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‘Nigeria lacks capacity for social housing scheme’

By Segun Olaniyi
27 June 2016   |   4:40 am
I think what has been happening up to the present is that we have a lot of developers who basically put up houses that have been targeted more towards the need of the much higher income brackets than the needs of ordinary Nigerians.

OdiaMillard Fuller Foundation has been helping Nigerians with low revenue to access housing at the most affordable cost. In this interview, SAMUEL ODIA, an architect and Chief Executive Officer of the organisation bares his mind with The Guardian’s SEGUN OLANIYI on issues affecting the housing industry, especially social housing in Nigeria.

The population of Nigeria is increasing by the day, and quite a large number of Nigerians don’t have decent accommodation. As a player in the housing sector, what do you think the industry needs?
I think what has been happening up to the present is that we have a lot of developers who basically put up houses that have been targeted more towards the need of the much higher income brackets than the needs of ordinary Nigerians. I think people are now realizing that most Nigerians do not have access to simple, decent and affordable housing and so there is a renewed effort on the part of the government as well as the entire industry to begin to focus more on housing that meets the needs of ordinary people.

As a player in the affordable housing market for many years, we have been working with the low-income bracket; 77 per cent of Nigerians earn less than N50,000 a month. What that means is that most Nigerians are not going to be able to pay more than and about N10,000 or N15,000 a month for a mortgage.
Our housing industry should be need-driven. So, the ordinary person now goes back to the middle of the whole picture and equation. He sets the parameter for the cost; going forward he becomes the centre around which all our housing plans are created.

There are houses within Abuja metropolis that are unoccupied yet millions of people working in Abuja live at satellite towns because of high rent. What is the way out of this problem?
I am glad that you are here right now to see our GrandLuvu Affordable housing estate in Masaka. Masaka is also a satellite town of Abuja city even though we are in technically in Nasarawa State. A lot of people who live here are either doing work in Abuja or running businesses that are depended heavily on the Abuja economy.

This estate where you are now is a 400-unit estate, where houses are going for as little as N1.6 million! However, we are still not there yet and this is a work in progress. Ideally, we should be building houses for less than a million naira in Nigeria if most Nigerians are to be able to afford to buy them but obviously there are so many factors that stop us from achieving that lofty goal.For this to happen, government needs to provide infrastructure for us to build houses at the appropriate prices.

What is your advice to government towards ensuring that affordable housing is provided for Nigerians?
I think government needs to wake up to its responsibility. There are a number of organisations like ours who are building housing that is quite affordable. Organisation like ours needs to be encouraged to provide more and more housing nationwide to ordinary Nigerians.

We may not need government funding directly but government on its own needs to facilitate the process of housing right across the entire value chain; government needs to ensure that it facilitates the acquisition of land, the processing of land titles and documentation and ensure easier access to funding both from the project financing point of view and the mortgage financing point of view so that Nigerians have easy access to affordable mortgages to be able to pick up the houses that are available on the market.

For many people, it’s not just a matter of not having enough money to buy a house because houses are usually too expensive to buy with cash, but they don’t even have access to a mortgage facility or system. The acquisition of a house is possibly the largest asset that any family is ever going to own in their entire life and very few people, particularly at the lower-income level have access to that kind of funding where they can just pick up homes with cash.

What is expected is to apply for a mortgage or a housing loan to be able to pay over say 10 to 30 years. So, government needs to work towards ensuring that such funds are available on a much larger scale. I think government has taken one or two good steps in the right direction, for example, the Nigerian Mortgage Refinancing Company (NMRC) which is basically created to re-finance mortgages.

The whole idea is that if mortgages have been created by a primary mortgage institution or a commercial bank they can now buy these mortgages up so that there is more money available immediately to finance more mortgages so that there would be more mortgages created at a faster rate in the market.

From today, an Affordable Housing Summit is holding in Abuja, what is it all about?
The Affordable housing summit is an event that is being initiated by the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing but it is private sector driven; even though the idea has been muted by Government, it would be led and financed by the private sector and its aim is to come up with a road-map for housing Nigerians affordably.

What do people stand to gain at the end of the 2016 housing summit?
The primary thing that we hope people would gain is a roadmap that we will all buy into. It is not just a matter of identifying the bottlenecks, we all know what the bottlenecks are in Nigeria we have been talking about them for the past two or three decades and nothing is new about that.

But we must all try and agree to a large extent on the way forward, what government’s role is going to be to move the industry forward on a step-by-step basis, what the private sector’s role is going to be in moving the housing sector forward over the next year or two and then people hopefully will be more aware about what they need to do to be able to access affordable mortgages for their own houses and I think at the end of the day once the ideas are harnessed together, we should try use these to articulate a clear roadmap that all stakeholders will be quite happy with in moving the industry forward.

We are not saying that all the problems are going to be solved in a day but certainly I think we need to put our best foot forward and make a major move ahead. We don’t want this to just be another talk shop; we want to see concrete and definite things achieved by the time we meet again next year and we need to be able to look back and say in the last one year since we had the first affordable housing summit this is what we have achieved and that roadmap hopefully will articulate what we need to do within the next year or two years over a medium term plan to making housing accessible as quickly as possible to more Nigerians.