Author ~ Ebuka Onunaiwu
Housing is a bundle of joy. Renters and homeless go through moments of stress, distress and uncertainties – Professor Tunde Agbola, Department of Urban and Regional Planning, University of Ibadan.
In the two preceding editions of this series on Nigeria’s journey towards sustainable housing provision, we analysed the state of housing in Nigeria in edition I and compared what is obtainable with regards to housing in a highly populated country like China in edition II. In this third and final edition the emphasis is on proposing feasible solutions to bridge the housing deficit and forestall the nation’s housing crisis.
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What We Need
A review of how various countries such as Finland, China, the United States of America and the United Kingdom, have managed the housing demands in their countries has shown that in these areas, housing is largely a social service; and that the most successful countries in managing housing are those that have embraced “social housing”. Hence, I would join voices with scholars like Professor Gbenga Nubi of the Faculty of Environmental Sciences, University of Lagos and Prof. Tunde Agbola, to attest that social housing is the antidote to Nigeria’s housing crisis.
Social housing in simple terms refers to housing owned and managed by the state, non-profit organisations or a combination of both, usually with the aim of providing affordable housing. Social housing is usually directed towards low income earners, it focuses on social service delivery and is not motivated by profit-maximiszation. The aim of social housing is to ensure that housing, which is a basic need, is sufficiently provided for all especially those at the bottom of the economic pyramid. You may read ‘social housing in Nigeria’ by Wole Aboderin, who extensively addressed the subject matter.
The first attribute needed to solve any housing crisis issue is strong political will. This is the starting point and the root of any housing drive but has been lacking in Nigeria’s housing sector. Beyond the formulation of new policies to guide the activities of the sector, the decision makers in the sector must determine in earnest that the sector needs radical changes. What is currently needed is the kind of political will that saw to the building of mass housing estates by the Jakande-led administration in Lagos State, Nigeria, in the space of approximately 5 years. The kind of political will that has enabled Finland stand out among other European nations in bringing solution to homelessness using the Housing First strategy.
There are three critical aspects of a social housing strategy such as the implementation, funding and the models for the housing units. Implementation of social housing for other nations has been driven mainly by partnership between government and organisations from the not-for-profits, private sector and those in the academia to drive research. To solve Nigeria’s housing crisis, there is need to bring together the best brains in the sector, who are willing to work towards the long-term achievement of success in the sector. This has been so in many other regions. For instance: Y-Foundation an NGO with over 16,000 apartments, is a prominent partner in Finland; and Volunteers of America is an active housing partner in the State of Utah, US. In Nigeria, we have credible resource persons like Profs. Nubi and Agbola, another notable resource person is Prof. Fabienne Hoelzel, co-founder of Fabulous Urban, the organisation that developed the Makoko-Iwaya Regeneration Plan. We can bring onboard Chinwe Ohajuruka, whose affordable housing model is used as a case study in the latter part of this article; and, Bolaji Agunbiade, another sustainable building solutions provider whose interview is found in the latter part of this article as well. As it is in every other sector, Nigeria does not suffer from a dearth of human capital in the housing sector.
As one of the basic needs of humans, the housing sector should be funded as much as other critical sectors like education and health. The funding of any social housing scheme is usually a cooperative work, mainly by the government at all levels in collaboration with private sector, not-for-profits and individuals. This would involve increasing the annual allocation to the housing sector, and setting up of a functional housing financing department/scheme. In Finland’s Housing First scheme, the government provides grants for housing advice services (a maximum of 35 percent of the costs). Another adoptable funding model can be seen in China’s housing fund.
In a way, this Fund works like the Nigerian pension fund in which employees and employers co-contribute to a pension account. A part of the Housing Fund, included a savings plan initiated by the government in which employees are given the option to contribute a portion of their monthly wages and have it matched by their employer to assist them with buying a house. This has contributed positively to mortgage acquisition in China, as prospective home owners are able to make the required 30% down payment.
In the same way that the government attempts to attract investors to various sectors of the economy, they should take similar steps in the housing sector. Funding summit for housing should be held in major cities in Nigeria, in collaboration with private sectors, grant givers, impact investors and philanthropists; incorporating transparency and stakeholder participation in the fund management.
Previous studies have found that when housing is not only covering the poorest, there is greater political support and more funds. Hence, social housing in Nigeria need not focus on the poor alone but also on a broader spectrum of people in the middle class. This has been achieved in places like Sweden, Singapore and Hong Kong by encouraging mixed-class tenancy in the housing estates. This has also been found beneficial to intercultural integration in multiethnic regions.
