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Affordable houses: Still a long way to go

By Tobi Awodipe, Ijeoma Thomas-Odia and Maria Diamond
23 October 2021   |   4:13 am
The housing crisis in the country appears to be deepening despite efforts by both federal and state governments to bridge the deficit.

The housing crisis in the country appears to be deepening despite efforts by both federal and state governments to bridge the deficit. The economic shock generated by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that ravaged the world for the most part of 2020 and the early part of this year affected families in a manner that has brought the issue of housing deficit in the country back to the front burner. In fact, many families living in rented apartments are struggling to renew their rents while others have suffered eviction by their landlords. The situation has triggered a series of discussions lately on how to provide affordable houses in the country by various stakeholders. This is even as many employees both in the public and private sectors who are enrolled into the National Housing Fund (NHF) have begun to ask critical questions about the management of the fund and government’s mass housing schemes currently going on at federal and state levels.

Barely three months ago, the Minister for Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, had declared that there was nothing like housing deficit in Nigeria.

Fashola, who spoke in Abuja when he inaugurated the board of directors of the Federal Housing Authority, argued that the housing deficit claim, which operators in the built environment as well as government officials had before now said was about 17 million, had no scientific and logical basis.

He claimed that Nigeria had empty and unoccupied buildings, especially in the rural areas, amid claims of insufficient houses. “If we have things that are not used, does it make sense when we say that we have deficit of things available but not used?”

The minister’s position notwithstanding, stakeholders who appreciate the enormity of the country’s housing crisis have continued to seek for solutions through discussions at different fora. One of such was the National Housing Fair recently organised by the BSTAN Group in Abuja where Vice President Yemi Osinbajo observed that issue of cheap and affordable houses for Nigerians and reducing deficit seemed to have defied all solutions since independence. According to him, a lot of low-income earners in the country are still seeking for homes they could afford.

Osinbajo, who was represented at the event by his Chief of Staff, Adeola Ipaye, challenged built professionals to devise means and methods of bridging the huge housing deficit in the country.

“This challenge, which has over the last six decades continued to evade sustainable solution must be tackled. But I can assure you that it is also one of the issues this administration is seriously determined to resolve. Although, there is no shortage of policies and programmes enacted by various governments to tackle this debacle, effective implementation remains the persistent problem,” the VP said.

This assertion by Osinbajo was apt given the pomp with which the Federal Integrated Staff Housing (FISH) programme was launched in August 2016 and the result so far. FISH, which is an initiative of the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation (HOS), was aimed at narrowing the country’s housing deficit. Then Minister of State for Power, Works and Housing, Alhaji Mustapha Shehuri, who represented President Muhammadu Buhari at the launch, said the government was targeting about 5,000 housing units in all the states within three years. However, more than five years on, the presence of the scheme is yet to be felt in many states of the federation.

A federal civil servant, who spoke with The Guardian on condition of anonymity, condemned both the scheme and the National Housing Fund (NHF), describing them as fraudulent.

He said he enrolled into the NHF almost 10 years ago and N4, 400 was being deducted from his salary monthly, yet there is still nothing to show for the contribution.

“I have been working here for almost 10 years but I am yet to access a kobo from that money. The last time I made enquiries on how to access it, there were a lot of bureaucracy and unnecessary stress involved and after several back and forth visits that didn’t yield much, I gave it up and I haven’t gone back since then,” he said.

Another civil servant, who also asked not to be named, noted that if it were possible to stop making contributions to the NHF, he would have done so a long time ago.

“The whole scheme is a fraud. Nobody I know has been able to access the fund till date. If you go there to ask for the money, you would hear different stories. This is money they have been deducting for years with nothing to show for it when you want to collect it. We should be able to access it after a number of years. Whether I want to use it to build a house is nobody’s business. Let us just see the money. When they brought the FISH scheme, we thought it would be different and we jumped at it. But that is another fraudulent scheme from the government. Let them take you to the houses they said they have built and are on ground. Many of them don’t exist while the others are in very poor areas. Is this what we sent them to do?” he queried.

