Social Housing in Nigeria

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L-R: Chairman, River Park Estate, Mr Paul Odili; former President Olusegun Obasanjo; and National Chairman, All Progressives Congress, Chief John Odigie Oyegun, at the inauguration of River Park Estate, Abuja... recently

Wole Aboderin

Housing is one of the basic needs of man borne out of his desire for security, privacy and protection from negative impacts of the environment. From the view point of built environment, housing plays an important role in the enhancement of human health, social and economic welfare of the society. In the social life of every Nigerian, home ownership boosts one’s status in the society (Nubi, 2008). Inspite of numerous efforts by successive Nigerian governments and even the private sector to tackle housing challenges in the country, the residential housing problems seem to escalate beyond solution.

Housing problems in Nigeria are further amplified by difficulty of access to land, out of reach home ownership systems; continued increase in private rents amongst others. Social housing has thus been described as the only genuine means of providing affordable accommodation for the populace.

Social housing is an umbrella term used to refer to rental housing which may be owned and managed by the state, by non-profit organisations, or by a combination of the two, usually with the aim of making it affordable. Social housing may also be referred to as a public housing which may be a form of housing tenure in which the property is owned by a government authority, be it Central, State or Local Government Authority. When you talk about social housing for the masses, the words that come to mind are cheap, affordable, non-profit driven, mass produced houses that could be occupied by low income earners, who may wish to save towards eventually buying such houses over time.
Generally, social housing deals with housing solutions that are priced and financed in a way that ensures low-income occupants could satisfy their other basic needs. Even though the scarcity of affordable housing affects all segments of society, it is notably low-income earners who are most affected. The Nigerian urban housing market primarily targets high income earners and thus leaves large parts of the Nigerian population excluded from formal housing provision. In general, low-income households face a number of barriers such as weak individual purchasing power; lack of access to housing finance; unavailable complementary goods, such as land and infrastructure; and insufficient housing supply required to meet the actual demand of the urban poor.

The concept of social housing…
According to Van Dyk (1995), the term “social housing” is often used to refer to assisted housing owned by the government, non-profit and cooperative housing organisations. Social housing in this context is described by the Productivity Commission (Tunstall, Lupton et al. 2011) as ‘below-market rental housing for people on low incomes and for those with special needs. It is highly subsidized, and rent is determined by tenant income (generally set at 25 or 30 % of household income)’ (Yates, 2013). Alexandra (2008) further described social housing as all forms of housing developed under various government subsidy programs in both private and public sectors.

The creation and provision of social housing is towards ensuring housing affordability. Affordable housing is therefore defined as housing which costs no more than 30 percent of the income of the occupant household. This is the generally accepted definition of housing affordability.

Social housing delivery is therefore housing delivery that not only provide good quality and affordable housing, but allocates it benefit equitably between the rich and the poor. Regenerates the environment rather than destroying it. Also, it empowers the poor to have access to decent homes at affordable cost rather than mitigating or excluding them. In sum, it can be described as housing delivery system which gives priority to the disadvantaged groups, enlarging their housing choice and opportunities and given them a say in decisions that affect their housing needs and lives (Agbola and Alabi, 2000). In other words, it is a strategy that is pro-poor and pro-environment.

Types of social housing…
There are various types of social housing which includes: Social Rental Housing; Affordable Rental Housing; Intermediate Tenures and Shared ownership.

Social Rented Housing…
In the developed countries, social rented homes are owned by either local authorities or registered providers of affordable housing (RP’s). These organisations charge a rent which is set by government guidelines through the national rent regime. These rents are typically quite low and are generally affordable to many people. Occupants either earn a low wage or household income and tend to receive assistance from housing benefit. The amount of housing benefit or local housing allowance (LHA) received usually covers the costs of the rent.

Affordable rented housing
Affordable rent is subject to rent controls that require a rent of no more than 80% of the local market rent (including service charges, where applicable). As local market rents vary from place to place, these are measured by the amount of local housing allowance administered in a particular area.

Intermediate tenures…
The term ‘intermediate housing’ describes a range of homes for sale and rent provided at a cost above social rent, but below market levels subject to the criteria in the National Planning Policy Framework’s affordable housing definition above. These can include shared equity (shared ownership and equity loans), and intermediate rent.
Homes that do not meet the National Planning Policy Framework definition of affordable housing such as ‘low cost market’ housing, may not be considered as affordable housing for planning purposes.

