By Magnus Eze
Affordable housing took the centre stage in Abuja, the nation’s capital last week as experts and stakeholders from across the world gathered to deliberate on ways of addressing the huge deficit of about 17 million houses in the country.
The two-day event was the maiden Nigeria Housing Finance Conference, with the theme, “Financing affordable housing: Realities, necessities and possibilities” organised at the upscale Musa Yar’adua Centre by the Nigeria Integrated Social Housing Cooperative Society Limited (NISH).
One major issue of concern to participants was what the guest speaker; Prof. Oyebanji Oyeyinka called ‘ghost houses’ especially in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
The former regional director for Africa, UN-Habitat, who came all the way from Nairobi, Kenya said the empty houses scattered in parts of Abuja, Ikoyi and Victoria Island, Lagos were proceeds of corruption, arguing that nobody would build choice property with hard earned money and allow them fallow.
He, therefore, called on government to adopt what was obtainable in other climes by taxing ‘big houses’ in Abuja, whether occupied or not, as another creative way of raising money for affordable housing.
“I call them ghost houses because they are empty; they’re based on awuf economy. If you use your hard earned money to build a house, even if you have to half the rent, you will do it just to pay back your mortgage or loan. But when someone leaves a house of eight-bedroom empty for three to 10 years, then something is wrong.
“On the one hand, we are in a democratic government, so you can’t just go and seize someone’s house but there are creative ways government can put some sort of levy on these houses. I know some people would not like this but I have to say; in a country where majority of people don’t have shelter, it’s a problem. In most of the countries, they put some tax and even levy them by space, say per square metre.
“Of course, government is doing a lot on anti-corruption, but there is something wrong for empty houses to be everywhere in Abuja, Ikoyi Lagos and some on,” Oyeyinka said.
He said the new urban agenda was in line with the Goal 11 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The guest speaker added that urban interventions in areas of housing, sanitation and water will help bring people out of poverty.
He also suggested the use of about 30 per cent of pension fund for affordable housing as done in many countries of the world; while supporting the call by other stakeholders for a special intervention fund for housing as applicable in some other sectors of the economy; including agriculture, mining and education as well as the creative industry.
He further charged all stakeholders to vigorously pursue the enactment of a bill by the National Assembly next year, to engender affordable housing.
Still on the issue of legislative framework, the conference convener, Yemi Adelakun said the need for some regulation was long overdue, to drive the affordable housing process in the country.
He identified six most critical challenges of affordable housing to include; land, technology, expert knowledge and skilled manpower; building materials, infrastructure and finance.
On a process that will guarantee better access to housing finance at single digit interest rate, he said “This is the norm in countries that had achieved success in affordable housing. This was also a government policy 2006 and 2007 during the sale of government properties when mortgage was pegged at 7%. The agriculture sector and other sectors in Nigeria are currently benefiting from similar intervention policy.
“The housing sector urgently requires similar intervention for maximum impact. For those in the informal sector and others who cannot qualify for mortgage, the rent to own option practiced in Lagos State should be explored further”.
The highpoint of the occasion was the official launch of the NISH Cooperative Society by the Head of Civil Service of the Federation (HOCSF), Mrs. Winifred Eyo-Ita.
Represented by a Permanent Secretary in her office, Ayodele Folayan, the HOCSF assured of the readiness of the Federal Integrated Housing Scheme (FISH) to collaborate with NISH.
NISH is post-service housing programme for those who could not benefit from FISH during their service years; which the core aim of mobilising and empowering affordable housing offtakers through cooperative principles.