THE FUTURE OF HOUSING IN NIGERIA AND 5O YEARS OF FHA: A CALL TO ACTION FOR POLITICAL LEADERS AND POLICY MAKERS FOR DECENT AND AFFORDABLE HOUSING BEING THE TEXT OF THE KEYNOTE ADDRESS AS SPECIAL GUEST AT THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF FEDERAL HOUSING AUTHORITY ON 23RD NOVEMBER 2023
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am sure many of us are familiar with the expression: “Time will tell.”
I am also fairly certain that many of us have used that expression at one time or the other, but I wonder how many of us have ever paused to fully reflect on the full meaning and vast ramifications of that expression.
Truly time does tell, and that is why we gather today to commemorate 50 years of the creation of the Federal Housing Authority (FHA), whose story, challenges and successes are embedded in the womb of time.
Time now tells us that the FHA was created by law which came into effect on 1stOctober 1973 with the functions of the Authority being:
(a) The preparation and submission from time to time to the Government of proposal for national Housing programmes;
(b) The making of recommendations to the Government on such aspects of urban and regional planning, transportation, communications, electric power, sewage and water supply development as may be relevant to the successful execution of housing programmes approved by the Government; and
(c) The execution of such housing programmes as may be approved by the Government.
Time does tell us that this was in 1973, when Nigeria was not a democracy and was therefore governed by the military who combined executive and law-making functions.
Looking back over 50 years from 1973, time has a lot to tell us about FHA.
Time tells us about FESTAC town and Gwarimpa, the two largest housing projects successfully executed by FHA, that earned her the reputation of a credible and reliable housing provider and lately, time tells us about Zuba Housing Estate recently delivered in May 2023.
Time tells us about other estates that have been developed by the FHA across various parts of Nigeria and reminds us that in the right hands, with the right support, leadership and resources FHA has developed a brand worthy of propagation and an ability to deliver housing if the right things are done.
Time tells us that FESTAC town and Gwarimpa are in urgent need of restoration, rehabilitation and sustained maintenance.
Time now tells us that FHA’s statutory functions must expand beyond planning and building, and extend to maintenance in order to preserve the value of the brand.
With some of the conversions and distortions of plans in some FHA estates time tells us that FHA must evolve new methods of enforcing compliance and must constantly review plans in her estates to adapt them to growing needs and respond to the dynamism of town planning.
By doing so, FHA can take control and drive user changes and planning modifications instead of reacting to them.
Time tells us that 5 (FIVE) years after the creation of the FHA, the Land Use Act was enacted which vested controls of land in state governments and that since 1999 till date, democracy has taken very firm root in Nigeria.
Time tells us that FHA has worked with the military and with civilian governments and that FHA needs to strengthen its civil interaction abilities to optimise its purpose in a democratic and participatory government, including its interactions with state governments to facilitate access to land, a resource that is critical to FHA’s ability to deliver its core mandate.
Time has certainly told us a lot about FHA from what I have shared so far, but this is just a very brief portion of what remains buried in the womb of time about FHA.
However, it seems that this anniversary should be an opportunity to look forward and to ask what the next 50 years holds in stock for FHA? I do not know the answer, but I am certain that time will tell; And in order for time to tell positive stories about FHA in 50 years from now and beyond, I venture to offer some suggestions.
My suggestions will broach areas like financing, housing types, affordability, people participation, and maintenance to mention a few.
Let me begin on the financing front by commending the supervising ministry of FHA, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, the Honourable Minister and the Honourable Minister of State for the theme that that they have chosen for the recent 12th meeting of National Council on Housing and Urban development namely: “Harnessing local international credit schemes as a panacea for housing infrastructure developments under the Renewed Hope Agenda.”
I commend them because in my view the choice of the theme demonstrates a consciousness about one of the problems in housing delivery which is how to pay for the construction in a sustainable way.
Perhaps, unknown to members of the public, the resources available for housing at the federal level are insignificant and not proportionate to the expectation.
I therefore not only hope, but I also expect that there will be deliberate follow-ups on the theme of the National Council, with the objective of ensuring that commensurate and substantial funding is available for housing delivery generally and to FHA and allied agencies particularly.
As far as FHA is concerned, I will repeat publicly my advice to them when I was the Minister for Housing supervising the authority; namely that they are owners of very large estates, and vast tracts of land which are very valuable assets upon which financing can be raised.
Let me be clear, that I am not suggesting the disposal of these assets for cash.
On the contrary, I hold the view that if I these assets are properly valued, titled and managed they can unlock vast financial resources for FHA to build more estates, sell or mortgage them, recoup the outlay, pay off any debts, and make profit.
