One of the continuing challenges posed by unprecedented urbanization in developing countries, including Nigeria, is the provision of adequate and affordable housing. Over the last three decades, Nigeria, like several developing countries, has emphasised public housing schemes, but with little success (Ogu and Ogbuozobe, 2001)

According to the 2006 Census, (please note that this particular population census efforts are very challenging due to several social cultural problems) Nigeria has a population of over 140 million people, and working with this figure, providing adequate and affordable housing in Nigeria is definitely an issue of dire national importance. The housing-for-all program initiated during previous military regimes fell far short of target, but at least ignited the current awareness and modern mortgage industry in Nigeria.

Going by the estimates of the Federal Housing Authority, new housing construction in Nigeria is about 10,000 units a year. To meet ever-growing demand, the country needs ten times more or at least 100,000 new housing units annually. Existing housing stock in Nigeria is so dismal, yet studies show a direct correlation between affordable housing and better living standard. Recent pronouncement by the Institute of Architects that Nigeria could achieve a housing target of 40,000 units annually is quite realistic, but actualisation of this goal is another matter, (Peterside, 2005) what with a seeming lack of willingness by the government agencies in charge of housing to tackle this problem as well as politicisation of housing.

Nigeria’s housing needs have been high as a result of population growth, which has averaged 3.0 per cent per annum, rapid urbanisation due to rural-urban migration, the high cost of building materials, ineffective and insincere housing policies.

Nigeria’s drive toward “housing for all”, as contained in the National Housing Policy, which aims at providing affordable housing for all, has so far been what it is – all on paper and no serious effort, deliberately or otherwise, at implementation and continues to be an illusion and a frustration to the larger population. Successive efforts to meet every set target have failed as housing deficit now stands at over 16 million units in Nigeria. (Peterside, 2003) The target date for accomplishing the “housing for all” goal was 2000 – almost nine years ago, and while the objective has not changed, a new deadline for accomplishing this national objective has nor been set, despite its inclusion in President Yar A’dua’s 7-point agenda.

As with almost every other developmental sector in Nigeria, the outlay on housing has been rather low, and does not seem to warrant the priority it demands.  Most urban dwellers in Nigeria today live in dilapidated houses lacking basic amenities, unsanitary conditions or running water. In fact, most urban areas are the worse for wear as far as infrastructure and housing are concerned, and this mostly due to our notorious maintenance culture or lack of it. Estimates show that Nigeria needs an average of 1 million housing units per year not only to replenish decaying housing stock, but also to meet rising demand. (Peterside, 2005)

The problem of affordable housing in Nigeria is further exacerbated by the constraints imposed by the Land Use Act, a moribund and repressive Act  that hinders mortgage financing and creates enormous obstacles to private sector involvement in the housing industry and which has constrained the transfer of titles and made mortgage finance extremely difficult. As a result of the Land Use Act, obtaining a Certificate of Occupancy (popularly known as C of O) has become a big time avenue for large scale corruption. Ask anybody in Nigeria today, and they will tell you that it is impossible to attempt to legally obtain a C of O for a land you have just bought, without bribing several officials in the states’ ministries of Lands and Housing, often with very large amounts of money.

Also the present “dinosauric" land registration system in Nigeria was instituted by the British well before the nation attained independence, and may well have been in place since the late 1800,  thus literally restricting land title registration and other allied processes to the prehistoric era.

With a population estimated at over 140 million and rising, it is practically impossible to provide affordable housing for middle and low income Nigerians who constitute the bulk of the population, without a viable long-term mortgage lending scheme and a review of the Land Use Act. Long-term financing - mortgage financing and mortgage-backed securities - do not exist in Nigeria at the moment or exist in the rudimentary state at best. At present, a typical home buyer will have to make a down payment that range between 20% to 50% of the purchase price and then pay off the loan balance within 5 years.

Traditionally, both federal and state governments, and even parastatals have dabbled into providing low cost housing for citizens with limited success, and this is largely because of the half-hearted, politicised approach to doing things. In fact, most schemes to build low-cost houses for Nigerians were initiated during military regimes. During our several democratic experiments, politicians have often played politics with housing delivery, and hence all had been doomed to failure on a large scale.

Every Nigerian deserves a decent and affordable housing, what with the vast wealth of the country and unprecedented pace of urbanization in the last three decades. Urban population today stands at 60-70%. With such an alarming growth rate, major cities like Lagos, Kano, Port Harcourt, Kaduna, Onitsha, Aba, Ibadan, etc, are groaning under the weight of unfettered agglomeration. (Peterside, 2003).  The consequences of this are apparent, and without affordable housing, the provision of other amenities is greatly at risk.

