Nigeria’s housing deficit continues to rise annually while many cities across the country, particularly Abuja, flaunt empty unaffordable houses, Okechukwu Nnodim reports

Builders and other players in the built environment in Nigeria say the country’s housing deficit has been increasing every year due to the country’s rising population.

Amid the increase in housing deficit, they noted that many Nigerian cities had numerous empty buildings, though most of these buildings were located in high-brow areas.

Abuja, for instance, is identified as a city with the most unaffordable empty houses, far above the reach of millions of residents residing in suburbs who fear being kidnapped by terrorists due to the recent poor security situation in Nigeria.

Last month, a non-political transnational intergovernmental organisation – International Human Rights Commission –decried the growing number of homeless people in Nigeria and put the country’s housing deficit currently at 28 million.

Citing records from the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria, the IHRC stated that the country was plagued with a humongous deficit of about 28 million housing units.

Early this month, The PUNCH exclusively reported that the amount required to fund the housing sector in Nigeria and bridge the estimated 28 million housing deficit across the country was N21tn.

The report cited a document on Nigeria’s housing sector that was put together by the Bank of Industry, BOI, as the bank explained that “with a growing urban population, increasing construction costs, and declining household income, access to affordable housing is becoming more difficult for millions of citizens.”

It stated that while N470bn was what the Federal Government budgeted for housing in 2022, the sector would require trillions of naira to close Nigeria’s housing gap.

Under the Nigerian Housing Market in the BOI report, the bank said, “N21trn (is the) amount required to fund the housing sector,” adding that “28 million units (is the estimated) housing deficit.”

It explained that of the estimated 206 million persons in Nigeria, about 95.1 million lived below poverty line, and as such it was difficult for them to have access to their own homes.

High cost of accommodation

Speaking on why the country’s housing deficit had continued to rise amid numerous empty houses nationwide, the immediate past President, Nigerian Institute of Building, Kunle Awobodu, said, “The number of empty houses in Nigeria, particularly in Abuja, is well known.

“Those houses that are empty are mostly located in high-brow areas. But if you go to the suburbs, there is congestion there because the areas are well populated.

“People leave the suburbs to come and work in the city centre and so obviously the issue has to do with affordability because those in need of accommodation cannot afford those houses that are empty.”

Awobodu stated that a considerable reduction in the amount required as rent for the empty houses would attract a lot of house-seekers.

“If the rents or leases on most of those empty houses are lowered, immediately, they will all be occupied. That’s a fact,” he stated.

The former NIOB president added, “Also is the issue of insecurity. Many people don’t like to stay in suburbs but because their incomes cannot afford accommodation in the city where security is better, they stay in these suburbs.”

On whether it was now justifiable to state that there was a reduction on housing deficit in Nigeria, Awobodu insisted that the deficit had been on the increase.

The Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, had, during an exclusive interview with The PUNCH, argued that there was no basis to conclude that Nigeria’s housing deficit was rising when many completed buildings across the country were empty.

Fashola had said, “It is not possible to determine the actual housing deficit that we have at this moment. The easy way by which we can do that is through a census.

“So, we have already sent questions to the National Population Commission that we want them to collect data for us about those they will be enumerating who are living in their own homes, rented homes or want to buy a house and cannot get one.

“That’s the only way we will have data. So, all of these characters who are giving out figures, ask them to tell where they got their figures from. But despite that, we can be logical. If you drive through this city today, you will see empty houses.”

He added, “There’s no major city in Nigeria that you will drive through and you will not see empty houses. So, even without the numbers, let us just be logical. It is until we have used up those houses that are empty that we can realistically begin to talk about deficits.

“For how can you have buckets full of water in your house and say you have a water shortage? The housing shortages are largely an urban issue. They are not rural.

“Most tenants in urban centres in Nigeria are landlords in the villages and communities, and many of those houses are empty while the owners are here in the cities.

But Awobodu gave an opposite view, as he explained that since the country lacked enough houses to accommodate the multitude of youths leaving the National Youth Service Corps annually, as well as others in various fields, there was a housing deficit in Nigeria.

He said, “Let me give you a simple analysis. Do you know the number of those who complete NYSC annually all over the nation? After your university education and NYSC, you may likely settle down. You are not expected to still be living with your parents.

“So, if you now count the number of those who have completed their NYSC, do we have enough housing units that are commensurate with the number of these graduates? You’ll agree with me that we don’t.

“Now that is a simple analysis and it shows that there is a significant deficit. We are working on it to be able to give a precise figure of the housing deficit in Nigeria. So, definitely we have a deficit based on that analysis.”

The former NIOB president added, “Now, this does not include those who did not go through tertiary institutions. Therefore, we can use that analysis and juxtapose it with the number of housing units being provided annually.”

Possible solutions to deficit

Awobodu stated that constructing low-cost mass housing projects in cities would reduce the country’s housing deficit.

“This brings our attention back to a system where within the city there’s provision for low-cost housing so that those junior staff working in offices in these cities will not have to be staying far away from their workplace,” he stated.

Awobodu added, “This is because such workers will be spending so much on transportation and that is the implication of living far away from your place of work.”

The BOI, in its document on housing sector, stated that some critical areas must be addressed to reposition the housing sector in Nigeria.

It stated that adequate financial intervention in the housing value chain was required to boost development in the sector.

“Increased partnership with the organised private sector is crucial to unlocking opportunities in the real estate market,” the report stated.

It added, “There should be a continuous upgrade of neighbourhoods that are in a state of decay into livable and organised housing facilities and development of low-cost housing that is affordable and accessible to interested home buyers.”

The bank noted that subsidised mortgage rates would be needed, as it stated that Interest rates charged on mortgage should be subsidised to make it more affordable and attractive.

“The process of accessing the National Housing Fund should be made more efficient to improve access to the fund,” the BOI report stated.

It added that there should be “increased awareness of the availability/requirements for accessing the National Housing Fund and access to roads, power, water, etc. are critical to housing development especially for those outside urban areas.

“Accessibility to infrastructure will encourage people to move away from crowded urban centres to developing areas. Adopt digital technologies such as virtual tours, augmented reality, etc, in showcasing properties so as to generate interest in the buyer’s mind.”

It further stated that prospects would be more likely to brighten if property documents were digitised and easily accessible.

The bank added that the government should ensure that all policies concerning NHF home ownership were in line with current realities, and were favourable to interested parties.