Jimmy Carter says the Trump administration is ignoring the affordable-housing shortage crisis 


  • Former President Jimmy Carter told CNBC that the Trump administration is ignoring a national housing crisis, and he urged voters to support candidates who promote affordable housing.
  • Carter also called for broad reform of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. He said this fall’s elections offer voters a chance to support an issue that has been widely overlooked by candidates in this year’s midterm election cycle.
  • “Low-income housing needs to be raised much higher as a priority for our country,” Carter said in a phone interview. “That’s the first step toward making people who are now dependent on government assistance, on welfare rolls, to get a good job and have a chance to raise their families and put their kids through school.”

Former US president Jimmy Carter helps build a house as he visits the construction site of houses being built by Carter’s Habitat for Humanity foundation for victims of the earthquake in Leogane, Haiti in 2012.

Former President Jimmy Carter told CNBC this week that the Trump administration is ignoring a national housing crisis, and he urged voters to support candidates who promote affordable housing.

“Low-income housing needs to be raised much higher as a priority for our country,” Carter said in a phone interview. “That’s the first step toward making people who are now dependent on government assistance, on welfare rolls, to get a good job and have a chance to raise their families and put their kids through school.”

Carter, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who turns 94 in October, also called for broad reform for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. He said this fall’s elections offer voters a chance to support an issue that has been widely overlooked by candidates in this year’s midterm election cycle.

In response to a request for comment, a HUD spokesman referred CNBC to the department’s website but did not answer specific questions.

Since the 2008 financial crisis, the housing market has broadly recovered overall. But many Americans have been left behind. Millions of low-income Americans are paying 70 percent or more of their incomes on housing and face a shortage of available affordable rental apartments.

Carter said the gap between rich and poor has reached unprecedented levels as land becomes scarce and the cost of homebuilding rises.

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Meanwhile, HUD Secretary Ben Carson has proposed tripling the minimum rent paid by the poorest public-housing tenants and rolling back rent restrictions on 4.5 million households that participate in public housing programs, according to HUD data.

The White House’s fiscal year 2019 budget proposal also slashes funding for HUD by $8.8 billion and calls for work requirements for those who receive public housing subsidies. The administration has also proposed raising the minimum rent for the poorest families to about $150 a month — three times the current minimum.

Carson has said the goal is to reduce assistance to the poor to combat what he sees as a cycle of dependency. Proponents of this approach argue that while safety-net programs are important, low-income renters and homeowners who rely on too much federal assistance will become stuck in dependent situations.

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But Carter, who has helped renovate 4,300 homes in 14 countries for Habitat for Humanity, said the policy is misguided. Rather than becoming more dependent on government, he said, the people who move into Habitat homes and receive public assistance are “hardworking” and become productive citizens and taxpayers.

“I don’t think that making people self-sufficient who are already in desperate need and who have never had a decent place to live is a good approach to low-income housing,” he said. “You can make people suffer longer by depriving them of adequate help.”

Facing increased demand and rising land prices, Habitat housing has become more expensive. The cost of building a home 35 years ago was roughly $20,000 to $25,000 and has since more than quadrupled, Carter said.

“The main thing that we have failed to do is to let people in general join in with Habitat and emphasize the need for low-income housing,” he said.

Emma Newburger

Workers spared housing levy MPs reject Treasury’s proposal

Workers have been spared a pay cut of up to Sh5,000 after MPs shot down a Treasury’s proposal to create a fund to finance a new low-cost housing fund.

The Treasury had set the low-cost housing deduction at 0.5 per cent of the gross pay per month as long as the contribution does not exceed Sh5,000.

Employers were to match the employees’ contribution.

The MPs said the move would cause significant cost burden to companies while hurting workers.

The State Department of Housing announced two months ago that it was finalising regulations to operationalise the housing development fund, whose finer details are yet to be released.

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This was the first time that the Housing ministry was establishing the fund that had been lying dormant under the Housing Act for decades.

