Inclusionary planning allows developers to build more densely in return for commitments to make more affordable housing available.

Maduka Nweke

Making housing affordable to the teeming population in the housing deficits is a tedious task that glares the government of Nigeria in the face. Government of Nigeria cannot lay claim that it is not aware of the huge housing deficits in the country. The problem has been the will to halt the spending binge in other sectors and see what could be done to salvage the housing sector. A lot of things are open to government in this direction if it really wants to curb the scourge that has remained undaunted. For government to support the creation of affordability in the housing sector, it must unlock the lands whether in the urban or in the rural areas. Land has remained the major factor that raises the cost of building housing in Nigeria. In cities, this cost of land is more noticeable because of demand for land and various things that follow. To reduce the land cost, the best thing cities can do is to make more land available for housing, preferably land that puts poor people near opportunities. Siting affordable housing on the outskirts of town runs the risk of cementing poverty, rather than alleviating it.

How to access opportunities in housing sector

An expert who considered the challenges that face housing relating to land recommends that cities should pursue transit-oriented development (housing built around new lines and stations), open up unused public land, and have policies designed to get development started quicker (like higher taxes for land that sits idle). Inclusionary planning, meanwhile, allows developers to build more densely in return for commitments to make more affordable housing available.

Another factor that is very imperative whenever housing and building is concerned is building materials. Majority of times, when a beginner considers the cost of procuring building materials, he becomes discouraged to continue. In this regards, government needs to regulate price of building materials and liberalise importation of some that are must use but not locally produced. A new report forecasts a growing shortage of reasonably priced housing in the coming decades, based on current migration and income trends. This is owing to the increasing wide gap between the rich and the poor and the desire for the poor to migrate to the city in search of greener pastures. Although, they run to the city, they don’t meet affordable housing instead, what they meet is unaffordable and scarcity. One expert defines affordable as 30 per cent of income, and its 440 million figure includes 200 million existing households in developing countries, 32 million households in advanced economies living in substandard housing, and 100 million households that are finding it hard to meet their costs. On top of that, it expects 106 million households to join the ranks of the stretched by 2025. That has huge implications for society. The report said, for families lacking decent affordable housing, health outcomes are poorer, children do less well in school and tend to drop out earlier, unemployment and under-employment rates are higher, and financial inclusion is lower.

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Of all the building materials, cement in Nigeria is very cardinal and unless the cost of cement is crashed, two things are involved. One is the fact that more people will not be able to build their own houses. The other one is that those who managed to build will be rationing the formula and the solutions which will eventually result in building collapse. So government need to crash the price of cement and give more licenses to other local producers as a way of making it more competitive.

African Organization for Standardisation, at the recent meeting in Nairobi while discussing why so many African buildings collapse, observed that it results when materials in use are not strong enough to withhold the load. The implication is that counterfeit materials constitute more of the building materials used. It has been observed that due to real estate boom, new high-rise buildings are coming up everywhere and there is a huge competition in the sector. In order to stay competitive, the builders are hard-pressed to complete these buildings as early as possible. This has resulted in flouting of various building norms by the builders. Many also employ unskilled workmen and use poor building materials without any proper structural design that ultimately lead to the collapse of the buildings. Unfortunately building collapse are a regular phenomenon in rapidly urbanizing cities of Nigeria. Such accidents often involve buildings in low-income, semi-formal and informal housing sectors. There are indeed gaps in the system that lead to poor construction which need to be addressed at various levels. Most of the illegally constructed buildings are more often than not, likely to be substandard and dangerous. The buildings which are constructed without professional engineering protocols and usually with untrained construction workers are most vulnerable. Another aspect is in the improving of the productivity in the construction industry. This would also help make more housing units available. Here experts recommend standardizing more aspects of home design, and doing more construction off-site then wheeling it into place. “The off-site manufacturing process improves quality and enables the developer to shrink schedules by having parts delivered as needed, rather than waiting for them to be fabricated on site. Also the activities of land speculators help in raising price of houses. When you bought a land for N800,000 and the Omoniles force you to pay extra N300,000 totaling it to N1.1 million, then at the finishing, you calculate all that went into it and that makes the cost skyrocketing. For this to stop, government should keep real surveillance on the activities of land speculators commonly called Omoniles. Location is even more important when choosing a site as the quicker you sell the plots on the better, and the speed of sale can mean the difference between good profits and going out of business.

When you are choosing a site, it is important that you try and anticipate every problem and deal with it before you buy the site. When you come to sell, solicitors are likely to raise the problem. You need to assume that your buyer will choose the most awkward and slowest solicitors in the country. You need to anticipate their every whim and pre-empt their questions. If your lawyer can produce a detailed pack about the property in which you have addressed every problem and found a solution, it will be tempting for the lawyer acting for your plot buyer to rely upon that. Hopefully, he/she will not be able to raise any additional questions as all problems will already have been covered.

Another way affordable housing could be made available for the teeming population that lack accommodation is for government to auction all the estates that are lying unoccupied in the major cities in the country. By doing that, the number of those still looking for accommodation will have reduced drastically. But the failure of government to change the prevailing housing regulations and policies in the country continued to contribute to the growing housing deficits in the nation.

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