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address the 17 million housing deficit
Pic credit: Centre for affordable housing finance africa

If we collate housing data, we can paint a better picture, Monika Umunna

The increase in Nigeria’s population is at an explosive rate and as such housing delivery is at a dreadful shortage in the country. The lowest class of Nigerian residents are however the most disadvantaged as housing is not as affordable for them. Unfortunately, we do not have accurate housing data and the political will to get these lowest income groups decent and lasting housing solutions.

Our correspondent, Esther Adeniyi interviewed Monika Umunna who is the Programme Manager of the Climate Resilient Mega City Lagos Programme of the Heinrich Boell foundation. Read the interview below:

NREH: The increase in Nigeria’s population is quite alarming, what do you think that the housing industry needs now?

Mrs Umunna: The rising population and the shortage of housing especially in the low and lowest income sectors is the most worrying for us and that is where we try to create awareness. I am working for the Lagos Megacity programme so let me concentrate on Lagos and not so much on what the Federal Government is doing. We know that there are efforts in increasing the housing supply. I think that there is a directive that about 20,000 units should be created within the next four years and there are a lot of things going on but we have the impression that what is going on is in the middle and higher income sectors; we very much doubt that that is where the need is because there has been a lot of investments.

New things have come up, definitely, there was a need at a certain time but is there a need currently in that sector? All over the world, the real estate sector is where the money is going to and that is increasing the prices for land. People cannot afford houses anymore and cannot have a supply for affordable housing.

It is almost impossible and when you look at what has been done in Lagos for the lowest income earners, there is very little. Other countries and cities all over the world have the same problem but at least there are some systems especially in the developed world where you have social subsidizing so that even if there is not enough offer for the demand, there is at least something and reflections on other policy interventions. But here there is a complete lack because the industry is not interested.

The Government doesn’t seem to be interested, there are no innovative approaches to solutions and how we can have more mixed housing so that within one investment project, you do not only have luxury or high and middle income investments but you also have for lowest income so that for the investor, there is subsidy on these types which may mean that people will have to live together. It is possible in other countries. It will also be possible in Lagos if it is well thought through. It is a possibility of addressing this issue.

NREH: Do you think that the government is doing enough to support the emerging private sectors in providing housing solutions?

Mrs Umunna: When I look at Lagos, the government is rather another competitor within the private sector. It is unnecessarily not encouraging the private sector. I think that there is enough of activity in the construction sector and it is the most booming sector currently but they have not done enough in the lowest and low income housing and definitely the government knows it is not doing enough to encourage or even to oblige them.

We had a visiting tour to a city in Germany, it is called Munich. This city in Germany has that when the city is offering new land for development; there has been a law for two decades that those investors have to dedicate 30% to subsidized housing for the low income groups. Then of course, they get incentives on the land but it’s at least a law, it has been very successful and investors have accepted it. It increases the supply of lowest income housing. It also increases the acceptance of a social mixed housing.

The other issue that we looked at is the issue of cooperatives. The cooperatives of course are middle class but you can have lowest income groups in the federation of informal settlements. They have saving groups and we can venture into such a system where it can be useful. They are the ones who buy the land in their name and they are the ones who distribute the flat to their members. These cooperatives have been in existence for the past 100 years.

There have been contributions, you don’t necessarily own the flats but you contribute your rent.  It has been stable for them while the rent in other places has increased. Their own monthly contribution as member of the contribution is the same. This is a huge advantage, it is a good initiative and the city council, they have realized it. 100 years ago it was very popular, it died down a little bit because there was not much need of housing but now in the past 20 years, there is a huge pressure again. So those cooperatives have emerged and the city council have realized that this really a possibility to address the rise in  land price and rent.

NREH: What immediate solutions can stakeholders in the housing adopt to combat these enormous housing challenges?

Mrs Umunna: There are things that can be done but really it needs the government intervention. I mean, we have the lowest income groups all over the world or you live people on their own and you see what’s happening. You have the same developments like we have here, we have it all over the world.

So, yes, there are things that the government can do. One thing is that the people who live there ask for security of tenure. This means that they are no more declared as illegal settlements. They should try to find a solution on how to legalize papers. Many of them are owners but many of the owners are also landlords and tenants. People have to be more secure, it will make them invest more in their environment.

If you don’t know how long you will stay in a place, you may not invest in it because you know that in a year or in two years, the road may be expanded, everything may be cut down or someone may come to say that they want to build structures.

There has to be more security and cooperation. I am sure if they work with the people, they can learn how to improve and tackle waste management. Waste management is a municipal duty and it has to be addressed better. There are always promises but we don’t see much especially in those areas.

The problem is that there is no political will of developing these areas except with big interest in big projects which doesn’t make sense because you are going to be enlarging the roads and for whom: the low income earners or the high and medium. If you want to put water pipes, huge water pipes, you have to dig up. This costs a lot of money and the risk of corruption is there where you have such big infrastructure. The small scale decentralized obligations are much better.

NREH: Are there reliable data for housing so that there can be objective approaches and subsequent solutions to housing problems in Nigeria

Mrs Umunna: I am not so much searching on these data because we are not necessarily a player in the housing sector but the data are not there, truly.

For example, I know in Germany, we know that when we want to rent, there are platforms online, there is an overview of what the price of land, how much percentage people use their income for housing and transport maybe. These platforms, I don’t think they are here and this sector is what can develop such.

We have real estate people all over, if we collect data from all these people in different areas, we can paint a better picture. We always say here that the population of Lagos is increasing. When you listen to the rationale, people say people are coming from outside but I think that even within the city, the growth is much higher than the influx from outside.

There is no data on it, we do not know how much internal growth we have in the city. What kind of birth rate do we have in the city? How many people are coming from outside, where are they coming from? What kind of small scale units can we build quick fix? Is it seasonally? Do we know about all these? How much can they afford to pay when they come in so they don’t have to squat and sleep under bridges when they come in? The people in the government are always talking about experience and not data. There should be data, so a lot still needs to be done. There should be responses.

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