Shared ownership…
An occupier will typically buy/mortgage a share of the new build property from a Housing Association. The Association keeps ownership of the remaining share and the occupier will pay rent on this share, as he or she would to any other landlord.

Road-map to an effective social housing…
As governments seek more cost-efficient ways to invest in affordable housing, it will be important that housing needs are met through a variety of strategies for people right across the affordability continuum. This will also be true for the community housing sector. Despite the trend towards the commercialisation of the sector, subsidies will still be required, and support from the government will still be necessary, even if direct housing provision ends (Yates 2013).

The Government has three main roles in relation to provision of social housing: Helping to create the right conditions for a stable and sustainable housing market that supports economic growth and prosperity; Providing support for individuals and families to access housing, particularly the most vulnerable in society; and Setting minimum standards for the quality of new and existing homes and for how rented housing is managed.

The strategy also envisaged housing playing a fourth role in driving regeneration within communities, particularly those suffering from blight and population decline.

Furthermore, various actions could be taken by the government towards the provision of social housing for the populace through the following ways; Ensuring access to decent, affordable, sustainable homes across all tenures; Help create the right conditions for a stable and sustainable housing market that supports economic growth and prosperity; Increase access to affordable housing; Develop further innovation in the funding of new social housing and make public funding work harder to increase supply; Maintain pathways into affordable housing for social housing tenants; Make the private rented sector a more attractive housing option by improving standards; Improve regulation of houses in multiple occupation; Improve the minimum standards for all housing stock and provide support to improve the poorest housing; Ensure social housing stock is maintained to a good standard; and Improve the energy efficiency of all housing stock.

It also involves meeting housing needs and supporting the most vulnerable; undertake a fundamental review of social housing allocations policy to ensure that scarce public resources are used as effectively as possible; make better use of existing social housing stock to meet a range of needs; Place a stronger policy emphasis on preventing homelessness; and Support older and disabled people to live independently if they wish to do so.

Housing and Welfare Reform…
Seek to implement Welfare Reform in Nigeria in a way that best reflects our circumstances making use of operational or policy flexibilities where available; Undertake research to better understand who will be affected by the housing-related changes and how; and Put in place housing services that will provide support and assistance for those households impacted by welfare reform.

Driving regeneration and sustaining communities through housing…
Bring more long-term empty /abandoned homes back into use; Work collaboratively within private organisations, across government agencies and with local communities to address blight and reverse community decline through housing-led regeneration; Support town and city centre regeneration through a revitalised initiative; Tackle anti-social behaviour in housing more effectively; Use public funding for social housing creatively to generate additional employment and training opportunities, particularly for unemployed youth; and Provide more opportunities for communities to choose to become shared communities where people of different backgrounds feel comfortable living together.

Getting the structures right…
Put in place a sustainable housing system fit for the 21st century; Support business improvement in the social housing sector for the benefit of tenants and taxpayers; and Transfer an agreed set of functions to district councils as part of local government reform.

Other ways of ensuring the achievement of social housing in Nigeria includes; introduction of a housing options service in Nigeria; retention of universal access to social housing and review of national housing policies and programmes; the involvement of government and its agencies in social housing; collaborative efforts of government and private companies in building social housing; use of a needs-based approach to prioritise applicants; continued use of management transfers; and promotion of mutual exchanges as a mechanism to meet housing need.

Policy Reform for achievement of social housing…
In achieving the above, there is a need for formulation of adequate policies. Hence the policies could be in form of: Developing reform proposals for social housing rent; tenant participation; local government engagement; the regulation and inspection of social housing and the housing functions of agencies in charge of residential estates development.

The current housing situation is characterised with high density and overcrowding conditions, inadequate infrastructural facilities and increased pressure on municipal facilities which obviously has resulted into environmental deterioration. The various housing policies and programmes made by successive governments of the country were ill managed and financed to the point where the targeted low-income segment of the population never benefited from the scheme.

Social housing can therefore, be described as the genuine solution to housing problems in the country. The adoption and intensive development of local building materials, creation of a viable mortgage finance structure, adequate access to land and affordable housing will in a long way have the advantage of enabling a much wider segment of the low and middle-income group to own, produce and rent their own houses. Access to land is one major contest against housing affordability, and thus, calls for the best approach to help determine the most suitable part of the cities where cheap land for low income families to build and own their houses could be secured.