Poverty Slows Urban Renewal Initiatives

09 Feb 2013

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Governor  Babatunde Fashola 

Last year, the Lagos and Rivers State Governments respectively directed owners of buildings to put a fresh coat of paint on them and replace rusty corrugated iron roofs with aluminium sheets. Some complied, while others, for purely economic reasons, declined. Experts told BENNETT OGHIFO the directives would be more effective with tax breaks

Lagos State is growing into a mega city and its new stature cannot be complete without positive contributions from its residents, particularly homeowners. Port Harcourt is an oil-rich city that hosts expatriates from Europe, America and Asia and so cannot afford to look decrepit with scruffy and rusty corrugated roofs like that of Ibadan, one of the oldest cities in the country. Almost all cities in the country have buildings with rusted roofs because of the prevalent use of iron roofing in the past. In fact, many parts of Lagos look just like Ibadan.

In these cities like others across the nation, there are buildings that have not been maintained for decades because maintenance is usually the first casualty in an economy where poverty is pervasive. People have always believed that building maintenance can wait. In recent years, this thinking has gotten so pervasive among owners of buildings so much so that it has become fashionable for most owners of new buildings to leave the exterior unpainted for months and years ostensibly for the cement plastering to cure.

Maybe this is true or maybe not since painting like roofing requires a one-off payment unlike plastering or setting of blocks that could be done over a long period. Besides, roofing and painting cost from over half a million naira to well over N5 million, depending on the size of the building and choice of material.

Rivers State Government’s order was directed at all landlords and estate developers in Port Harcourt and its environs, who were asked to immediately replace their roofing sheets with aluminium material or face sanctions. The state government also directed that all private and public buildings in Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor be painted by June this year.

Commissioner of Urban Development, Mr. Osima Ginah, reasoned that “the decision was part of efforts to improve the environment, as government observed that most buildings were fast dilapidating due to poor quality materials used for them previously. Government would take serious action against owners of such buildings.”

All things considered, the directive by both states to homeowners did not seat well with them because of the financial implications. But Lagos State Government’s decision to paint and issue a bill afterwards to the beneficiaries worked magic in most areas, particularly on the Ikorodu Road stretch, which now has more buildings with a new lease of life than rustic ones. Rivers State, on the other hand, attempted to subsidise the re-roofing projects but may have backed down when it looked at the cost to the state treasury.

Funding building maintenance
The building sector has codes that guide its growth as well as ensure that it delivers comfortable services. These codes provide maintenance timelines that facilities managers and landlords are supposed to follow strictly, and because rehabilitation costs money, a funding arrangement is devised to ease the burden on the homeowner. 

“For them to succeed the price of aluminium roofing and paint should be reduced and there should be provisions for home maintenance loans to assist building owners who are either retired or without the financial muscle to revamp their building,” points out Emeka Mbamalu, an engineer in Port Harcourt.

Building maintenance produces enhances the environment and gives it rejuvenated feel. According to an environmentalist, Mr. Paddy Ezeala, the directive would go a long way in inculcating the culture of maintenance of buildings in the country.  “It will enhance the aesthetics of our urban areas and to some extent promote tourism. The state of some buildings in the country is appalling and it is high time something is done to turn this around,” he posited.

People should be made to understand that maintenance of infrastructure, including buildings is a continuous thing. “You don’t hands-off indefinitely once construction is completed. Just as some states observe monthly sanitation exercises, there should be annual or bi-annual evaluation and/or retouching of buildings. This will by extension promote safety and community health.”
According to him, colorful and a well laid out environment promotes mental health and social well being. “It should also be noted that it is not only nicely painted buildings that promote environmental aesthetics. It is a holistic approach and should include well paved streets, good drainage system and general sanitation, which should be centered on the residents and should be imbibed as a culture for it to succeed.” 

He said government’s support for local manufactures of building materials like paints and roofing sheets is a way of promoting decent accommodation for the citizenry. “What should be guarded against is indiscriminate increment in rent by landlords whenever governments give them directives to maintain their buildings. Governments can only do this if they have a firm grip on the regulation of rent and the provision of low cost accommodation for the citizens.” 

But under these harsh economic times, the government has done nothing to cushion its effect on Nigerians, says a financial consultant, Duro Tajudeen-Oba. “Government should be working on improving the capacity of every Nigerian to purchase goods and services by reducing or eliminating tax burdens and this should translate into availability of disposable funds.”

He explains that government could suspend collection of tenement and other forms of taxations and building fines. “We have not seen anything like that because nobody cares about the welfare of the people. Incidentally, these politicians have heard about countries developing and executing stimulus plans to help families cope with the recession but have done absolutely nothing to help. Instead they are making more burdensome demands to beautify the environment. Painting houses and changing roofs are good but to complete the circle, government must provide the enabling financial environment to assist families buy these products.” 

He says at this stage, it is government’s responsibility to rebuild consumer confidence, which he describes as very low. “Suddenly, government’s drive for internally generated revenue has become very high and government officials tend to see everybody on the street as a prey. Government must introduce measures to give the people financial reprieve so they can maintain their homes.”
As things stand, he says state governments should instroduce productive fiscal solutions that target progressive tax relief to put money back into taxpayers’ pockets. “Combined with interest-rate cuts by banks, this is a more effective way of boosting the economy. This fiscal package could flush money into the system and help forestall a vicious cycle of people cutting back on spending because of recession fears which would cause the economy to slow even further.”

An alternative solution, experts advised, is for the federal government to grant tax and duty waivers to manufacturers of building materials, so they can reduce the prices of their goods and make them affordable for the citizenry to procure.  “All these are forms of economic stimulus packages that our government never thinks of,” said one property developer.

Tags: Nigeria, Featured, Business, Babatunde Fashola

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