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Overcoming the housing challenge through housing cooperatives

Housing problems in Nigeria are multi-dimensional. They occur both in the urban and rural areas. They are qualitative, quantitative, psychological and socio-cultural in nature. These problems are consequences of the inability and ineffectiveness of both the public and private sectors to meet the housing needs of the populace. As a result of this, any lasting solution to the Nigerian housing problem requires a multi- faceted approach.

Housing cooperatives emerged as a response to the desperate housing conditions of the working class particularly the middle income earners. In order to give hope to many working Nigerians who desire to own their homes, housing cooperatives were established, with the aim of providing adequate and affordable housing to Nigerians.

The operation of co-operative societies was first regulated by the coming into being of the co-operative societies ordinance of 1935. But even before the above stated period, there were successful attempts by indigenous groups at the traditionally styled co-operative societies commonly known as “Isusu”. The success of co-operative in Nigeria is such that, by 1965 there were about 5, 500 co-operative societies with a total of 358,000 members.

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Housing cooperatives are mutually owned and controlled by a group of members, pooling resources and lowering individual costs of all services related to the provision of housing.Housing co-operative society links co-operative members to financial institutions. Banks, government and other institution find it easier to deal with group interested in housing development instead of individual basis.

The housing co-operative society scrutinizes individual members’ credit wordiness for housing loans, negotiates better terms for loans and undertakes to generate such housing loans. Supervises or monitors the use of the housing loans/credit to avoid diversion, mismanagement or misapplication etc. in most cases, the problem is checked through the provision of building materials in kind to members by their housing co-operative society.

The co-operative may cover financing of the project by group contribution actual participation. The government or any institution may provide finances and materials, while the individual member of the co-operative society will provide the labour. To further assist in the smooth operation of co- operatives, specialized banks have long been established across the country to cater for their banking needs.

Housing cooperatives are increasingly relevant as a housing strategy for the urban poor in Africa. In Egypt, for example, cooperatives were established already at the beginning of the 20th Century, as part of the anti-colonial struggle. Housing cooperatives emerged as a result of individual initiatives with some State support in 1930. State support significantly increased from the 1970s on wards, when housing cooperatives also became part of a slum eradication strategy. Today, Egypt counts 2,320 housing cooperative societies accounting for half million dwelling units.

In Kenya, housing co-operatives were introduced in the 1980s. Although limited and under the control of the government, the National Cooperative Housing Union (NACHU) was established by the Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU). Nevertheless, it managed to create partnership and be financially supported by international organizations allowing it to provide technical assistance and micro-finance loans for the development of lower income housing.

In many developed countries, housing cooperatives have been important driving forces in the promotion of a sustainable, socially inclusive, and equitable urban development; they are no longer only providers of affordable dwellings but also influential civil society actors playing an important role in defining how neighbourhoods and cities should look like and what they should offer to their citizens. In these countries, they are recognized as a viable strategy through which decent and affordable housing can be ensured to different categories of people.

If housing cooperatives are explored to the maximum in Nigeria, they have the potential to foster social cohesion and well-being by engaging in community initiatives and projects and contribute to enhance their members’ personal skills and confidence as they deal with administrative issues, finances, building, and maintenance.

To fulfill this role, however, housing cooperatives require strong civil society organisations, enabling policies, and support from the three-tiers of government, in the areas of tax exemptions, subsidized loans and grants, access to affordable land for example through partnerships with local and state  governments.

If these conditions are fulfilled, housing cooperatives can play an important and innovative role to overcome the Nigeria housing crisis, which finds its expression in approximately 17 million people currently lacking adequate housing or living in slums.

SOURCE: Affa Dickson Acho

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