However, while the phrase “affordable housing” has been bandied about in recent times, it is instructive to point out that we seem to have rather missed the point. Affordable housing is a term used to describe dwelling units whose total housing costs are deemed "affordable" to a group of people within a specified income range. Although the term is often applied to rental housing that is within the financial means of those in the lower income ranges of a geographical area, the concept is applicable to both renters and purchasers in all income ranges. In the United States and Canada, a commonly accepted guideline for housing affordability is a housing cost that does not exceed 30% of a household's gross income. Housing costs considered in this guideline generally include taxes and insurance for owners, and usually include utility costs. When the monthly carrying costs of a home exceed 30–35% of household income, then the housing is considered unaffordable for that household.

The United Kingdom has a long tradition of promoting affordable social rented housing. (Please note the inclusion of the phrase “social rented housing”, as this is a different term from “affordable, but are often used interchangeably in housing management) This may be owned by local councils or housing associations. There are also a range of affordable home ownership options, including shared ownership (where a tenant rents part share in the property from a social landlord, and owns the remainder). The government has also attempted to promote the supply of owner occupied affordable stock for purchase, principally by using the land-use planning system to require that housing developers provide a proportion of lower cost housing within new developments. This approach is commonly known as inclusionary zoning

A high proportion of homes in the UK were previously council-owned, but the numbers have been reduced since the early 1980s due to initiatives of the Thatcher government that restricted council housing construction and provided financial and policy support to other forms social housing. In 1980, the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher introduced the “Right to Buy” scheme, offering council tenants the opportunity to purchase their housing at a discount of up to 60% (70% on leasehold homes such as flats). Alongside “Right to Buy”, council-owned stock was further diminished as properties were transferred to housing associations.

In the UK, housing associations are not-for-profit organisations with a history that goes back before the start of the 20th century. The number of homes under their ownership grew significantly from the 1980s as successive governments sought to make them the principal form of social housing, in preference to local authorities. Many of the homes previously under the ownership of local authorities have been transferred newly established housing associations, including some of the largest in the country. Despite being not-for-profit organisations, housing association rents are typically higher than for council housing. Renting a home through a housing association can in some circumstances prove costlier than purchasing a similar property through a mortgage.

All major housing associations are registered with the Housing Corporation, which regulates them and provides grants for development. Housing associations that are registered with the Corporation are also known as Registered Social Landlords. More recently the government refers to both as 'Social Housing'. The Department for Communities and Local Government has responsibility for housing in England. In January 2007 it announced a planned merger between the Housing Corporation and regeneration body English Partnerships to create the Homes and Communities Agency (initially announced as "Communities England"). This has now taken effect in November 2008. This new body is likely to have access to more than £4 billion in resources.

Public housing is a form of housing tenure in which the property is owned by a government authority, which may be central or local. Social housing is an umbrella term referring to rental housing which may be owned and managed by the state, by not-for-profit organizations, or by a combination of the two, usually with the aim of providing affordable housing. The common goal of public housing is to provide affordable housing. In the United Kingdom public housing is often referred to by the British public as "council housing" and "council estate", based on the historical role of district and borough councils in running public housing.  Additionally, local planning departments may require private-sector developers to offer "affordable housing" as a condition of planning permission. This accounts for another £700m of Government funding each year for tenants in part of the United Kingdom.

I have decided to give the above background and terminologies in order for us in Nigeria to define properly what we mean by affordable and/or social housing in Nigeria. I am of the contention that there is nothing like “affordable housing” in Nigeria, as the system stands today. If we want to say houses built with mud, or built in the rural areas are affordable, this is perhaps true, but then we are straying away from the Government’s National Housing Policy, as well as ignoring base decent homes standards and quality of living. As such, mud houses in rural areas, and even inside urban areas, must not count as “affordable housing”.

I have noted that, with the advent of our current democratic experiment in 1999, there now seem to be a spate of private developers (my suspicion is that because our corrupt leaders are increasingly finding it difficult to take their stolen wealth overseas, they are now investing this in property – lands and houses) buying lands all over the country and, with the financial support of several financial institutions, are building large serviced estates in all parts of the country, especially in the bigger cities. However, their houses are hardly what we can refer to as “affordable”. In all cases, the houses are not for rent, but for sale, because these developers have taken large loans from the banks to finance their building projects, their objective is necessarily to get a quick return on their money; hence they prefer to sell these houses, usually at high prices, to ensure that they have a minimum of 50% profit. After completion of the sale, they usually have 100% profit, if not more. If this is not exploitation, I wonder what it is. If this is “affordable” to many Nigerians, then I need not be writing this article. But there we are.

