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Developing a national housing strategy

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The provision of adequate and affordable housing to all sectors of the community is a complex and a daunting task, which can only be achieved through harnessing of all resources at the disposal of a nation. The Guardian Newspaper of Thursday December, 17, 2020 reported that the Federal Government had concluded a plan to provide 300,000 housing units to low-income earners nationwide. According to the report, about 20 state governments had indicated their interest in joining the housing plan. In order to ensure successful implementation of the scheme, an Agency named Family Homes Fund under the Federal Ministry of Finance has been mandated to implement the scheme. The first phase of the scheme would be executed in Osun, Ogun, Enugu, Delta, Bauchi, Kebbi, Nasarawa, Plateau and the Federal Capital Territory. This is a laudable project because the proposed housing scheme, according to the Federal Government, will provide employment opportunities for nearly 1.8 million skilled and unskilled labour and a host of others who earn income on daily basis. More importantly, the increased use of local building materials such as gravel, cement, planks etc will undoubtedly boost the nation’s economy.

However, I hope this scheme will not be like the previous ones where promises were made but not kept. It will be recalled that in the early nineties, there was a similar proposal where the Federal Government promised to provide its citizens with adequate and affordable shelter by the year 2000 and this led to the slogan: “Housing for all by the year 2000”. Again in 2003 when Yayale Ahmed was the Head of civil service of the Federation, the Federal Government promised to provide 2,000 housing units for the senior civil servants within the Federal Capital Territory but along the line, the scheme was aborted. The Federal Government has not been able to meet up with housing demands due to the following reasons: low household incomes, accelerating urbanization and rapid population growth. Another important factor that has contributed to the slow pace in housing delivery is the fact that successive administrations have not been able to come up with a realistic and sustainable housing strategy.

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It is therefore imperative that we understand how a housing strategy is developed and implemented before we can delve into housing production so that we do not run into problems. Quite a few African counties such as Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Libya, South Africa and Zimbabwe have successfully developed and implemented a National Housing strategy. Most of these countries were assisted technically and financially by some donor Agencies such as the United Nations Development Programme and the United States Agency for International Development. The question now is: what is a strategy? According to the United Nations’ definition, a strategy is defined as a plan of action that defines in specific terms the goals of the action and the ways in which they can be attained. A housing strategy for instance defines the objectives for the development of housing conditions, identifies the resources available to meet these goals and the cost – affective ways of using them and set-out the responsibilities and time-frame for the implementation of the necessary measures.

Two actions are usually important in developing a housing strategy. The first is that the principal architect of the strategy must have had experience in the formulation of housing sector policy. The other aspect is for the key technical analysis, a housing needs assessment and selected sectoral analysis such as housing finance, building regulations to have been completed. In initiating the strategy development process, high level political sponsorship is a sine qua non of a successful outcome. This sponsorship usually by the minister of Housing must be sustained through the development and into implementation and it must be translated into specific action including making the requisite staff resources available. In organizing the strategy development process, there are three “models” that are usually employed. The first is the coalition – building model under which an elaborate set of committees is established usually under the direction of a steering committee, to investigate particular sectors.

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Committee composition usually include both the public and private sector. The second model is the inter-Agency model under which the process is handled exclusively by the government Agencies or with at least some consultation and co-operation in the process across ministerial and Agency level. While the third model is the single Agency model. In using this model, government apparently believes it can achieve passage and acceptance with limited public participation. For plan acceptance and implementation, it is important to co-opt institutions such as the Central Bank, the Ministry of Finance and the ministry of National planning. Their involvement in the development process is very important. There are three analytic steps that need to be followed in order to produce a sustainable housing strategy. The first is the housing needs assessment. This step is designed to define the task facing the country and future needs, the exercise also helps to ascertain the extent to which the housing options provided are affordable by those in need of improved shelter. The second step is sector-by-sector Assessment.

These sectors include: land, infrastructure, finance, building materials, labour and the organization of residential construction. The final step is the development of the draft strategy using the above inputs. Typically this is an interactive process with various combinations of recommendations being tested in different forums for consistency and acceptability. It is important to note that the drafting and refinement process typically involve a good deal of informal consultation between the drafters and powerful interests and in some cases more public discussion of its proposed contents. The contents of any housing strategy statement usually include: Broad statement of strategy, implementation plan, assigning of responsibilities and specification of work plan. The extent and thoroughness of the consultation process can affect the likelihood of the strategy being successfully implemented. It is important to note that those that are saddled with the responsibility of formulating the strategy will definitely need solid technical analysis as the foundation for this work. For instance, in-depth analysis of particular sectoral problems, a clear understanding of the operation of housing market serving low-income households and some form of needs assessment are essential. Finally, it is important to note that an elegant and compelling housing strategy statement will be of little benefit if its provisions are not fully implemented.
Oladipupo wrote from Festac Town, Lagos.
Tel: 08054097669.

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