I was scrolling through Twitter one evening when I saw an advertisement for a vacant house. It was called a studio apartment. The room had a 7×7 bed placed at the far right of the room. Adjacent to this bed is the door to a restroom, to the left is a small sofa and a table. On the wall, a tiny painting sat solemnly. Directly in front of the bed was something like a kitchen; a slab that had a sink and a tap on it, and a two-burner gas cooker. There was no demarcation of any sort between the bed and this ‘kitchen’. This room cost a whopping N2.1million per annum.

The comments killed me:

Is the bedroom in the kitchen, or is the kitchen in the bedroom?

2.1m to dey smell like fufu to office

At least you can be on your bed watching a movie while using one eye to check if your dodo is burning.

Here’s the crux of the matter: a working-class family cannot rent such an apartment, because, obviously, it’s too small. That apartment is best suited for a young ‘working class’ Nigerian – in this case, Lagosian – who doesn’t need much space and can live in a self-con apartment. But there are many questions to be asked: how many young Nigerians are willing to pay N2.1million for an apartment that has a gas cooker next to a bed? How many young Nigerians even have  N2.1million to spare? How many Nigerians earn up to N2.1million in a year? Why should such an apartment cost  N2.1million in the first place?

Many people who are house hunting can relate to this: you see a slice of room with a tiny kitchen and a toilet that is almost abysmal. You don’t like it but you feel you can manage it. Then you ask how much it cost and boom – 800,000 per annum, 200,000 for service charge, 100,000 – agent fee, 100,000 for caution. Total package: N1.2million.

The more affordable houses are in suburban areas but imagine working in Lekki and your house is in a place like Agbele or Ijede (in Ikorodu). Before getting to the main town, you’d have spent one hour on the road and about 500 Naira. Then you start finding your way to Lekki from there. In the end, you’re spending about N3,000 on transportation daily and 8-10 hours on the road, to and fro.

Do We Have a Housing Crisis in the World?

Many young Nigerians cannot rent good apartments, neither can we build houses. And this is not limited to Nigeria alone. In many African countries, young people are migrating from rural to urban areas, hoping to secure better employment opportunities. But housing is a major challenge. From Kenya to Uganda, to Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, and other countries, many Africans are complaining about how difficult it is to get budget-friendly and equally habitable apartments. For many young Africans, rent is either too expensive or hard to maintain, mainly because the earning power is much weaker and the houses are too costly.

In 2017, the Bureau of Public Service Reform (BPSR) warned that Nigeria was facing a housing deficit crisis as it was estimated that 108 million Nigerians were technically homeless. According to Bloomberg, only 50,000 Nigerians had housing finance as of 2018.

As of 2020, Ghana had a housing deficit of about 2 million. In Ethiopia, it is reported that only 30% of the current housing stock is in fair condition, with the remaining 70% in need of total replacement. There is a housing deficit of 2 million units in Kenya as the annual demand for accommodation is about 250,000 units but there’s a supply of only 50,000 units annually.

It is not only in Africa. A recent survey revealed that of 200 cities polled around the globe, 90% were considered unaffordable when applying the widely-used standard of average house prices being more than three-times median income, according to weforum. WSJ also reports that cities around the world, from New York to London to Stockholm to Sydney, are struggling to solve the growing affordable housing crises. In February 2021, CNBC reported that in the United States, there’s a shortage of about 7 million affordable homes for a nation that has about 11 million extremely low-income families. Migration, population increase, high cost of land, defective land tenure systems, archaic land use act, lack of project continuation due to change of government, and so on, are a few of the causes of this housing crisis.

The answer is clear: There’s a housing crisis in the world.

What Can We Do?

To mitigate the increasing housing deficit in the world, we must make housing a social service – directed, most especially, to low-income earners. Shelter – like food – is a fundamental human right, this means that whether you are earning in tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands, you must have a place to live. It is your right.

In the past, we had low-cost housing schemes and housing estates built by the government to allow any person with the means to get a house on a mortgage, but with our growing population, it is clear that we haven’t built enough homes to keep up. The mortgage system in Nigeria is under-utilised with claims that the mortgage lending rate is about the highest in the world. For BusinessDay, Endurance Okafor writes that mortgage interest rates in Nigeria range between 7-10 percent for Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN) and between 15-25 percent for commercial mortgage institutions. Perhaps if the mortgage rates were more considerate, more Nigerians would be encouraged to get loans to build/buy their homes.

We also need to look into creating functional regulatory frameworks to make housing affordable and accessible for young people; there is no reason why a room self-contain should cost N2.1million.

One of the leading causes of homelessness in Nigeria is harmful government policies. Many times, residents have been displaced from their homes without any provision for their accommodation. For Premium Times, Oladeinde Olawoyin writes that residents of Otodo Gbame were violently evicted on the midnight of April 9, 2017, when the police and unidentified armed men invaded the community with bulldozers and chased residents with gunfire and teargas, setting their homes on fire afterward. Fisherman Dosu Francis told BBC News that since his family was evicted from Otodo Gbame, he had been sleeping, with his wife and one of his sons, in a small shed that is used for smoking fish in Makoko. In 2020, the same thing happened in Tarkwa Bay. In building a megacity, many more people are displaced and homelessness increases. ‘Luxury’ houses do not solve housing deficits.

We can also learn from the efforts made by other countries:

In Australia, the state government of New South Wales is partnering with the private sector, NGOs, and community housing groups to develop or renovate 23,000 social housing units in neighbourhoods that need renewal, along with 500 affordable and 40,000 private dwellings. Proceeds are reinvested in social housing, community facilities, and public space.

Los Angeles passed a law allowing motels to be converted into “permanent supportive housing” for the homeless, regardless of current zoning requirements. In Australia, more than 100,000 homes were said to lie vacant in Melbourne and Sydney, while locals struggled with affordability. But as of January 2018, a 1% tax was introduced for every house that was left empty in Melbourne for 6 months. Paris also increased its annual surcharge for owners who keep properties empty.

We must begin to consider repurposing vacant properties in Nigeria. There are many unoccupied homes in cities, especially in Lagos and Abuja. Acting Managing Director, Abuja Property Development Company (APDC), Lawal Aliyu Magaji said there is a need for government to introduce an effective property tax system to address the growing number of vacant houses.

Another way to solve this housing deficit is to fix other infrastructure. For instance, if transportation is made easier in Lagos State, more people will conveniently live in the suburbs while commuting to their place of work without having to spend thousands of Naira daily or staying up to 10 hours in traffic to and fro.

But, of course, all these cannot be achieved if there is no strong political will.

Nigeria’s current population stands at 209,840,702 and about 62 percent are below 25 years of age. If we plan to get the most out of our youths – who are the present and the future of the nation – then we must start thinking of making life comfortable for them all.

 

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Photo by McBarth™ Obeya from Pexels

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