Its implementation meant an employee earning Sh100,000 would contribute Sh500 every month to the fund – up to the maximum Sh5,000 for those earning Sh1 million and above.

The creation of the fund was meant to help the government realise the goal of delivering half a million affordable housing units in five years.

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However, the provision faced hostility from unions and employers who consider the tax burden already too heavy on them.

Four pillars

Affordable housing is one of the four pillars of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s agenda for the next four years.

Treasury defended introduction of yet another payroll levy on people in formal employment, who are already burdened by multiple levies, saying that it would help the government realise the goal of affordable housing.

The Finance Bill has also introduced amendments to the Central Bank of Kenya Act to include regulation of mortgage refinance companies.

The move paves the way for the establishment of state-backed Kenya Mortgage Refinancing Company meant to address the demand side of the housing market by offering liquidity to the mortgage industry.

Treasury did not offer details on how the fund will be managed.

Business Daily

Record London Rents Lure Overseas Landlords to Housing Market

The U.K.’s struggle to secure a favorable Brexit deal may be giving Prime Minister Theresa May a headache, but it’s making London’s battered buy-to-let market attractive overseas again.

Foreign-based landlords owned 12 percent of the homes rented out in the capital at the end of the first half, up from 7 percent last year, according to Hamptons International, which measured a subset of the London’s housing market. A falling pound has made it cheaper for overseas investors to buy homes using their local currencies, and many have been lured by a red-hot rental market that’s still at record levels because of tenant demand.

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“I was convinced rents would drop as people fled the U.K. after the Brexit vote — in fact, everyone was expecting Armageddon,” said Agus Marcos Blanco, a 39-year-old pharmacist in Barcelona, who shelved plans to purchase a London property immediately after the June 2016 vote to leave the European Union. Now, with rents having stayed buoyant, he’s looking for a buy-to-let investment in the U.K. capital.

The jump in foreign interest is a boon for London’s real estate market, where property values have cooled in recent months as many domestic buyers are priced out. This, together with a series of tax changes has sent sales down to levels not seen since the financial crisis and threatened a market that’s the preferred way of investing for many Britons.

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The imbalance between supply and demand in London has pushed average rents to 1,615 pounds ($2,100) a month, according to Homelet, the U.K.’s largest tenant referencing company. That’s the highest since it began collating the data in 2011 and 72 percent above the country-wide average of 937 pounds per month.

Juan Guerrero, head of foreign-exchange trading at Banca March SA in Madrid, estimates the pound could bounce back as much as 15 percent against the euro if the U.K. negotiates a successful EU divorce deal. A home worth the London average of 483,000 pounds costs a European buyer 537,500 euros at the current exchange rate, and would be worth around 70,000 euros more after such a rebound.

Yet it’s not an entirely rosy picture for foreign landlords. By some measures, growth in the rental market has cooled. And while the pound has rallied in recent days as the prospect of a no-deal Brexit was seen to have diminished, some forecasts have the U.K. currency sliding toward levels versus the euro last seen in 2009. That would mean rental returns would be worth less when converted back to a landlord’s own currency.

Marcos Blanco, who has bid an undisclosed amount for a two-bedroom apartment in Bow, East London, is undeterred by the prospect of a further drop in sterling. “I think all the negative news has been factored in, and the only way is up,” he said. “Time will tell.”

Sharon R Smyth


Housing Market

The U.S. housing market is a major indicator of the strength of the economy. When the economy is strong and people are confident about the future, they are more inclined to buy houses, upgrade their current homes or buy larger houses.

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When they are more concerned about the economy, new home construction, remodeling, median prices and housing sales are all depressed. For years, real estate was considered a reliable way to increase personal wealth because the cost of property and housing consistently increased over time.

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However, the housing bubble of 2006 that led to a steep decline in housing prices was the primary cause of the Great Recession in the U.S., destroying the credit of millions of people who were suddenly underwater in their mortgages and impacting the housing market for the greater part of a decade.

