By Fred Edoreh
I stumbled on the keynote address by the former Minister for Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola SAN, at the 50th anniversary of the Federal Housing Authority, with theme, “The future of housing in Nigeria and 50 years of FHA: A call to action for political leaders and policymakers for decent and affordable housing.”
The thrust of his presentation was an advocacy for federal and state governments to adopt the Rent-to-Own approach towards providing mass housing to address the pressure of housing needs on families.
His argument was as passionate, direct and simple, and I cannot agree with him more.
“Homelessness is the most undignifying experience for a human being and must be confronted with the necessary resolve by political leaders and policymakers. The sad but painful truth is that not everybody will be able to afford to buy a house; but I strongly believe that rental housing for all is possible, not only based on how we build but also how people pay rent. Therefore, our housing policy must focus on rental as it focuses on ownership.”
There have been arguments about the actual figure of housing deficit in the nation. Some statistics put it at about 40 percent, some put it at above 60 per cent.
We have had the Federal Housing Authority for 50 years, the Federal Mortgage Bank, various home ownership programmes and the recent contributory housing fund for which only a couple of states, with Delta in the lead, are faithfully remitting the deductions to the federal agencies, while the negligence of others are rendering the initiative ineffective in the delivery of houses to workers.
It all come to the point that a huge number of the citizenry suffer severe housing and ownership difficulties.
I have occasionally reflected on the philosophy that drives our housing culture and government housing policies in Nigeria.
In common place, the usual drill is to first acquire a plot of land before you talk of building, with the prohibitive cost of building materials, not to talk of the disturbances and multiple taxes and levies by recognised and unrecognised agents.
For lower and middle class workers, especially in the urban and sub-urban centres, the cost of a plot of land is unapproachable. You necessarily would have to go far and deep into the very rural communities and villages which are essentially lacking in virtually all infrastructure and social amenities – roads, electricity, water, telephony, fairly good schools, medical services and many more utilities and conveniences of life.
When lower and middle workers eventually purchase land and build, sometimes through all manners of difficult loans or proceeds from sharp practices, the tendency is that their financial life ends right there. Majority are usually unable to make further progress after the investment.
Then, there is the stress of commuting long distances to and from work daily through inexistent, inefficient or chaotic public transportation systems, as is the case in large cities.
For workers who must remain in the city centres, their economic life is ruled by the circle of exorbitant rents and they most probably would never be able to own a house of their own.
This harrowing experience of Nigerians can be reversed by the commitment and converted action of the nation’s political leadership and policymakers.
Perhaps, the most sincere attempt I have seen of that in Nigeria was by Alhaji Lateef Jakande, with the low cost housing projects he distributed across Lagos during his Governorship.
That was preceded by the FESTAC Town project in which workers were allocated the flats and duplexes on a mortgage ownership basis through conveniently long years.
From that period till date, most other attempts by the Federal government, especially, have seemed pretentious, to me. In some states also, what they call affordable houses cannot be afforded by their own workers, even those at Level 19.
This is why Fashola’s call is not just imperative but even urgent.
In global modern mass housing solutions, people do not need to own their own land before owning their own house. Deploying between N10m to N100m just to own a plot of land is a such a huge waste of investible capital which can be applied in enterprises to yield further income.
There is even no need to talk about the standard of such houses nor the lack of life enjoyment facilities in the disorganised neighborhoods.
Across major cities of the world, what now obtains in residential housing are high rise multiple floor buildings with tens and hundreds of both simple and luxury flats and duplexes to be owned by occupants either by outright purchase or Rent-to-Own scheme as has been advocated by Fashola.
The residents enjoy common facilities – from security to sewage and refuse management, electricity, water, gas supplies and more.
This allows space for provision of mini marts, playgrounds for children, sports and relaxation centres with swimming pools and mini clubs for adults and families to recreate, medical centres and even police posts.
In Nigeria, this can be achieved in huge multiplicity through the partnership of the government, financial investors, building materials manufacturers, builders and estate managers.
It appears to me that the emphasis on land ownership before house ownership is an impediment to mass housing and ownership.
In my travel experiences, aside mainland Europe, the US, Canada, Australia and the burgeoning cities of China, I came into the Vasilievsky Island District of St Petersburg, Russia, just like a local government area, to find that they have over 5,000 housing stock on ground for prospective takers and owner occupiers, and are partnering further with investors to develop more. It is such that there is little or no pressure on house seekers nor speculations on price.
The district provides one of the wonders in world housing with the Novy Okkervil in Kudrovo, a gigantic residential building of about 3,700 apartments housing about 20,000 residents. There are just about five apartments on each of the 25 floors, 35 entrances and about four functional elevators on each staircase to serve the residents.
Besides the provisions for offices, sufficient car parks, there is space for sundry businesses, ranging from salons to groceries, day care centres, restaurants, gyms and various sporting, recreational and life enjoyment facilities embedded.
The concentration was also planned with a major metro station that efficiently and conveniently enables the easy movement of the residents to and fro other parts of the district and farther provinces.
What more do people require in housing other than these needs? Interestingly, in Nigeria, we had the 1004 Flats, also a shared housing affair, ostensibly meant only for legislators of the 2nd Republic and now consessioned. Even now, some of the rich in Lagos and Abuja also reside in apartment buildings which we call “luxury flats,” an unfortunate suggestion that they are not for ordinary people. So, who says we must first own land before owning a house?
Ironically, the ordinary people are constrained to spend their entire life seeking first to purchase land and then build their own two or three bedroom bungalows in disorganised and infrastructure-starved rural communities which keeps the landscape horrible and wastes the sky space.
I believe the governments, federal and states, can act to change the philosophy, culture and direction of housing solutions in Nigeria.
If the governments provide lands for equity, the investors, builders and estate managers are there.
On this, I hail my brother and friend, Blessing Obomovo, a young innovative and forward looking estate development professional who is breaking new grounds providing multiple community but decent top of the range and affordable housing solutions through his Standout Properties Limited.