affordable building materials, appropriate institutional framework and sustainable construction workforce. Government should create a platform for long and short term fund for real estate and establish infrastructure development bank,” Vitapur’s Acting Managing Director, Mr. Akin Oladiran, assured.

Also a private firm, B. A. M. Projects & Properties has promised to build and deliver 500 assorted affordable housing units in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). This is part of the Federal Government’s sustained efforts at bridging the huge housing gap in the country. The project located at BELHAM Estate in Karsana District near Gwarimpa Housing Estate, is being developed on a 45-hectare of land. The units are: two-bedroom apartments, three-bedroom town houses, three-bedroom luxurious apartments,  four-bedroom detached bungalows and five-bedroom villas.

Similarly, some states in the country are leaving no stone unturned. For instance, the Ogun State government has unveiled its housing plan that would enable residents, irrespective of their state of origin, to own personal home seamlessly within a short time.

The Managing Director, Ogun State Property and Investment Corporation (OPIC), the business arm of the state government, Babajide Odusolu, said the scheme is targetted at “career persons in paid employment.”

The scheme, christened “OPIC Advantage Home Purchase Plan” will make housing not only affordable, but make subscribers move into the home of their choice upon payment of initial 30 per cent of the total cost of the house. This is a “quasi – rent – own house” arrangement where subscriber would be required to pay monthly, quarterly or yearly rent while living inside, but with a mandate to liquidate the full cost of the house in three years. OPIC, in its 25 years of existence, has built 100 housing units.

Also, to make home ownership less problematic, the mortgage system is becoming more robust. And to make the process easier, especially for people in the informal sector, or those not captured under the National Housing Fund (NHF), the Federal Housing Authority (FHA), through its social and co-operative housing programme, is opening up more windows of opportunities for the people.

Source: The Nation

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