Government regulations have since tightened mortgage requirements for many buyers, and they have greatly impacted the subprime mortgage industry that collapsed during the Great Recession.

U.S News

Big City Housing Doesn’t Have to Be So Expensive

Bringing down prices requires a combination of affordable homes and upzoning.

The one-story house for sale on Oak Court in Menlo Park, Calif., is 88 years old and 830 square feet, with two bedrooms, one bathroom, a detached one-car garage, and no air conditioning. Almost anywhere else it would be the startiest of starter homes. But because it’s in Silicon Valley, where the supply of housing is far short of the demand, the bungalow was listed in mid-August for $1.575 million.

Imagine if ants put up barriers that stopped other ants in their colony from getting to a sugar cube. That’s what Americans are doing to one another by making housing impossibly expensive in the very places, such as Silicon Valley, that most need fresh talent.

Housing prices needn’t be high just because an area is hemmed in by water or mountains, as Silicon Valley is at the end of San Francisco Bay. After all, you can always build upward without wiping out green spaces and historical treasures. Rather, high housing prices are the outcome of a strategy by incumbent homeowners to keep a lid on construction. Keeping cities frozen in time, only more expensive, is great for homeowners and bad for just about everyone else, including local employers and the people who would come to work for them but can’t. While the problem is most pronounced in Silicon Valley, it exists in San Francisco, London, New York, Tel Aviv, Tokyo—name your global hot spot.

Affordability matters because cities have never been economically more important. Biotech companies choose to cram together in San Diego and Cambridge, Mass.; cybersecurity firms are cheek by jowl in Israel’s Silicon Wadi; consumer-electronics companies want to be near one another in the former fishing village of Shenzhen, China.

Constraints on housing prevent people from joining, and contributing to, clusters of innovation. A new paper by economists Chang-Tai Hsieh of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and Enrico Moretti of the University of California at Berkeley found that restrictive zoning in Silicon Valley, San Francisco, and New York “lowered aggregate U.S. growth by 36 percent from 1964 to 2009.”

Thirty-six percent is kind of a big number. Says Hsieh: “If you compare it to all the things our political system talks about, this is just huge relative to everything else.”

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The good news is that cities don’t have to be prohibitively expensive. The trick is to form a broad coalition for what pro-housing activists call Yimby (yes in my backyard) by ensuring that the benefits will be enjoyed by all, or almost all. More housing can help wealthy landlords, who benefit from the right to put more housing units on a given block, as well as low- and moderate-income families, whose rents come down when the supply of rental housing goes up.

To be clear, not every city with a housing shortage is economically thriving. Delhi, Jakarta, Lagos, Manila, and other megacities have different issues to deal with, including an influx of desperate people from rural poverty. We’re talking about First World problems here: how to cope with the complications of prosperity.

One recent success story is Mountain View, Calif., the home of Google parent Alphabet Inc. In December the City Council approved a plan for the area around the Googleplex that allows for construction of almost 10,000 homes, up from zero in the original proposals. Leonard Siegel, who was vice mayor then and is mayor now, says the city is locating homes near office space rather than trying to jam them into older neighborhoods. “Many people are perfectly happy for us to build housing near Google, because it’s not in their backyard,” he says.

Mountain View officials insisted that developers make 15 percent of the homes affordable, and they’re charging them fees to cover the cost of new public infrastructure such as transportation and sewer lines. “The way I told one developer, ‘We’ll find out if we piled on too much,’ ” Siegel says. “ ‘I want to load your back with straw, and when it starts to break, pull one straw off.’ They said, ‘I understand.’ ”

Some market purists argue that building affordable housing is unnecessary. Filtering theory says that even the construction of luxury housing will ultimately benefit the poor because the rich will move into the new units, freeing up their old dwellings, which will be occupied by the middle class, who in turn will make their old homes available to the poor.

