‘Nigeria needs intervention fund to boost homeownership’
Dr. Victor Onukwugha is the new president, Association of Housing Corporations of Nigeria (AHCN) and Executive Chairman, Bauhaus International Limited. He spoke to the Property & Environment Editor, CHINEDUM UWAEGBULAM on issues ranging from mass housing to the use of local building materials and his plans for making housing affordable to the low-income earners.
The Association of Housing Corporations of Nigeria (AHCN) has over the years been a major force in housing developments. How do you hope to stimulate members to speedily embrace global business changes and strategies that will enhance corporate effectiveness and profitability in emerging economies?
There is no doubt that the association has been at the forefront of housing development over the years, despite some challenges facing most of the state housing corporations. There are emerging changes in the business climate and we recognise that any organisation that refuses to move with the tide will be left behind. As a forerunner in the housing sector, we don’t want to be left behind and the association has been educating its members about the need to embrace emerging business changes, especially with technological advancement and members are departing from the old ways of doing business.
We are stimulating our members on the need to embrace modern corporate business strategies and attitudinal change. For instance, in our last Council Meeting in Uyo, the emphasis was devoted to transforming housing agencies for effective productivity and profitability and the theme was driving change for profitability. We will continue with that drive and various training and seminars shall be embarked upon to re-orientate our members with the creative attitudinal change to enhance corporate effectiveness that will generate profitability without losing sight to achieving our primary role of providing affordable housing for the people.
Recently, the association has been playing second fiddle in mass housing in Nigeria despite developing various housing estates in major state capitals across the federation. What are the constraints that rendered your members inactive?
The constraints that rendered most housing corporations inactive in mass housing are enormous and numerous to mention. They are basically rooted in lack of funding and political tinkering orchestrated by lack of commitment, greed, and corruption of some political leaders and ministries in charge of housing in the states. In the first place, most of the State Governors are not interested in housing and they do not have an in-depth understanding of how housing could be used as a source of employment generation, poverty alleviation, and economic recovery.
For instance, a functional site of three bedroom bungalow has potential of creating job for a minimum of 30 people, ranging from professionals like architect, builder, quantity surveyor to artisans like bricklayers, painters, electricians, tilers, plumbers, suppliers of building materials and even food vendors that will service the people at the site. You can imagine what it will look like if it is mass housing. Most of the housing corporations lack adequate moral, financial support and backing that will enable them to carry out their statutory responsibilities. In some states, there are problems of usurpation of the statutory responsibility of corporations in housing construction and development by supervising ministries who engage in direct construction instead of sticking to their primary role of policy formulation and monitoring of parastatals to ensure policy compliance and accomplishment.
What happens in this situation is the total neglect of the housing corporations who are starved of the needed support and funding. In some cases, parallel organisations are set up under the governor’s office to package public-private partnerships on behalf of the state but when housing corporations come up with such package, they would be denied all necessary support to make such PPP work.
In states where housing corporations are utilised for housing production, political interference with activities of the agencies usually results in their ineffectiveness which grossly in most cases affects on-going projects.
Of course, we have cases of appointment of non-professional, inexperienced and unqualified people as Chief Executives and members of boards of some housing corporations in some states. How do you expect a corporation to be effective in this kind of situation? It will certainly be difficult.
As the new president of the association, what are your plans of rekindling the old trade of mass housing towards eradicating homelessness in the country?
Homelessness is real and as an association, we cannot fold our arms and be watching. We are committed to affordable housing and to start with, we are embarking on sensitization of state governors on the importance of housing to national development and to let them realise that housing-related activities have great potentials to contribute directly to achieving broader socio-economic development goals and could be used as a driver of economic growth.
We are also working at establishing a good working relationship with state governments and their housing corporations to ensure that these corporations are effectively used for housing development. We are also trying as an umbrella body to create opportunities and facilitate the right atmosphere for these housing corporations to make housing finance accessible for the development of affordable housing. We will be discussing with the state governments to make land available and provide infrastructural facilities to assist housing corporations to embark on mass social housing that will help to eradicate homelessness.
