As Nigerians grapple with the problem of mounting housing deficit, even with real estate owners expanding their business frontiers in the nation’s capital, there seems to be no hope in the horizon for the poor who populate the informal sector as cost of rent in Abuja continues to be neck-breaking for residents in the city.
Aside the artificially-made-high cost of living in Abuja, a city that has become more expensive than other African giant cities such as Johannesburg and Cape Town, as reported in Mercer’s 2018 ranking on Cost of Living Survey which placed the city as the 90th most expensive in the world, renting an apartment in Abuja for an average citizen appears most often to be beyond the bound of possibility, this is just as landlords’ position on rent continues to remain almost irreversible amidst difficult times.
Since the 1990s, the cost of accommodation in Abuja has been well beyond the average professional’s wages. Moreover, indications are that it will continue to skyrocket as more and more people continue to troop in to the city from neighbouring states due to security reasons, while poor housing planning and implementation on the part of the government still act as impediments to affordable housing.
Worse is that rent contracts are only available on a one or two-year lease, and it is not uncommon for the landlord to require that the total amount be paid up front, rather than in yearly instalment.
Even with thousands of unoccupied buildings littered all over the city, particularly in highbrow areas, majority of residents in the FCT cannot afford to rent apartment in choice areas, thus they have to turn to the ever growing and populated satellite towns and villages where landlords are kings waiting to milk them dry of their life savings.
“Living and saving in Abuja is almost impossible because of the cost of rent. Landlords don’t care unless for those who see life differently”, said Ugochuki Amaze, a resident of Karu who lamented that tenants are at the mercy of house owners in Abuja.
“I have lived in this city for 12 years after relocating from Jos with my family. I can’t save because I have to train my children and shoulder other bills, including rent to have something over our heads. House is a necessity, even in your village, you must have a roof over your head,” he said.
Shelter is the most important of human needs after food.
Housing has been identified from various fronts as very important. Home ownership enhances the sense of self-worth in an individual and ministers to man’s rights to dignity of his human person but in the FCT, rent appears to be “life” in its own.
Ask most residents in Abuja what gives them concern most every year, the first thing that comes to their minds is rent.
“It gives me heartbeats and my blood pressure goes up whenever the year is running out and you remember that there is an unavoidable bill waiting for you to pay and the worse is that this thing is on the high side”, Mrs Felix Agbegi, a single mother of five, told LEADERSHIP Weekend.
“Things cannot continue like this. I think the government needs to do something to help low income earners to have buildings of their own,” Felix lamented while showing a text message recently sent to her by her landlord, where a month notice was unofficially given to her to vacate a two-bedroom apartment she has been living in with her children for four years now.
“From 2016 to this year, I have moved to three different locations looking for affordable house to keep my family because of the economic situation in the country. Nothing has changed and these landlords are not ready to cut down the cost of rent”, said Emeka, a civil servant and resident of Jikwoyi.
“In other towns outside Abuja, places like Jikwoyi where roads are not tarred, rents are relatively low but here, the case is different. Any beautiful house here almost goes like what you get in town because people keep flooding into Abuja yearly.”
Although prices of rent in the FCT may be different and this depends on the property owner, the concern, however, is affordability.
Medina Lisa Umar, a fashion designer and resident of Lugbe, who was interviewed by our correspondent on telephone said, she had monitored the rate of rents in Lugbe since 2016 submitting that though rents were still expensive, there had been a relative slash with certain percentage by some landlords.
“For instance there is this house, three-bedroom, a very standard one at that, in my area that was fixed at N1.2m but the landlord had brought it down to N800,000. But in the same area, a poorly built and substandard two bedroom apartment is fixed at N1m and the landlord is not ready to shift ground.
“In my case, for instance, I recently moved to a one bedroom apartment for N450,000 with service charge of N50,000 and another N20,000 which brings the total amount I paid to N520,000.”
Asked if she was comfortable paying such amount for a one bedroom, she said no.
“Do you think I like staying in satellite town when there are good houses in town?, asked Medinat who said people flood satellite towns because those houses in town are not affordable and they pay price at the end of the day.
She further blamed agents for the continue hike in prices of rent. According to her, “sometimes agents are the problem and even the landlord may not be aware. They may ask them for instance to put the price of a house for N200,000 for instance but they will go on their own to add N50 or N100. I was once a victim”, she said.
For Andy Onekpe, a resident of Jikwoyi, his perception is that the cost of living in Abuja was artificially created by those he described as “house lords”.
According to Onekpe, you can’t have a society where people earn less and pay high for living and call it normal. It is insane!
“We can’t live in city centre and here at the outskirts of Abuja, rent are still almost impossible to pay. We pay our electricity bill, we buy water and have to cater for our children school bills. This is too heavy for average salary earners to bear.
“Go to Benin, Edo State capital city for instance, the cost of one-bedroom in a village in Abuja can get a good three-bedroom apartment in GRA in Benin. That is a huge difference. That tells you something is wrong with us as a people. The government must do something about this imbalance,” he said.
Beautiful empty houses
Abuja is known to be notorious for not just land grabbing but abandoned and uncompleted and unoccupied buildings littering the major city centre.
Billions, if not trillions of naira have been sunk into real estate businesses. The irony of it is that, the now over-populated Nigeria capital city cannot accommodate its citizens.
Former president of the Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers, Bolarinwa Patunola, had in a report attributed it to corruption. He said most of the the unoccupied buildings in the FCT were built from proceeds of corruption and because government did not place tax on these houses, owners did not care what happened to those buildings because they were not from their hard-earned money. He urged the government to impose heavy tax on them to crash high cost of house rent in the FCT
Bolarinwa had advised that, “the government must be involved in two key areas: social and investment housing that will incorporate everyone. The Nigerian government should take a cue from Singapore; there should be a scheme to produce flats on a continuous basis yearly”.