Filtering really is a thing, and it works in the aggregate. But in any given neighborhood, lower-income renters are right to fear that gentrification will price them out of their home. So they oppose new construction, which only exacerbates the citywide shortage. Case in point: A California Senate bill to allow for denser construction along transportation corridors, backed by the Yimby movement, failed earlier this year over concerns about displacement of the poor.

That’s why making sure everyone benefits is essential. Rent control is anathema to most economists, but if applied only to existing housing, not new units, it can tamp down political opposition to fresh development without discouraging construction. Another effective approach is inclusionary zoning, which guarantees that a certain share of development will be affordable. The trick is not to lay so many requirements on developers that they back out and nothing gets built; not every mayor can afford to be as demanding as Mountain View’s.

Finally, outright construction of public housing can make sense. Does that sound socialist? Consider that more than 80 percent of residents in Singapore, the free-market city-state, live in government-built housing. This year the World Bank praised the food courts in Singaporean housing, known as hawker centers, “where all income classes and ethnicities meet, socialize, play, and dine together.” At least two hawker centers, it said, have a Michelin star.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson has one good idea: to use the lure of HUD dollars to get cities to ease zoning rules and permit more construction. But Carson hasn’t earned the support of advocates for low-income housing because he also wants to scale back an Obama-era rule requiring cities to work toward desegregation, which he once decried as “social engineering.”

Ydanis Rodriguez, 53, can identify with both sides of the Nimby struggle. He was born and raised in the Dominican Republic and moved as a teenager to Inwood, a neighborhood at the northern tip of Manhattan. He became a leader of 2011’s Occupy Wall Street movement. Now a New York City councilman, Rodriguez is a fierce advocate for his low-income constituents, many of whom are fellow Dominicans. When the city announced a plan to upzone Inwood, allowing for taller buildings and more market-rate housing, many of his constituents opposed it, fearing that gentrification would force them out. Rodriguez, controversially, came out in favor of the plan. He argued that it would keep low-income people in Inwood by constructing thousands of units of subsidized housing in addition to market-rate buildings.

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“It hurt,” Rodriguez says of the accusations that he was selling out his own people. But when the upzoning passed the City Council on Aug. 8, he says, “I went to sleep in peace that night.”

The upzoning of New York under a succession of mayors, including Michael Bloomberg (founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, which owns Bloomberg Businessweek) and Bill de Blasio, is evi­dence that a big city can burst the bonds that limit growth. For more evidence, see La Défense in Paris, Canary Wharf in London, Pudong in Shanghai. Growth can be messy, but it’s better than stasis, which pretty much assures that supercities will fall short of their potential. “Arguably,” Harvard economist Edward Glaeser wrote in a Brookings Institution paper last year, “land use controls have a more widespread impact on the lives of ordinary Americans than any other regulation.” The most important policy for cities is to let them grow.

Peter Coy

Mortgage monitor survey detects fall in lending

Fewer mortgages in the United Kingdom are going to first time buyers but overall home purchase lending is continuing to grow, the latest mortgage monitor report shows.

According to Propertywire.com, mortgage approvals increased by 1.5 per cent in July compared to June and were much higher than in both May and April, according to the report from e.surv chartered surveyors.

However, while in recent months first time buyers have been the main beneficiaries of overall market growth, they saw their share of the home lending market fall slightly.

Small deposit borrowers, mostly first time buyers, represented 22.1 per cent of the mortgage market in July, down on the 23.4 per cent recorded in June and the report warns that the effect of the recent Bank of England interest rate rise will be felt in future surveys.

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It explained that base rate increases, and the speculation which surrounds such decisions, often tempts existing home owners into the remortgage market. ‘Looking ahead to future months, the decision to increase the base rate to the highest level since February 2009 will be of interest across the market,’ said Richard Sexton, director at e.surv.

“Many homeowners will look to remortgage immediately while others are likely to take action in September when they receive their new, higher bills,” he added.

There was an increase in the proportion of new mortgages being given to large deposit borrowers, defined by this survey as having a deposit of 60% or more. This type of borrower made up 33.8 per cent of the overall mortgage market in June, up compared to the 32.9% recorded last month.