To Mr. Seun Akinyemi, who is also a civil servant, the housing schemes being executed by the government nowadays are being allocated to only people who have links with those in authority, unlike in the past.

“In the 80s, if you want to get an apartment from the government, you go to their office to get your allocation, and then proceed to the bank to make payment. But now, there is nothing like that; it is hard for you to find an available government property, even when you have your money at hand. If you don’t have the right link, it will be hard for you to get a government property and so you need to know someone.

“Sometimes too, they prefer to sell to those who are ready to buy a whole block of four to six flats than selling to an individual who wants just one flat, because they will make more money that way. However, I still prefer the government-owned properties to those owned by private firms because you will pay through your nose to get one with them,” Akinyemi said.

Corroborating Akinyemi’s claims, an entrepreneur, Yusuf Ahmad, said he had been trying to get an allocation at the Abesan Housing Estate owned by the Lagos State but government to no avail.

“All the apartments I found available are in the range of N5 million and they are looking for outright payment. I am willing to pay in installments, yet no one is willing to give me a house. It is quite saddening. Where do they want me to get that whole sum? How much do I make from my business? Paying rent has been draining me and I think it is best to own an apartment and make life a bit easy for myself, but that too has become an uphill task,” Ahmad said.

But, in an interview with The Guardian, the General Manager/Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Lagos State Mortgage Board, Mr. Bayowa Foresythe, insisted that the process of allocating houses by the board had been ultra transparent.

His words: “You don’t need to know anybody to be allocated a house by the board. You called me today and I picked your call. Other people call me directly to enquire about these schemes. That is the transparency there. You don’t need to know anybody; just go to the reception. You can even visit our website www.lagoshoms.gov.ng. If you go there, you can download information regarding these schemes. Those that are sold out, you will see them on the website. If you come here to make enquiries about those that we are still allocating, you can download the application form here, fill it here and submit immediately. If you have any issues whatsoever, we have an effective customer service, the operations department and the facilities department that will assist you. You can even walk straight to my office; it is open.

“But in terms of the allocation, what we do really, is that we check the debt to income ratio of applicants.” A source at the FISH office in Abuja told The Guardian that the housing scheme was real and progressing. The official, who gave insight into what is happening in the scheme, said many people that applied for houses benefitted without much stress.

“The scheme is not just for civil servants; once you are under IPPIS payroll, be it civil defence, teachers, lawyers, medical workers and so on, you automatically qualify for it. So, all those stories of it being only for federal civil servants are untrue. You have to come and apply physically and then you fill a form. You can’t do this online.

“However, before filling this form, you have to see the houses yourself and decide if you like them. The houses are based on your grade level, from self-contained to one, two and three bedroom flats. In Abuja, we have houses in Karshi, Airport Road, Bwari and Zuba, among other places. In Lagos, we have houses in Ibeju-Lekki.

“So, if you decide that you like any of the houses, you are given a form to fill and we go ahead to process. The only caveat is that we don’t give houses to people who are five years from retiring. We also have a peg for different categories of workers. For instance, for level eight and above, their house entitlement is from N6.5 million but must not exceed N8.5 million. This would be spread over 20 years and the staff would be surcharged monthly until they finish paying when they would be given the house’s papers,” she explained.

According to her, awareness about the FISH scheme is still low but efforts are being made to sensitise Nigerians about it.
“Every office has a FISH representative and they are supposed to drive awareness about the scheme,” she said. The source debunked the allegation that some houses constructed under the scheme were sited in bad locations.

“There is nothing like a bad area. If they do not want the houses, they should tell others that may be interested rather than bad-mouth the scheme. Most people that come to us want houses in places like Maitama and other choice areas but their salary cannot afford such areas. How much is land in those areas? N10 million cannot buy houses in those areas, so we have to be reasonable with these judgments. Before we partner with any contractor, the houses have to be ready and up to our standards. You cannot just build anything and expect us to place it in our scheme,” she explained. Nevertheless, when asked where the houses in Ibeju-Lekki are located, she said she could not specify.