Saadiya Aminu, MD/Chief Executive Officer, Urban Shelter Ltd., an Abuja-based real estate development company, in this interview, says getting Cs of O, access to land and infrastructure are some of the challenges hindering developers from delivering affordable housing.
Urban Shelter is majorly an Abuja based housing developer. Why is it so?
Presently, we are involved in a number of projects in at least three locations in Nigeria, we are heavily based in Abuja, but we have other projects in Minna, Niger State and Kaduna as well, and I’m proud to say that now we are in Lagos.
In 2018, we signed agreement with the Nigerian Mortgage Refinancing Company (NMRC) along with three other mortgage development banks, so that they can underwrite mortgages and they are really at favorable mortgage rates.
Life Camp has been a phenomenal project for us. It is in three phases, we have delivered the first phase, 33 units. Phase two will be 71 units while the third will be about 150, so collectively we are looking at about 300 homes in that axis.
We also have ongoing projects in Lugbe, 400 units on a 10 hectare land, with price ranging between N10 million and about N40 million; and Kyami, along Airport road just after Lugbe, with about 600 units.
We have also signed agreements to provide houses for the Nigeria Police; we are also developing projects in Kubwa, near the Brick City with about 350 units.
In Kaduna we have a 26 hectare project in the Millennium City, we are providing infrastructure.
Observers say Urban Shelter builds houses so close to each other, why is that?
When you make houses, you are guided by building code principles, so typically when we do our architecture plans we take it to FCT Development Control, we keep to their standards, that is what they approved. But in Abuja there is a premium on housing so land availability is a factor. But we have taken note.
How is the Lagos business environment?
Lagos is a bit difficult; their economy, their GDP is also mirroring some smaller African states, you have to take into consideration their different cultures. So tastes are different and the competition is very intense. The level of quality in terms of service delivery is higher in Lagos but we took our time, we prepared very well to ensure we are doing the right project for the right people. We have an official launching in March this year (of one of our projects). In Lagos we are the new kids on the block so we have to work harder.
Handling so many projects simultaneously, how are you able to finance them?
Finance is an interesting thing; our financial strategy differs from project to project. We have been utilizing commercial finance. We are now working on Islamic finance, which will unlock a lot of potential. It is difficult naturally but we are also trying to get international recognition and then we have internal revenue. Let me take a minute to appreciate our clients. Urban Shelter has been very fortunate; we’ve never finished a project that we have not sold out.
What are the challenges?
On the supply side, in 2015 the value of the naira really depreciated, so also cost of materials skyrocketed, those that require forex became difficult. So, we would like to source materials locally, but if I were to order 5,000 doors there are few manufacturers that can meet the time frame so such issues like capacity, steel products you have to import, meaning port issues which will affect your timeline. And getting artisans, bricklayers, tillers, carpentry, giving attention to details, these are issues. So, we are trying to develop an Artisans Institute to mentor and train individuals.
On the demand side, it’s easy to build a house, what is difficult is for you and me to buy the house. There is a limited pool in terms of the financial tools available to individuals to be able to access; and fast tracking the mortgage process so that people are able to pay, through mortgages, when we can unlock that process, that would make it easier.
The other things which government may be addressing are getting Cs of O, access to land, infrastructure which is 10-30 per cent of the cost of construction, so these are the challenges. And on regulation, REDAN has been doing a good job of not just policing but ensuring quality and sanity.
How is the company’s pricing?
We start our pricing from N3.9 million for large studio rooms, and they go up to as much as N200 million. Like I said we try to cater for everybody. We have a research and development team that tries to see how we can get prices down without compromising on quality and safety. We are determined to see that we house as many Nigerians as possible because providing shelter is a basic human right.