Meanwhile, mid-market borrowers saw their market share stay broadly the same month on month, representing 44.1 per cent of the total market compared to 43.7 per cent in June.

London continued to be dominated by buyers with large deposits, with more than 40 per cent of all new loans in the city going to this segment of the market during July. In the capital, 42.1 per cent of all loans were to those with a large deposit, higher than anywhere else in the UK.

Additionally, just 11.4 per cent of all mortgages in the capital went to those with small deposits, showing the difficulties first-time buyers have purchasing a property in the city. There was better news elsewhere in the country for young buyers. Of all the UK regions and nations, Northern Ireland saw the biggest percentage market share for small deposit borrowers, with 32.3 per cent of all loans going to this part of the market.

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Close behind was Yorkshire, where 32.1 per cent of all mortgage approvals were to borrowers with small deposits. The North West was the only region to see more loans go to those with small deposits than their large deposit counterparts at 30.9 per cent versus 25.5 per cent.

At the other end of the scale, London was the area with the lowest percentage of first-time buyers and others with small deposits. Other areas to post low percentage figures were the South East, which saw small deposit borrowers take a 16 per cent market share, and the South and South Wales, where this figure was 20.3 per cent.

“While many look at the UK property market as a whole, it really is better viewed as a series of local markets, often with wildly differing characteristics. The London market is once again dominated by those with large deposits or high levels of equity in their existing home, while the North West has more first time buyers and small deposit borrowers,” Sexton explained.


Affordable housing: private initiative to the rescue

With growing population, a lingering housing deficit and government’s continued inability to provide affordable housing in practical sense, a multinational has seized the initiative to provide technical support, materials, and connect  mortgage providers with prospective house owners, among  others. MUYIWA LUCAS reports that the initiative is part of the firm’s global plan, which will benefit 25 million households, with Nigeria benefitting substantially.

It is not a new piece of information that Nigeria’s population is increasing geometrically. But several studies conducted by the United Nations on Nigeria’s population showed that come 2050, there will be 400 million people in Nigeria, is frightening. This projection means that the country would have overtaken the United States (US) in another 32 years from now, as the 3rd most populous country in the world.

In similar vein, the World Bank projected that Nigeria’s population is growing at 2.8 per cent rate yearly, while her per urban population grows at 4.7 per cent as a result of the rise in rural-urban migration. This growth rate is, however, disproportional with staggered attempts at bridging the housing deficit by both the public and private sector in the country.

To experts and other stakeholders in the real estate and construction industry, these studies represent a timely warning for the country’s built environment, especially with regards to providing affordable housing in a country where a deficit of 17 million housing exists. This fear may not be unfounded given that population explosion comes with an attendant need for housing. Stakeholders and policy makers have put Nigeria’s financial requirement to tackle the deficit at N59.5 trillion.

A 2010 report commissioned by EFInA and Finmark Trust, titled: “Overview of Housing Finance Sector in Nigeria”, submitted that 85 per cent of the urban population live in rented accommodation, spending more than 40 per cent of their income on rent. Of these rented houses, 90 per cent are built through self financing by the owner, mainly due to lack of mortgage financing while less than five per cent of these houses have formal title registration.

The lack of an efficient and effective mortgage financing has remained a huge albatross on the country, irrespective of the various government efforts in this direction. This is why only a tenth of the one million homes built yearly, has helped to tackle the deficit over a period of 10 years. Most of these, findings revealed, are by persons who contend with deficient financing, shoddy workmanship and poor building materials, among others.

The low income category seem to be the most hit in Nigeria’s housing debacle. For a Nigerian aspiring to build an affordable home with about N3 million, there are enough challenges to induce headaches, which either frustrate the ambition or force the project to be abandoned. These include access to finance, which is the major source of worry; others are delays in project completion, taking between two to five years; lack of access to qualified building professionals without cut-throat charges as professional fee; mortgages focusing on the high end market; inconsistent quality of building materials; bureaucratic building approval process and the high cost of acquiring land and its tenure issues.

