• Sunday, May 19, 2024
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COVID-19: Group canvasses assistance from operators for homeless, vulnerable Nigerians

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Housing Development Advocacy Network (HDAN), a non-profit, non-governmental organization at the forefront of championing increased homeownership in Nigeria, has pointed the way forward for both public and private sector operators on how they can assist homeless and vulnerable Nigerians who are the hardest-hit by the ravaging impact of coronavirus pandemic.

The network notes that the lockdown of  Nigeria’s two major cities, Lagos and the federal capital city (FCT) Abuja as well as Ogun State, has exposed the sub-human and deplorable conditions in which some Nigerians live and eke out a living.

The federal government, as part of measures to contain and curtail further spread of the dreaded virus, locked down the three cities, restricting movements and ordering the residents to stay at home.

“This is a commendable move by the government to reduce the risk of more people contracting the disease. But there are many Nigerians who live under bridges, in slums and uncompleted buildings. To this class of Nigerians, the sit-at-home order means next to nothing,” noted Festus Adebayo, the Network’s president, in a statement obtained by BusinessDay.

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Adebayo urged the authorities of Lagos State and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT)  to open a homeless people’s register, especially for those of them that live in shanties or are squatting in heavily congested rooms in very poor living conditions.

He also called on religious bodies to collaborate with public sector authorities to enable the provision of up to six months of free accommodation for the most affected persons this period, even if they are temporary arrangements.

‘’We commend what the private sector is currently doing but we cannot afford to ignore the homeless in our cities. There are many vacant houses owned by private developers. These houses can become temporary dwellings for homeless people. They should be allowed to have access to them, even if it will require government or religious bodies paying for those houses,” he said.

‘’At this crucial time, we call on the government to roll out palliatives in the area of rent and mortgage payment obligations, downward review of interest rates, etc. Occupiers of mortgage houses might lose them at this time if nothing is done by the government to support them,”  he said.

He also recommended a break in mortgage payment while interests are also reviewed downwards. Even those who are living in mortgage-backed houses might lose them at this time if nothing is done by the government to support them”, he said.

The Network canvassed a policy from the government that will address subscribers’ struggle for NHF loan, especially civil servants. With the national lockdown, a few months break from the payment of the loans will help the subscribers use their lean resources to cater for their families.

Adebayo is worried that housing situation is so grim in a country of 200 million people, pointing out that over 50 per cent of Nigerians live in slums and make-shift shanties where the living condition is below minimum standards. “Slums make it easy for the spread of diseases,” he said.

He noted that the housing situation is even more worrisome in the northern part of Nigeria where millions of people are displaced by Boko Haram while others are living in poorly set-up IDP camps across the country.

” If the country must fight the spread of this virus, it must quickly make arrangements for these people,” he advised, adding that besides providing shelter,  there is also need for free meals for those at home, else they will be forced out of their homes in search of food.

The president urged the government to incorporate housing sector bodies like Federal Housing Authority, Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria, Nigeria Mortgage Refinance Company, Family Homes Funds and others into the Pandemic Act to enable them to actively participate in fashioning out creative ways to salvage the homeless situation.

The  Act, he said,  should of necessity include the suspension of utility fees collection like water and electricity and, where possible, free rents on government housing as part of immediate solutions.
He commended federal government’s decision to continue with its unconditional cash transfers to the poorest of the poor but advised that there should be due diligence so that those items will get to those who truly need them.

The HDAN president is also worried that after critically evaluating the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) economic intervention policies at this time of coronavirus, his Network observed lack of provision for the real estate sector which is a very critical sector of the economy.

“This is not right because many of the people we are asking to stay at home don’t even have homes. Many real estate developers and mortgage banks are operating based on loans and the government should intervene in that respect.

Adebayo hopes that the impact of the pandemic should offer the government an opportunity to really think about housing in Nigeria. He recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari, in 2016, promised to build 1 million homes a year to address the housing deficit, but lamented that the situation has remained the same.

CHUKA UROKO