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Imperative of a comprehensive housing system

While addressing a news conference in Lagos in January 1980, then President, Alhaji Shehu Aliyu Shagari highlighted his government’s firm commitment to the provision of…

While addressing a news conference in Lagos in January 1980, then President, Alhaji Shehu Aliyu Shagari highlighted his government’s firm commitment to the provision of adequate shelter for the people. For this, the administration embarked on the provision of about 200,000 housing units annually. 

Additionally, when the former Minister of Housing and Environment, Dr. Wahab Dosunmu was interviewed by the Editor of the Magazine “Housing Today” on what was the federal government’s policy on housing, he indicated that it was mainly to ensure that every Nigerian had access to a decent and affordable housing. 

Like the developed countries, for Nigeria to satisfy or at best alleviate to a significant degree its housing problems, there are many hurdles and obstacles to overcome. 

Characteristically, house construction and its provision seem to be in direct conflict with what the economist would expect of the operations of the market forces. For example, building a house costs a lot, and the average consumer needs some form of assistance to satisfy his housing needs. 

The housing market is so fragmented that consumers face different problems in different places. There is less freedom of entry and exit into the market by both the producers and consumers due to the unavailability of housing information and 

housing construction is highly labour intensive and therefore inelastic in supply. i.e. supply does not equally respond to an increase in demand. 

This leads to the markets failure to deliver to those in need; and this failure provides a rationale for some degree of government intervention in the housing sector from the federal down to the local level, and in both the public and private sectors. 

The costly and in-elastic nature of housing, then can be considered as the most serious obstacle to maintaining a stable and massive housing service. I consider inelasticity to be the key word. Let us take a motor vehicle by way of illustration. If the government wishes to supply as many vehicles as possible, it can do so either through the local manufactures or by importing, within a short notice, no matter how costly, as far as the money is available. But in the case of housing, even if the money is ready for use, the local supply can neither be stepped up in such a short notice nor can any importation be made. 

To give the example of Britain’s experience in housing provision; after the two World Wars, the need for a massive housing programme arose and from there began the drive for massive housing. But progress with housing depends on the physical and financial resources available, and on the degree of priority given by the public authority and the building industry. Unfortunately, financial constraints restricted the proportion of the national resource, which could be earmarked for housing whether by private enterprise or the public authorities. Despite all their efforts and various experiments towards solving the problem of housing shortages it was later on found necessary to provide that future progress be planned to limit production to a maximum of 200,000 houses a year. 

The point is that housing provision is not a straight forward task due to the interaction of a number of somewhat incompatible economic, physical and political factors. Only an overall comprehensive system could provide a satisfactory result. The recent publication of the World’s population figures showing that the population of Nigeria has gone up to more than 200 million should obviously provide food for thought to the planners of housing policy. 

The first need towards realising the housing objectives therefore is not new building codes or new industrialised construction system or yet another redistribution of responsibility. Rather, it is political change of heart which happily enough, we are now beginning to experience. 

Essentially, this means a new approach on the part of the housing service. Instead of dealing with applicants alone, all housing organisations should be made to provide a truly local and community service, seeking to establish the overall local needs and assist in meeting these. 

In the housing, as in other fields, there are always new problems in need of redefinition and new approaches to their solutions. As long as our problems are always assumed to be the same as those of previous generations, and as long as their solutions are sought in the well – entrenched remedies of the past, the citizens of our rapidly growing nation will continue to suffer increasing deprivation in housing provision. 

It is important to state at this point, with the strongest possible emphasis, that a comprehensive system of housing administration is called for – and for this reason a reinforcement of the present administration’s line of policy on housing will be most welcome. 

Comprehensive system of housing service based firmly on modern management techniques, which are largely on accord with those commended by the Institute of Housing (I.O.H Britain), involves research, advice and administration as follows: 

Examination of housing conditions of the areas, estimation of demand, including the requirements of special groups such as the age; physically handicapped and the homeless; and the assessment of housing supply including the physical condition of existing dwellings and the size and the scope of the building programmes of all agencies involved; Research required in assessing housing needs to ensure that all available resources are used to the best advantage of the community at large;  Briefing architects to include all the types and mix of dwellings and the social, management and maintenance aspects of layout and design, taking into account community requirements and preferences; Overall responsibility for the local housing programme including development of estates, slum clearance, redevelopment, re-housing and demolition and advice on and management of all housing authority properties, estates and ancillary amenities, temporary accommodation and areas awaiting redevelopment; including assessment of fair rent, rent collection and accounting; recovery of arrears and possession; the establishment of a sound relationship between the tenant and the housing authorities as landlords; and the fostering of good social relationship and community development. 

Others are, allocation of housing accommodation, and the administration of suitable arrangements to facilitate transfer and mutual exchanges between occupiers of all types of accommodation in different parts of the country. 

Repairs and maintenance of Housing Authority dwellings and other estate properties. 

Housing, Welfare and liaison with social services. 

Advice on and the administration of scheme for the sale and purchase of houses, including home loan scheme for purchase, repairs and improvement and administration of housing aid and advice service to individuals, including advice on legal rental matters and other Housing Acts, Landlord and Tenant relationship, house purchase and mortgages, property improvement and resettlements in other areas. This means engaging in a truly public activity, the first requirement of which will be publicity. This means the provision of full information on policies, priorities and procedures on the rights and duties of all those concerned, and on the ways in which further information and advices can be obtained. Publicity however, is not enough. Steps have to be taken to ensure that information and advices reach those who need it. 

Also involved are responsibility for any necessary action in connection with overcrowding, multiple occupation or essential repairs and improvement to residential property whether in public or private ownership; advice on the establishment and assistance to Housing Associations and societies; Liaison between Housing Authorities including New Satellite and Expanded towns, as well as responsibility for encouraging the good management, maintenance and rehabilitation of all housing stock in the area, including coordination of action in both public and privately owned properties. Fostering participation in such matters by tenants and other interested parties. 

Looking at the example of what happened to the Massive Housing Building Programmes in the developed countries and the constraints experienced which handicapped their efforts to a significant extent, it can be pointed out that Massive Housing Building alone by the Public Authorities cannot save Nigeria’s great housing needs. 

The comprehensive way – taking the overall responsibility in both public and private sectors – will seem to be the best, although not the obsolete, solution. The issue is just a matter of political will; and now that the will is there as demonstrated by the fact that housing is prominent in the scale of priorities of the Federal Government, this is an opportunity that must not be missed by all parties having an interest in housing to devise a comprehensive system of housing services. 

 

Waisu is of the firm of Estate Surveyors/Valuers, Messrs DOGONDAJI SHEHU & CO, Katsina Branch Office. 

 

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