A former Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, Mrs. Akon Eyakenyi, acknowledged that affordable housing delivery for the low and middle income earners cannot be achieved without the provision of incentives to encourage private sector participation.

“To build a house in Nigeria is a very expensive task due to the high cost of building materials. Affordable housing cannot, therefore, be achieved without a drastic reduction in the cost of housing construction and other associated costs, which invariably determine the selling price. Consequently, for affordability to thrive, emphasis must shift to reducing the cost of housing construction to promote access to affordable homes to the vulnerable segment of our national population,” Mrs Eyakenyihad said at a pre-summit meeting on the Nigeria housing and construction summit/expo, in 2014.

She then called on the organised private sector, manufacturing outfits, finance houses and multilateral agencies to support the drive for affordable housing delivery.

Eyakenyi’s call has not fallen on deaf ears, as the private sector has taken up the challenge of housing in the country. This has again made for a silver lining to appear on the horizon for Nigerians desirous of owning their affordable houses.

For instance, Lafarge Africa has put in place an initiative, which it calls “Easy Home”, an innovative affordable housing initiative, which is already providing innovative solutions for the construction, renovation and extension of houses. The scheme is tailored to the local challenges and needs of individual home builders, including Nigerians, who already own their land and want to build. Through the initiative, LafargeHolcim Group, hopes to impact about 25 million people by 2020 and Nigeria is expected to benefit from a significant chunk of the scheme.

Lafarge Africa Head of Affordable Housing initiative, Mr. Aurelien Boyer, explained that if the associated challenges to affordable house ownership are addressed, Nigerians could build more houses faster. This, he said, was what the firm set out to do with the Easy Home scheme. “The whole idea is to provide individuals with free technical expertise and demystify the idea of owning a home. Lafarge Africa provides free cost estimate i.e. Bill of Quantity and designs for prospective builders. We also connect them with sources of finance as well as artisans that will build at the least possible cost without compromising quality,” Boyer explained.

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The Easy Home initiative, which began three years ago, has impacted positively on over 30,000 persons across 14 states of Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Kwara, Ondo, Benin, Osun, Nasarawa, Niger, Cross River, Abia, Akwa Ibom, Rivers and Abuja. Beneficiaries of the scheme include Business people, civil servants and salary earners, who have used “Easy Home’s” menu of free services to build bungalows, duplexes, self-contained apartments, shops, schools, clinics etc.

“The demand for housing outstrips supply in the low-income segment where most live in rented houses. Presently, 5,000 households in mainly urban and peri-urban households earning N20,000 to N300,000 monthly have keyed into the Easy Home scheme. We, as Lafarge, estimates that nine million households can afford to build their property incrementally. Through Easy Home, Lafarge Africa is contributing to the reduction of the national housing deficit and helping to accommodate a large chunk of Nigeria’s population,” Boyer explained.

A consultant architect with a leading construction firm, Mr. Richard Ibilola, has praised the initiative. Easy Home, he said, will have a very significant and positive impact on the spread of good construction practices and the deepen building and construction supervision skills in Nigeria. For him, EasyHome will make it easier for Nigerians to step on the home acquisition ladder because it is designed to take significant initial costs burden away from house owners, and at the same time boosts the development of skills in the ecosystem.

A financial analyst with vast experience in mortgage matters, Mr. Kayode Oyedele, who explained that given the format of the initiative and having had a first hand experience of the scheme as a financial advisor to some beneficiaries, praised the initiators of the scheme. According to him, it is a delight that the Easy Home scheme is changing the perception of mortgage financing and affordable housing schemes in the country.

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“This should be encouraged. More programmes like this will happen in Nigeria only when there’s a mortgage system, which allows for the repayment of loans to acquire houses spread over 15-25 years. Such will give developers and banks an incentive to develop massive residential projects. Regulators will also find it much easier to monitor and punish builders responsible for defects,”Oyedele said.