Therefore, affordable housing is still a long way and an illusion to lower and middle class Nigerians, if this trend continues and the federal, state and local governments are not prepared to really provide affordable housing to Nigerians either by increasing the number of units built, or facilitating/creation of an enabling environment for easy and low-cost mortgage facilities for the ordinary Nigerian; including support of housing initiatives and investments by householders, small-scale providers, and entrepreneurial private firms. We also need to consider the implications of enabling strategy for housing finance, political interference, access to land, residential infrastructure and maintenance, institutional regulations and quality and cost of building materials and related industry particularly in the light of the need for the private sector to play greater roles in housing, in conjunction with those already being played by the government though such agencies as the Federal Ministry of Housing, Federal Housing Authority, etc.

We must not confuse “affordable housing” with “public housing”. As defined above, public housing seems to be a remit of the governments (federal, state or local), and as such, since they have taken the moral responsibility to provide housing for their citizens, such housing should be low-cost and affordable. On the other hand, affordable housing could be provided by both the governments and private house builders or developers, but with the latter, affordability comes in, as these housing providers are in it for the profit, houses provided by them are inevitably not affordable to the majority of Nigerians, and this is the case at present. Also the governments do regulate this sub-sector of the industry and therefore, they are quite free to set their own high prices and there is no regulation of the quality of their houses.

Again, social housing deals with rental houses, and not bought properties. Even when governments build houses ostensibly for their citizens, they do not make it easy for the majority of Nigerian citizens by selling them outright. Social housing is all about renting houses or flats out to people who could not otherwise afford to buy these properties. This makes life easier for them and on the long run, may in future be given a “right to buy” these properties, at discounted prices, when their income improves. Again we have to consider the per capital income of most Nigerians, which is one of the lowest in the world, before we can start talking of affordable housing.

The good news is that it appears that the present administration is now conscious to the realization that the housing industry needs a turn-around, and many policy statements have been issued to this effect, reiterating the Government’s commitment to providing housing, whether affordable or not, for the people of Nigeria. In September 2008, the then Federal Capital Territory Minister announced that the  Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) is in a public private partnership (PPP) with Houses for Africa (HFA), and will build 10,000 housing units for low and medium income earners at a total cost of $300 million in Abuja.

Felix Koyenikan, an engineer and the immediate past Acting Managing Director of the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) announced in November 2008 of a planned additional 3000 housing units in parts of Abuja, and infrastructure upgrade of FESTAC Town in Lagos, and the proposed development of FESTAC Phase 2. This is more or less the regeneration of the FESTAC Town built in 1977 by the FHA and which has since degenerated into a ghetto. However, while all the properties in FESTAC Town have been bought, this should not count as additional provision of affordable housing.

More recently, according to ThisDay Newspaper of 7 December 2008, Jube Jemide, FHA’s new Ag. MD promised a recapitalisation that would list the Authority on Nigeria's Stock Exchange within 12 months. He had promised a week earlier to also tackle mass and affordable housing. Stock Exchange quotations and affordable housing provision in the same breath are new directions in the housing industry and profession.

Also recently, there have been moves made by the Nigerian Government, through the former Minister for Housing to elicit the help of the UK’s Chartered Institute of Housing, CIH, (a foremost, internationally respected professional housing body for people working in housing and communities) in establishing a professional housing body in Nigeria (Nigerian Institute of Housing), to serve the Nigerian housing sector. This will not only lead to recognised and accredited housing courses and training being established in Nigeria, but it points the way to a housing revolution in the country, since such a body will be at par with other professional bodies such as Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN); Nigerian Institute of Architects (NIA); Nigerian Institute of Estate Surveyors and Valuers (NIESV) and the likes. (Adejumo, 2008) This is likely to pave way to social housing in Nigeria and may well lead to real life provision of affordable homes to the majority of Nigerians.

And with hundreds of Nigerians working in the housing industry, especially in housing management and related sub-sectors in the UK alone, the time is ripe for Nigeria to start providing affordable and social housing to her citizens.

In light of this, and finally, since Housing is a Concurrent Item in the Nigerian Constitution, thus ensuring that we have 36 Housing Ministries and 36 Housing Corporations, it would be worthwhile for the Association of Housing Corporations of Nigeria (AHCN) to put some of these points at the top of their agenda at their next meeting. 

References:

Adejumo, A A., 2008 “Social Housing in Nigeria – An Imminent Mass Housing Revolution?”

Ogu, V I and Ogbuozobe, J E, 2001 “Housing policy in Nigeria: towards enablement of private housing development” Habitat International, Vol. 25, Issue 4, Dec. 2001, pp 473-492

Peterside, C S, 2005. “Ameliorating Housing Deficit in Nigeria ...The Role of Primary and Secondary Mortgage Institutions and the Capital Market”.  Available online at nigeriaworld.com  20 July 2005.

Peterside, C S, 2003. “Policy Foundation for Affordable Housing in Nigeria ...Role of the Secondary Mortgage Market” Available online at nigeriaworld.com 14 October 2003