Any way out?
Access to shelter by the poor and even the middle class is one of the main challenges facing government and policy makers in Nigeria. This follows poor policy implementation or abject lack of it in the housing sector in the face of huge urban migration and uncontrolled population explosion.
Although the current administration has invested so much in the housing sector, also partnering with the private sector to reduce the housing deficit in the country and ultimately cut the cost of rent, stakeholders have opined that a lot still need to be done to get things right.
For decades, successive governments have been enormously challenged with the provision of affordable human settlements. Though various policies have been put in place to address housing problems, particularly for low in-come earners, but most of these policies have hardly changed anything.
Much of government’s efforts are focused on the provision of subsidised housing in bid to bridge the ever-increasing housing deficit but no one actually builds for the poor and those at lowest rung of societal ladder.
The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) projects that the nation’s housing deficit stands at about 17 million. This means that there are about 85 million Nigerians in desperate need of roofs over their heads. This translates to over 50 per cent of the nation’s population of estimated 200 million people.
Over the years, there has been half-hearted address of the ever-increasing housing cost, limited access to land and housing finance, regressive land taxation, and low supply of subsidised housing, all of which have pooled to make it difficult for the poor, and low income households to own homes. The effect is that, residents will continue to pay through their nose to have a place to stay, some analysts have postulated.
Given all of these, experts in the housing sector have argued that private sector housing initiatives remain the way to go. A peep at Nigeria’s mortgage policies over the years equally leaves much to be desired.
At the moment, experts, policy makers, key players and professional bodies interested in housing sector continue to unveil new roadmaps that will not only guarantee shelters for the ordinary Nigerian but also provide a vast array of job opportunities for Nigerians.
‘‘The approach changed from government-led approach to housing delivery to private sector-led approach in housing delivery but the problems that inhibited growth in the first approach are still present in the new approach. We have not addressed them,’’ Dr Paschal Onyemaechi, a researcher in public private partnership, PPP and urban housing said during a presentation before the Senate Committee on Works, chaired by former Kano State governor, Senator Kabiru Gaya.
Onyemachi through research propounded a PPP low-income housing model which has further been developed into a pro-poor housing programme called “Build For Nigeria,” told our correspondent that “the new model is capable of substantially addressing the housing challenge.”
The initiative is now being leveraged by the Committee of Vice Chancellors of Nigerian Universities-CVC as a suitable model for addressing the challenge posed by student’s hostel accommodation in public tertiary institutions in Nigeria.
“Build for Nigeria” deeply takes into consideration affordability and the informal sector where bulk of the Nigerian population operate.
“The issues are source of suitable and sustainable housing finance for the low-income and poorer groups in the informal sector and the lack of suitable model that administer housing finance in the informal sector.
“The model that will work must overcome these two challenges to be able to tackle affordability and deliver to the targeted group. You will agree with me that the Nigeria’s informal sector is characterised with too many informalities, starting from identity issues, small and irregular income to the uncertianties of informal settlement. These have to be considered before you can offer a workable framework”, he said.
“When I say pro-poor housing, I mean pro-poor in all intents and purposes. The design, financing model, accessibility, participation and so on, not pro-poor with elitist’s assessment criteria. That method will not achieve the desired result even in the next 50 years. In fact, most of those difficult criteria automatically exclude the poor and pave way for the rich and powerful to strengthen their position in the market and this is why the deficit figures keep growing,” Onyemachi said.
According to him, “The very interesting contribution from this new thinking (Build for Nigera) is that the model does not require funding from the national budget to operate. It thrives on equity funding.
“I can’t remember any country that have achieved affordable housing for its poorer citizens through commercial mortgage, none. The lead question is how do we make millions of poor Nigerians own decent homes without having millions in their pocket? The answer has led us to the new model. An approach that combines a demand and supply side solution.
“The major objective of the programne is to provide a pool of equity-based fund for implementation of low-cost housing.
“The second objective is to enhance access to housing finance for the bottom 40 per cent of our population. It provides a platform to effectively and efficiently harness the opportunities in the sector to create an equity fund,” he revealed.
“Build for Nigeria” housing programme is designed to accommodate different categories of low-income Nigerians, ranging from those living in the slumps, to petty traders, market women, okada riders, young start-ups, indigent students (in the case of hostels accommodation in tertiary institutions) etc.
Also the Ag. Head, Marketing and Communication of Millard Fuller Foundation, Mr John Olugbemi, a body that said to have dedicated its time solving housing challenges in the FCT, wonders why there are a lot of unoccupied houses in Abuja housing units being left for so long.
“The reasons are not far-fetched. The cost of those housing units, he told LEADERSHIP Weekend.
“Some of these units are clearly out of the reach of the civil servants of whom majority of them stay around the satellite towns,” said John who complained that most developers have adopted the habit of targeting only the rich while low income earners are ignored even at the detrimental of their investments.
“While many developers are comfortable building for the rich and the middle class, not many of them have the low-income earners in mind”.
He said affordable housing could only be made possible for low-income earners in Nigeria through collaborative partnerships with individuals and organisations and that has become what the objective of the Muller Filler Foundation is premised on.
He added that they had been able to build 700 affordable home (studio, one bedroom and 2-bedroom apartments) which falls within the range of 2-5million naira.
He further disclosed that the “housing units are being taken up through long-term mortgages as provided by mortgage institutions.