To many of its beneficiaries, Easy Home is a huge relief. A pharmacist, Mrs.Ejiro Foyinbo, extolled the concept. She said the provision of free technical assistance, links to trusted builders, reliable retailers and qualified artisans, which the scheme afforded her, has helped to maximise her budget.

But this is not Lafarge Africa’sfirst intervention in affordable housing programmes. The firm, in collaboration with the French Development Agency (AFD) and LAPO microfinance, have long invested N1.3 billion to provide affordable housing in the country under its “Ile Irorun” affordable housing initiative, which started in October 2013. It was the firm’s first operation launched in the frame of AFD and Lafarge partnership to improve housing conditions through microfinance in Africa.

The “Ile Irorun”, was intended to enable low-income families to finance the construction, extension or the renovation of their houses and thereby help them improve their living conditions. In all, an estimated 3,500 Nigerians are expected to have benefitted from the programme by end of this year.

In 2015, Lafarge Holcim also unveiled a self-contained studio-flat at its Oregun, Ikeja, Lagos office, as a model for affordable housing for the low and middle income earners. The feat served as the bedrock for the firm’s planned delivery of a 500-unit of low cost housing in Gwagwalada, Abuja. The types being provided in this scheme include two and three-bedroom flats and studio types. Its prices range from N1.5million for studio model, while others are between N4million and N6million.

Stakeholders are convinced that the initiative is capable of bringing succour to the numerous Nigerians, who are daily losing hope of owning houses.


Trump Tweet on South African Land Reform Draws Government’s Fury


South Africa’s government on Thursday criticized a tweet by President Donald Trump in which he said he asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to study efforts to overhaul land ownership and “large scale killing of farmers” in Africa’s most-developed economy.

Mr. Trump’s overnight tweet referenced a report by Fox News host Tucker Carlson attacking the U.S. government’s stance on land reform in South Africa, which he suggested was too lax.

South Africa’s rand fell against the dollar after the tweet, and was 1.3% lower in Thursday morning trade.

The ruling African National Congress has said it plans to change the constitution to explicitly allow the expropriation of land without compensation in an effort to overcome deep inequalities in land ownership the country, which shed white-minority rule in 1994. White South Africans, who make up around 8% of the country’s population, still own 73% of agricultural land, according to estimates from farmers association Agri SA.

“South Africa totally rejects this narrow perception which only seeks to divide our nation and reminds us of our colonial past,” the government said in a message from its official Twitter account Thursday morning. “South Africa will speed up the pace of land reform in a careful and inclusive manner that does not divide our nation.”

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President Cyril Ramaphosa and other ANC officials have said any expropriations would be handled with care to avoid eroding property rights, food security and agricultural production.

Under South African law, land owners would also have the right to challenge any government action to take away land without compensation in court.

So far, agrarian reform has been led by voluntary sales by white farmers and other property owners to the government at market prices under a policy known as “willing seller, willing buyer.”

Mr. Ramaphosa’s spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Mr. Trump’s tweet. But state broadcaster SABC news reported that the government would ask the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria for clarification on the tweet.

The U.S. has had a warm relationship with South Africa, which embraced liberal democracy and free-market policies after the end of apartheid. Last month, former President Barack Obama was the keynote speaker at celebrations of what would have been the 100th birthday of the late Nelson Mandela. But the government in Pretoria has complained about U.S. tariffs on South African steel and aluminum introduced as part of Mr. Trump’s efforts to revive manufacturing at home.

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In a question-and-answer session in Parliament on Wednesday, Mr. Ramaphosa criticized South African interest groups who he said “are going around spreading lies and rumors.”

“Running overseas and saying the ANC is out for land grabs. There is no such thing,” he told lawmakers. “The ANC wants to ensure that there is land reform that is going to lead to the growth of our economy and agricultural growth and if we embrace this approach we are going to restore the dignity of our people.”