In this way, FHA can become a proper business run on very strict corporate governance principles that conform with global best practice and this will be consistent with previous attempts to commercialise or privatise the authority.
It is a long and I daresay painful process which must start from within FHA and which will require some external professional support, but which I firmly believe can be done.
If private organisations are buying land at open market value, building on them and scaling for profit, nothing stops FHA which already owns vast acreages of land from competing successfully in this space except FHA herself.
Of course, there is no doubt the FHA can build. She has demonstrated that ability beyond debate in some of the schemes like FESTAC, Gwarimpa, Zuba, that I have mentioned, and in places like Guzape and others such as Bwari still under development.
The question is whether FHA can successfully sell and this leads to questions of corporate governance and the role of public officers in the sale and acquisition of FHA houses on one hand, and the type of houses that FHA chooses to build on the other hand.
Speaking on the latter issue of type of housing in relation to whether FHA can successfully sell, my suggestion is that FHA should recognise that the market demand is probably dominated by those in the age bracket of around 25 to 35 years and it would be helpful for FHA to conduct a highly professional survey of what their needs are before designing and building.
This is very instructive with the abundant evidence of empty and unoccupied houses, partly accounted for by the fact that they are no longer fit for purpose and market based on design.
The other survey that I would advocate is the payment mode that this category of potential buyers will opt for and to urge FHA to factor in digital platforms for advertising, sale, and payment because this is the language of this class of buyers. If FHA expects these class of buyers to come to their offices to come and collect forms to buy houses and go through some of the ancient red tape that time has tied away for FHA, then there is a risk to success.
Before I leave housing type, let me suggest to FHA, another possible source of revenue by investments in Airbnb housing types for sale and rent to their potential largest market group who are very mobile and in need of these type of housing.
As far as affordability issue is concerned my views remain unchanged and unchanging because not much has changed.
Housing is a product that must respond to the realities of the economy such as demand and supply, inflation, interest rates and exchange rates.
Therefore, while there is scope to reduce cost of housing delivery by research, materials innovation, affordability is a two-way street not a one-way one.
In the first part it is influenced by how much the house is built for, also how it is paid for.
The cheapest house can be unaffordable to the income group it is built for if it has to be paid for at once while the most expensive house can become affordable if payment is spread over a reasonable time.
The Lagos Homs housing programme which I superintended as Governor, delivering 200 units of housing monthly for three years with a 10-year single digit mortgage payment, had no affordability issues for the income bracket it was built for.
More recent efforts with the National Housing Programme across 35 states of the country when I served as Minister of Housing, with mortgage funding by the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria are examples that I believe that FHA can review and improve upon.
Before I leave the issue of affordability, permit me to once again talk about rent.
The sad but painful truth is that not everybody will be able to afford to buy a house; but I strongly believe that rental housing for all is possible, not only based on how we build but also how people pay rent.
Homelessness is the most undignifying experience for a human being and must be confronted with the necessary resolve by political leaders and policymakers.
Therefore, our housing policy must focus on rental as it focuses on ownership. Consequently, rent to own initiatives that started in the last administration must not be allowed to die.
Instead, there is scope in my view for improvement in expanding rent to own schemes at Federal and State levels, and also increasing advocacy for state legislators to make laws that make the payment of rent convenient and convergent with wages and salaries.
One of the pillars of President Tinubu’s economic policy is the creation of credit to finance basic needs. He started with the student loan policy on education, and it is my view that this ministry can deepen the expectation of Renewed Hope by leading the advocacy with states to end the era of 2-3 years rent payment in advance. It is the antithesis of affordability.
My final intervention will be on maintenance. Nothing built by man lasts forever, but restoration, repairs and maintenance certainly help to preserve, not only design life of buildings, but their utility, value and liveability.
An Executive Order Number 11 for National Infrastructure maintenance was signed on Wednesday 6th April 2022 in the last administration.
FHA can leverage on it to preserve the value of all her assets and to create sustainable jobs for artisans and professionals who run small businesses.
Going forward, all FHA estates must incorporate maintenance contracts, paid for by occupiers to cover painting, repairs, restoration, waste management, water supply and power supply to mention a few.
Ladies and gentlemen, as you can all perceive there is a lot for me to unpack, this is a matter about which I am passionate, but if I continue…time will tell.
Let me therefore conclude by wishing the FHA hearty felicitations on this Golden Jubilee and hoping that in the next 50 years, time will tell a good story about FHA and its outstanding successes on the provision of decent and affordable housing.
Thank you for listening.
Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN
Thursday 23rd November 2023