Interview

Fuller Housing Cooperative: We Want To See Every Nigerian Own Their House – Sam Odia

Mr Sam Odia is the C.E.O.of the Millard Fuller Foundation,In this interview with Housing news, he spoke on the Fuller Housing cooperative, low cost housing and other projects the foundation is involved in.

May we meet you?

My name is Sam Odia an architect by profession, I am the C.E.O. of the Millard Fuller Foundation. The Millard Fuller Foundation is the Nigerian affiliate of the Fuller centre for housing, headquartered in Georgia, USA.

It is an organization founded by Millard Fuller, who also founded Habitat for Humanity, the world’s largest NGO, operating in over a hundred countries around the world.

In Nigeria, what does Millard Fuller do?

The Millard Fuller foundation seeks to ensure that everybody has access to simple, decent and affordable housing. Our vision is to see a nation where everybody has at least a simple, decent and affordable roof over his head.

We have been working now since 2006, which makes it 13 years in Nigeria. The organisation itself is about 14 years old around the world, Millard Fuller who founded the organisation passed on 10 years ago, and we are commemorating his death and the impact he had on housing around the world.

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Fuller Housing Cooperative, what is it all about?

Over the years, working with people of lower income, we have noticed that practically every Nigerian aspires to own their house, there’s no Nigerian who wants to die in a rented house. Everybody wishes to own their own house before the leave, and to be able to pass a house on to his children. Unfortunately, the environment that we live in does not have a very developed mortgage system. The mortgage industry is underdeveloped, house prices are way too high, far above the ability of most people to access.

One of the key things that we have been doing is to make sure that we bring down house prices, we have been trying over the years to crash the price of housing. We have houses, very simple basic units that are going for less than N1.5miilion, so we are doing all we can to ensure that access to housing is increased.

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Our definition of affordable housing for instance, is that it should be affordable to the median income in any environment, so if we are talking about affordable housing here, our own belief is that 50 percent of the population should be able to afford it. And if they can’t, it isn’t truly affordable housing, are we able to achieve that right now? Perhaps not, so affordable housing is not just a definition, it is an aspiration, something that we are working towards, and we want to see every Nigerian in their own house.

Talking about housing cooperatives, a lot of Nigerians are used to different kinds of cooperatives, so housing cooperative sounds a bit new and alien to a lot of Nigerians, do you think this initiative will fly, and sort of catch on in  Nigeria?

The whole concept of housing cooperative is not new in the world, there are many countries that have been doing this for many years. In Africa,Kenya has become very advanced in housing cooperatives. They have a lot of housing cooperatives, and essentially a housing cooperative is a platform which brings people together to put aside money to make savings together, so that they are able to plug in to houses that they can afford.

We found out that one of the big challenges that people have in Nigeria, is coming up with the equity, normally when you go to a bank, they ask you for 10 or 20 percent of the total cost of the house. Most Nigerians have not put that sort of money aside, so the housing cooperative helps you to do that, it becomes a saving club of sorts, where you and other people who are also trying to plug into housing are able to put money aside, to be able to plug in and to pay for the equity required to access a mortgage. But that is not the only benefit that the housing cooperative will offer, there will also be access to small loans for personal needs from time to time.

Someone once asked me how easy it is to join, and I said, all you need to do is go on to our website, www.fullerhousingcooperative.com , download an application form for just N2, 000, and that’s it, and you need to pay your share capital of N200, 000 over a six month period, having done that, you will be able to access houses that are available on the market. There will also be opportunities for target savings and thrift savings, so that you can decide how much money you want to put aside apart from the share capital, which essentially gives you a share to that cooperative.

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What other projects are you involved in?

We are working on a number of projects, the first project that we did was a very small project in this community, when we started building houses for as little as N360, 000 at the time, several years ago, people did not believe that houses could be going at this price, until they received their keys, and they were able to pay a zero interest mortgage over 5years.

This was completely funded by donor funds, and because of this, there was a limit to the number of house we could provide, the housing gap in Nigeria is huge, so obviously donor funds could not help us much if we are going to try to solve it. So we have now revised or model, we now obtain loans to be able to build, we taking on impact investments both from Nigeria and abroad, and we are building on a much larger scale.

We have a fairly large project called the Luvu Grand project in Masaka area of Nasarawa state, just 45 minutes away from Abuja city, where we are selling studio 1 bedroom and 2 bedroom apartments for as little as N1.5,N1.6million. This we expect to expand, we actually have a hope to build an entire town, housing thousands of people in the nearest future. We will also be starting projects on the Abuja-Keffi axis, we are looking at other pieces of land perhaps to start projects in other states, and our dream is to be in every state of the federation eventually.

So we are just starting in our own little Jerusalem as it were now, but we do intend to expand this work all over the country. Right now we have 600 units available for occupation, this is a partnership that we are doing with the Family Homes Funds, who have co-funded this project, together with our other partners. We work with another partner in the UK, called REA, who also co-funded the projects, together funding is coming to provide more and more houses for Nigerians.

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Looking at the housing crisis generally in Nigeria, we know government alone cannot solve this housing crisis, as a private developer who has partnered with government, what advice do you have for other developers who are skeptical in partnering with government to help solve the deficit?

I don’t see why any developer will be skeptical about partnering with government, the conditions under which the Family Homes Funds is working are really quite encouraging, they will actually fund in advance projects that they have approved, I don’t which other financier in Nigeria that will do that, so I see no reason why any developer should shy away from that.

My own advice to them, is that they should look to much lower priced housing, we have discovered over the years that Nigerians are not asking for too much, all they want is basic shelter, in a decent environment which they can call their own. So the grandiose ideas, and visions of estates that we have had in the past, we need to take off those caps, and shift our paradigm completely in the direction of what Nigerians are able to afford, and that isn’t very much.

So we should be moving from the N15million, N20million, N25million or N30million,N40million house types, to the N1million,N2million or N3 million house types, this is more like the sort of thing we should be providing for Nigerians now.

Source: Affa Dickson Acho

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