Violent attacks on white South African farmers have grabbed headlines in local and foreign media in recent years, prompting protests from farmers and white Afrikaner interest groups. A study released in June by Agri citing police crime statistics said that the number killed on farms has declined over the past 20 years, and reached a low of 47 people killed in 2017/18.

The number of attacks on farms — including crimes such as rape, robbery and causing bodily harm — has increased over the past two years, counting 561 attacks in 2017/18, but is still far off a 2001/02 high of 1,069 attacks.

Gabriele Steinhauser

Water crisis-world Leaders meet in Sweden

World leaders, water, development experts, among other stakeholders are converging on Stockholm, Sweden, to find new, nature-based solutions to meet escalating global water crisis.

In a statement by Jens Berggren, Communications Director, Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) the event would be a wake-up call on the challenges that climate change, economic and population growth, and increasingly unpredictable weather and water patterns impose on global water security.

The 2018 World Water Week will be held from August 26 to 31, under the theme: `Water, Ecosystems and Human Development’, an issue of particular relevance given the past year’s many extreme weather events.

Mr Berggren stated that the event would be a wake-up call on the challenges that climate change, economic and population growth, and increasingly unpredictable weather and water patterns impose on global water security.

“The UN expects that by 2025, 1.8 billion people will suffer from water scarcity, recent weather-related events also underline the critical role ecosystems play for human well-being and existence.

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“Nature-based solutions as effective tools for human development will also be a focus of this year’s theme,’’ she said.

She added that no fewer than 3,300 participants from more than 130 countries will be attending the World Water Week, representing governments, private sector, multilateral organisations, civil society and academia.

Speakers at the opening session on August 27 include Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General United Nations, and the 2018 Stockholm Water Prize Laureates Professors, Mark van Loosdrecht and Bruce Rittmann.

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According to Berggren, group influences decision-makers, facilitates dialogue and builds knowledge in water issues, thereby contributing to a just, prosperous and sustainable future for all.

The World Water Week brings together more than 3,500 participants from more than 130 countries representing governments, private sector, multilateral organizations, civil society and academia to shape joint solutions to global water challenges.


Steady interest rates bring mortgage volume back to life

Mortgage borrowers came back to the table last week to refinance and to purchase homes, after their numbers fell for most of the past month.

Total mortgage application volume rose 4.2 percent last week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s seasonally adjusted report. Volume was still 15 percent lower compared with the same week one year ago.

The gains may be thanks to less volatility in the mortgage market, after wide swings at the start of August. The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($453,100 or less) remained unchanged at 4.81 percent last week, with points decreasing to 0.42 from 0.43 (including the origination fee) for loans with 20 percent downpayments.

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The average rate for jumbo loans, however, did decrease slightly. That may have spurred more refinance activity, as borrowers with larger loans have more to gain from even small drops in rates. Mortgage applications to refinance a home loan increased 6 percent for the week but were still 33 percent lower than a year ago, when interest rates were considerably lower.

The refinance share of mortgage activity increased to 38.7 percent of total applications from 37.6 percent the previous week. The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity increased to 6.5 percent of total applications. Homebuyers tend to favor ARMs when prices are high, because they offer lower interest rates and can be at a fixed rate for up to a decade.

Mortgage applications to purchase a home, which are less rate-sensitive week to week, rose 3 percent from the previous week and were barely 1 percent higher than a year ago. Buyers today are still facing a critical shortage of homes for sale and continued price gains. Home sales, however are strongest on the higher end of the market, so the drop in jumbo loan rates may have helped some buyers get off the fence and into a home.

Purchase application volume is currently below its 2018 average “due to persistent problems of affordability and low inventory,” said Joel Kan, an MBA economist.

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Mortgage rates have not moved at all this week either, making this Tuesday the eighth straight business day with no change.

“During that time, underlying bond markets have improved slightly,” said Matthew Graham, chief operating officer at Mortgage News Daily. “Normally, those improvements would translate to modest improvements in rates, but lenders are waiting for a bigger breakout that, thus far, has failed to materialize.”

Diana Olick



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