A very crucial aspect of any social housing discussion is the model of the house. If the government opts for social housing, there is need to answer questions such as: which building materials should be used? Where could the building materials be sourced? What is the cost of building materials? How much (financially and environmentally) does the total building project cost? and which models are sustainable and can produce the highest gains (in terms of quality and quantity) at the cheapest possible cost? To address the above questions, we may need to consider the following two case studies on sustainable and affordable housing models:
Case Study I: Cellular Lightweight Concrete
In an exclusive interview with a Bolaji Agunbiade, the co-founder of Ziegel – a building solutions company, he gave insights into his company’s sustainable building solution. The South Africa based Real Estate firm has been managed by Bolaji for 12 years. The company’s affordable and sustainable building solution is called ‘Cellular lightweight Concrete’ (CLC) (or “Aerated Concrete). The CLC is generated by combining cement with certain additives. The method which has existed for years has now been made easier to deploy with modern technology, whether in single or large sites. The CLC is a better building material as it is lighter than concrete or block, fireproof, waterproof, insulated (both sound and temperature), easier to deploy to site and 60% faster than brick and mortar.
On costing, Bolaji said the CLC method has similar costings to the traditional methods due to the use of similar materials such as (cement, sand/gravel, water, iron rods/mesh and others), and in-place of blocks additives are used. However, it still comes out cheaper using the CLC methods as a lot of savings can be realised from the time saved. According to him, the Governor of Lagos State recently signed a multi-billion-naira contract with Eco-Stone, a Nigerian company proposing to deploy CLC technology sourced from the USA to deliver housing in Lagos State. This he believes will be the first of many.
Bolaji believes that having just the CLC technology is not enough, how it is deployed is key and that is where the problem is and needs to be addressed. A small builder should be able to deploy the technology to site for a single project and that is what Zeigel brings to the table for critical stakeholders. He projected that in the next 10 years, CLC technology will become cheaper to deploy, and self-sustaining as the materials should would be sourced locally.
Case Study II: Passive House Prototype
“Affordable green housing could well be the silver bullet to address the triple bottom line for sustainable [housing] development in Nigeria” – Chinwe Ohajuruka
In 2012, Ms. Chinwe Ohajuruka and a team of sustainable development professionals entered an African Diaspora Business plan competition organised by USAID and Western Union for Africans wanting to do meaningful and innovative development in their home countries. Their entry titled “Renewable Energy through the Vehicle of Affordable Housing” emerged as one of the 17 winners of the competition. The innovation engineered by Chinwe and her team was called “Passive House Prototype” and refers to a rigorous, voluntary standard for energy in a building, reducing its ecological footprint.
However, according to Chinwe and her team, in the Nigerian clime a “Passive House Prototype (PHP)” is “A building that uses 50 – 75% less energy than a similar building in a similar location”. The PHP is an energy-efficient affordable housing, designed as an upgrade to the popular “Face-Me-I-Face-You” housing model in Nigeria. This model is the most affordable in Nigerian urban centres but also hosts some of the most unhealthy and unideal living conditions.
With the support of the funding from the competition and the Rivers State government, in 2013, Chinwe and her team built some PHPs in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria. The typical characteristics of the built PHPs include one living room, one bedroom, one kitchen, one bathroom, circulation/storage. Each building could accommodate 4 units for 4 families on a single minimum-sized plot of land. The average construction time and cost for each building is 3 months and N9 million (at N2.25 million per unit) respectively. Although, with economies of scale, 10 or more PHPs could go as low as N7.5million. The PHPs come with added benefits of clean (solar) energy, potable water, and improved sanitation.
Another remarkable aspect of the project is that it follows a Rent-to-Own agreement, hence, the occupants start by renting the homes and work towards full ownership of the homes. Chinwe noted that the success of the project was largely enabled by the collaboration and support of the Rivers State Government, especially the Greater Port Harcourt City Development Authority. She also stated that more opportunities can be provided by the provision of housing microfinance and micro-mortgages even from traditional cooperative like ‘Esusu’, and corporate social responsibility by businesses.
Information for case study II was sourced from Henrich Boll Stiftung Nigeria
From case study II, a comfortable housing unit along with services such as portable water and solar power can be provided for low and middle-income families at N2.25 million. With more research, better and cheaper local housing solutions can emerge but there is need for the right political will to drive other aspects such as the implementation process, funding and models for social housing.
With social and affordable housing, there is a great opportunity to meet the housing deficit in Nigeria if government and private stakeholders can deliberately and collaboratively act to develop the housing sector in the country. There are also opportunities for social entrepreneurs and impact investors that want to align profit with societal good and value creation. By working together, these groups can change the narratives in the housing sector by making long-term investments in the provision of affordable housing in urban centres in Nigeria.