Nigeria’s housing deficit and development opportunities
Housing is a basic necessity of every human being along with food and clothing. It is a key input in economic, social, and civic development. Everyone needs a decent home, without which they cannot be productive members of society, without which children cannot learn and families cannot thrive. In other words, decent and affordable housing is fundamental to the well-being of every family.
For low-income families, housing is an economic engine, as it plays a vital role in the growth and development of the family, as well as the community and the country. It is not in contention that housing ranks first among the three basic needs and it is one of the best indicators of one’s welfare and standard of living.
A decent home opens the door to improved health, better performance in school, greater economic opportunities and increased community cohesion.
To the extent that stable, affordable housing is critical to breaking the cycle of poverty, housing investment remains valuable and a major driver of the economy, both in developed and developing countries. In addition to contributing about 14% of gross domestic product (GDP) in the United States, for instance, housing also triggers another 6% in downstream expenditures in the country.
Housing construction creates job opportunities for migrants to cities worldwide, especially in low-income countries. The performance of the housing sector is one of the yardsticks by which the health of a nation is measured.
Housing is so important that it was listed as a core human right by the United Nations (UN), General Assembly Article 25, 1948 and the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, yet access to decent and affordable housing remains a critical contemporary challenge in many countries of the world, with the majority of urban residents finding it increasingly difficult to obtain and retain adequate, decent and affordable housing. In Nigeria, there exists an acute shortage of affordable homes, especially for low-income families, and this is adversely impacting their productivity, quality of life, and economic growth.
The International Human Rights Commission, (IHRC) recently lamented Nigeria’s growing number of homeless people, saying the country’s housing deficit stands at about 28 million units at the moment. I would agree with the figure, with chances that it could be more than that, considering the number and the rate at which we turn out graduates from the universities, the polytechnics and other tertiary institutions every year and the fact that these individuals and several other categories of Nigerians would be needing accommodation to settle down for the challenges of life.
As regards how we got to this point, I would blame some of the previous administrations in the country for paying lip service to the issue of housing. They did not give the important issue of housing the attention and the priority it deserves.
Expectedly, the situation became aggravated and worsened over the years as a result of the failure to put in place a strategic agenda to address the crucial issues of housing delivery, the process of its delivery, the funding that must accompany it, and the legal framework, the land tenure system, the technological process, the availability or otherwise of building materials, and technical knowhow that should be galvanized in a holistic manner. But the key thing is that the housing shortage provides incentives for development, there are huge opportunities there in the real sense of it.
In the words of Winston Churchill, the pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity, while the optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty. The prospects are there for the industry to thrive, with lots of opportunities for development within the housing sector, but those opportunities can only be realized by conscious efforts of government and private sector commitment to realizing them. In practical terms, the government should show more political will to address the challenge; otherwise, the problem would remain unresolved.
Government should urgently address the challenge by initiating and encouraging Public-Private partnerships that would be able to harness resources for housing provision.
Funding has always been a major problem. Mortgage facilities are not there, in which case, people have almost always depended on private savings that they could muster for home ownership and as you would agree with me, housing is capital intensive.
Invariably, there would be a collaboration between the public and the private sectors of the Nigerian economy, stakeholders in the housing delivery process, the professional associations, the builders, the research institutes, the academic environment, bilateral organisations, and other concerned bodies should put heads together to discuss and proffer solutions to the housing challenge, but at the apex, the government should be the umbrella for these organisations and stakeholders to be able to initiate a positive and effective housing policy for the nation and to promptly implement same.
Direct interventionist role of government in promoting liquidity of the mortgage industry at single-digit interest rates via the Nigeria Mortgage Refinance Corporation (NMRC) and Family Home Fund (FHF) is a welcome development. We should acknowledge that the issue is multifaceted.
In other words, you can’t address the issue of funding without addressing the issue of land tenure because if you are providing land, you also have to think of how you are going to secure the tenure that you are going to give to the people who are being serviced and without the availability of affordable building materials, it would be a herculean task to meet the housing need of Nigerians, particularly the common people.
Professional associations in the building industry have crucial roles to play. We could raise funds among our members, keep the pool of funds somewhere, establish a board to manage or administer the funds, acquire land, develop model structures, go to the market, do bulk purchases for building materials and as much as possible, we can use locally available materials, and by the time we have done all this, modest structures such as 3 bedrooms, 2 bedrooms with conveniences and road networks, electricity, infrastructure that would enable house owners to have access to their sites and housing units would be in place.
Cooperative movements can be involved, the tertiary institutions should start encouraging research into the housing such that it would be amenable and easy for some people who have also done research to start providing solutions to the myriads of problems that are confronting the populace, but I will continue to emphasize the need for willingness on the part of the government to address this as a front-burner issue and with the involvement of everybody through sensitization, advocacy, constructive engagement, collaboration, networking, I’m sure the problems are not insurmountable.
All hands must be on deck; outside this, nothing can be achieved, and we will just be dancing round figures.
Anene is a Lagos-based estate surveyor and valuer.