With a growing urban population, increasing construction costs, and declining household income, access to affordable housing is becoming more difficult for millions of residents in Nigeria, especially in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
In Abuja, housing has remained a massive challenge for residents, where many people battle homelessness.
Statistics have shown that there are over 17 million housing deficits in Nigeria and the FCT alone accounts for 10 per cent of the 17 million.
Sadly, at a time when many Nigerians have no roof over their heads, many mansions dot the landscape of the territory uninhabited.
The houses, which have been completed but remain unoccupied, are scattered across some districts, many of which are located in private housing estates.
While many factors have contributed to the ugly trend, LEADERSHIP Weekend gathered that the high cost of rent was a major challenge heralding housing deficit in Abuja, which has left many houses in the city unoccupied, with many residents living in slums, or worse, homeless.
Findings show that housing has become one of the hardest problems to solve in the world and Nigeria in particular, especially when the government pays lip service to the menace.
The fact that Abuja is witnessing a huge influx of people into the city on a daily or yearly basis, creating huge housing challenges cannot be overemphasised.
There is a large difficulty in getting rental accommodation in the city as the prices are so exorbitant that low-income earners cannot afford them.
Experts argued that the major reason behind this was the cost of buying land in the city, skyrocketing increase in the cost of building materials, inflation, and many others.
To recoup their investments, landlords have made rent very high.
The high rent in the city centre has forced many residents to migrate to perceived less expensive areas such as Suleja, Madalla in Niger State, and Mararaba in Nasarawa State among other such places.
Speaking with LEADERSHIP Weekend, the project manager, Amore Homes, Mu’azu Umar, said that it will be difficult to provide affordable houses for Nigerians.
The reason, according to him, is the cost of living and building materials which he described as worrisome.
Umar noted that there is an increase in the dollar rate starting from last year till date, and has affected almost every business in the country.
“Before you start building a project, you will consider the price of cement, sand, stone, blocks, iron, and all that. So once there is an increase in the dollar rate, it affects all of these things, and once it affects them it will definitely affect the production.
“If you are building and the cost of building materials increases, you will want to increase the rent of the house, so that you can recoup your investment.
“So as a developer, after building a house, you put the house up for sale and you expect to get profit, not loss,” he said.
He called on the government to come out with policies that would help to address these challenges and regulate prices.
According to him, it is the rise in the dollar rate that is causing the cost of building materials to rise, but if there is a policy that will address this, then there will be affordable houses for Nigerians.
A trader in Lugbe Abuja, Mr Solomon Ibrahim, said that the high cost of renting an apartment in an estate is high.
“This is because before you can build a house, you must spend a lot of money. Just look at how much is cement and a bundle of zinc, adding that almost everything about building materials had increased in cost.
According to him, the cost of building materials constitutes about 65 per cent of the total construction cost.
“Invariably, building materials form the main factors that restrict the supply of housing. Having said that, it has been observed that one main barrier to the realisation of effective housing in Nigeria, as revealed in successive government efforts, has been the cost of housing in the country,” he added.
The director general, Wizpro Research Institute, Abuja, Adams Ayo said there are a lot of unoccupied houses in Abuja because the rent of such houses is not affordable.
This may be because of the high cost of building these houses, he said.
According to him, “Some of them even borrow money from banks at very high-interest rates, and the only way that developers can get back their investment is by charging high rents.
“Some houses are empty because the owners of these houses are politicians diverting this money to build these houses. So once this property becomes his or her own and he is still making money from other sources, he or she will not really care about the properties, and the properties will remain unoccupied for years.
“I strongly believe that the owners of these houses do not use their own hard-earned money to build these houses because if they use it, they will not abandon them at the level they are now.
“Another thing is that some of them borrowed money from the banks and used this money to build houses hoping that they would be able to refund their money and pay the banks, but unfortunately because the cost of occupying them is high and they begin to default on the payment from the banks, the banks will seize them.
“Some of it is because the source of their income in building these houses dried out before they could complete the structures. Maybe it could be the change of government, change of position in the office and they could not meet up, and left the buildings to be that way.”
He said most of the time it is not the owner of the estate that owns all the houses in the estate.
“So somebody will come and buy land and you give him the pattern that you want him to follow and along the line no money to finish the structure,” he said.
Ayo suggested that the government needs to weigh in because when things are good it is for the country’s advantage but when things are going bad the government takes the pressure.
“So what should the government do to sort out these problems? All the government needs to do is to enact policies concerning land and structure management.
“Government should buy over these structures and possibly at a rate that could determine the law at the appropriate rate and allow all these houses to be occupied at a lower rate so that people can afford them but if there is no enabling law whatever the government does can be assumed to be illegal,” he added.
He also called on the government to take a census of these houses to ascertain the owners of these houses.
On his part, an Estate Developer, Godwin Dauda said, “most of those houses are owned by top ranking civil servants and politicians. Most of them have some of my colleagues fronting for them. You won’t be surprised to hear that some of these property owners have long forgotten that a few of their houses are left unoccupied.”
“The outrageous fees often charged by property owners is also a contributory factor. The fees are just too high to afford. I think the government has a lot to check this development.
“Some of these houses are presently occupied by rodents and reptiles. They prefer to leave them unoccupied than to lease them out for fees below their target. They don’t just care about anyone.
“Possibly, the system, through its relevant departments in the housing sector, should come up with workable legislation that will help in checking the excesses of property owners in the country. Apart from Lagos, there is hardly a state in Nigeria that has an existing housing policy that seeks to regulate the activities of landlords in the country.”
Recently the minister of Works and Housing Babatunde Raji Fashola SAN, declared that the collection of two to three years rent in advance by property owners was causing more harm than good to Nigeria’s economy.
Fashola, who intensified the push for monthly rent payments across the country, charged state governments to look at ways to make the payment of rent easier and more comfortable for both tenants and landlords.
The minister who spoke at the 2022 National Council Meeting on Lands, Housing and Urban Development, the 11th in the series, which was held in Sokoto, conceded that the majority of the houses belong to the private sector and they expect legitimate income from rent for the properties.
“However, I hold a strong view that asking for two to three years rent in advance from working-class people (as distinct from corporate tenants who may prefer to pay in advance) does more harm than good to all concerned and the economy.
“Interestingly, rent is a matter over which the federal government has no constitutional authority because it is a local matter and rightly so.
“But I use the platform of this meeting to challenge and provoke all state representatives to thoughts and action about how we can make the payment of rent easier and comfortable for both tenants and landlords.”
This, according to the former Lagos State governor, would be a most revolutionary intervention when working-class people could pay their rent when they received their salaries.
Fashola told delegates at the meeting that at the Federal Government level, “we have introduced Rent-to-Own into our acquisition/sale model for the disposal of the houses in the National Housing Programme.”