We are prepared to rekindle the old trade of mass housing and we shall pursue this vigorously through collaboration with all stakeholders in the sector to ensure all barricades and limitations to effective and affordable housing are removed.
The continuous escalating cost of building materials, funding and high infrastructural cost have dragged down government’s efforts to bridge housing gap. How do you plan to make housing affordable to the low-income earners and discourage notable apathy for the use of local building materials?
There is no doubt that there is great apathy for the use of local building materials and one way we intend to address this is to see how we can convince the government to use these materials in various government projects across Nigeria. The Nigerian Building and Road Research Institute (NBRRI) is doing great work in the development of tested local building materials and off-course we can see some houses that have been constructed with these materials across Nigeria. I am aware that NBRRI is currently researching on Pozzolana as an alternative and partial replacement for cement, which was said to be cheaper and would replace cement usage by 40per cent. This is the kind of initiative that requires the support of all to bring down the prices of housing units. We are supporting this kind of initiative and other related initiatives that can drive down prices of houses to ensure that low-income earners benefit from affordable housing.
As you disclosed, housing corporations are facing political interference with activities of the agencies, which in most cases grossly affects on-going projects and lack of total independence to execute projects professionally. What is the best approach to tackle these problems?
In our climate, it is obvious that political interference cannot be totally eliminated but what we are saying is that such interference should not be done at the expense of quality delivery of the end product. We can’t force anything on the political leaders in these states but we can somehow influence their decisions and the strategy to get this done is through education, persuasion, collaboration, and negotiation if possible. We would keep agitating for the best possible and acceptable practice within the professional practice to ensure things are done as expected within the context of professionalism.
Also, the corporations have failed to attract major financial support in terms of seed funding to take off project execution. What has happened to your housing finance windows for the Association – Presidential Mandate Loan and the Estate Development Loans?
The opportunity of the housing finance window for the association is still very open to housing corporations but the major challenges have been lack of interest of some of our governors in housing and inadequate support from the government. This is an area of housing finance windows we hope to unlock to make housing available for Nigerians. We have met with the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN) and we are developing a new strategy to effectively utilise the opportunity for the benefit of the people.
Do you think a Housing Intervention Fund is necessary to boost homeownership? What will be the role of the public, especially state governments and the private sector in this regard?
There is no doubt that the sector is in dire need of Housing Intervention Fund to boost homeownership in Nigeria. This cannot be achieved singlehandedly. It requires the collaboration of all stakeholders both government and private sector. FMBN as a body requires re-capitalization to take care of the large volume of mortgage requirements and needs of home seekers. Therefore as a body, one of our 10-point agenda is to embark on vigorous advocacy campaign for the provision of Housing Intervention Fund for the housing sector. We can’t do it alone, we obviously require the collaboration of key players and stakeholders in the sector.
The Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria has recently launched the Cooperative Housing Development Loan, how do states’ housing corporations key into this to develop affordable housing with the controlling body of cooperative society in each of the states? How will it work?
Housing Corporations have greater roles to play in Cooperative Housing Development Loans.
Apart from engaging in the actual development of the houses, housing corporations are better positioned to collaborate with the controlling body of cooperative society to organize and assist in packaging cooperative loans for housing cooperatives and with our presence in all the states, it makes easier for us to network and expands the frontier of this opportunity.
The current administration attaches great importance and commitment to housing development as manifested in the recent reforms, especially the establishment of Family Homes Funds, which provide for effective housing finance avenue for housing provision for the people. What has been the relationship between both organisations?
We have a very cordial working relationship with Family Homes Funds and we have a collaboration to embark on rental housing as a new strategy to solving housing affordability. Very shortly, the working relationship will be unfolded as rental housing is an area of our focus to assist the majority who are unable to buy houses outrightly.