• Thursday, June 20, 2024
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On the phenomenon of living in slums amid unoccupied houses  



It is no longer secret that many people in Nigerian cities, especially of Abuja, Lagos, and Port Harcourt, live in shanties in the slum areas of the cities amid many completed private and government housing schemes that are unoccupied. Many factors are said to account for this situation including unaffordability, money laundering, insensitivity of government authorities, among others.


Nigeria has about 17 million housing deficit, according to the United Nations, and it is estimated that Abuja, the federal capital territory with a population of  1,406,239 based on National Population Commission figures, carries 10 percent of this deficit. Business Day survey shows that many houses in housing estates in high-brow areas such as Asokoro, Gwarinpa, Maitama, Wuse II, Utako, Katampe districts, have remained unoccupied for many years after they were completed. The situation is virtually the same in hitherto middle-class areas like Apo, Dei-Dei, Gwarimpa, Lugbe, Kubwa, Gwarimpa, Gudu, Life Camp, and Gaduwa. Completed housing estates litter these areas unoccupied several years after they had been completed.


Lagos too with a population of about 20 million has a housing deficit estimated at 3 million units which requires the state government to build consistently 187,000 housing units annually for the next 15 to 20 years to close that gap. About 30 percent of its population, representing over 900,000 people cannot, on their own, afford homes and therefore, require some form of ‘cheap’ housing with government’s heavy input known as social housing.  Also, over 60 percent of its residents live in rented accommodation. A recent report on the state of housing market in the state notes that the rate of rental default has increased, estimating that 71 percent of Lagosians default in their rent payment while 25 percent of them change residence for reasons bordering mainly on faltering income.


The Lagos Home Ownership Mortgage Scheme (Lagos-HOMS), the vehicle through which the state government intended to drive its mass housing programme, has been tottering in the last 12 months with no new construction, even as existing projects appear to have stalled. Many of the sites and locations of the Lagos-HOMS projects have remained unattended to, with some locked up without any further construction works. One of the sites and the biggest of the housing schemes undertaken by the state government is the 592 housing units Lagos-HOMS Igando project on LASU-Isheri Road, comprising 164 one-bedroom flats, 164 two-bedroom flats and 164 three-bedroom flats which are virtually unoccupied. Business Day learnt that the housing units have been completely save for some that require wiring, fittings, plumbing, and tiling of the floors. It also learnt that although a few of the housing units in this project were won in one of the draws held in the days when the Lagos-HOMS board used to conduct a monthly draw for the houses, the winners never moved in or took possession because  government had been unable to complete the facilities needed in the estate.


Similarly, in Port Harcourt, a sprawling oil city and Rivers state capital, there is a number of housing schemes undertaken by the government, ostensibly to solve the state’s housing problem. However, these schemes appear to have been abandoned or over-priced, forcing many desiring homeowners to move to the outskirts of the city.

The Rainbow Town Housing Estate, a large-scale housing scheme located along Trans-Amadi Industrial Layout, is a case in point. Another case is a housing estate at Mbuoba area of  the city where a semi-detached duplex sells for N30 million and buyers are required to pay 50 percent initial deposit  and pay the balance over a period of two years.


There is the popular view among estate managers and in the streets that most of the completed but unoccupied houses were built with proceeds from corruption and so the owners were not bothered about returns on investments.  In any case, a situation whereby decent houses are overpriced and remained occupied for long periods while the majority of the population live in shanties and slums does not speak well for the country and its social responsibility to its citizens.


We are of the view that the housing demand-supply gap in the country will continue to widen until the government realizes that it has no business in going into direct housing construction, but rather in providing the enabling environment for private sector operators to do the construction. Alternatively, we consider the Lagos rent-to-own home ownership model as a viable option as it has the potential of making home ownership less stressful and expensive for low income earners.


Also, we call on the National Assembly to make laws that will compel government to impose taxes on all unoccupied houses in the cities. The taxes will have the effect of compelling owners of such empty houses to sell or rent them out and by so doing, reduce the number of home seekers in the housing market, and also narrow the gap between housing demand and supply in the country.