Real estate experts observe that if the unoccupied houses in private housing estates in Abuja are made accessible to Nigerians at affordable costs, accommodation in the FCT will not be as difficult as it is presently.
They express concern about accommodation problems in the nation’s capital city, citing a recent statement made by Bala Mohammed, the Minister of FCT that the Abuja alone accounted for 10 per cent of the 17 million housing deficit in the country.
The minister had said at the inauguration of a 49-luxury apartment in Apo-Dutse Housing Estate, Abuja, that: “From statistics, the housing deficit in Nigeria is about 17 million and 10 per cent of it is in the FCT.’’
With this situation, stakeholders in the housing sector opine that it is not wise for estate developers to construct houses and lock them up until buyers offer them the exorbitant amount of money they require for rents or sales of such houses.
They argue that if the owners of such houses were a bit flexible with their terms, the high cost of rent would have been reduced in Abuja.
Unarguably, many of the private housing estates in the FCT have remained unoccupied years after they have been completed by their owners.
In spite of numerous housing estates in various parts of the city, observers put rents for a two-bedroom bungalow in Maitama, Asokoro, Wuse and Garki at between N2.5 million and N3 million per annum.
They also put the cost of the same apartment in the satellite towns of the FCT such as Kubwa, Lugbe and Karu, among others, at between N800, 000 and N1.2 million per annum in private housing estates.
Observers, therefore, note that the high cost of renting houses in the FCT, mostly populated civil servants, is a threat to the well being of the residents.
They argue that the residents have on many occasions, drawn the attention of the government to the activities of private estate developers in that regard, soliciting pragmatic approaches to accommodation problems.
Reiterating the observers view point, Mr Donald Ugo, a resident and civil servant, advised the government to make it easier for civil servants to access land and build their own houses.
“This is the only and surest way of making houses available and affordable to low income earners in the FCT and other major cities in the country.
“Houses that have been left unoccupied for six months should also be confiscated by the authorities and auctioned to civil servants who need them,” Ugo said.
He urged the government to regulate the prices of houses and establish appropriate rent tribunals to check the activities of shylock landlords, particularly in the FCT.
Sharing similar sentiments, Maduka Maduabueze, a civil servant, urged the Federal Government to restructure the mortgage institution framework in a way that it would take the interest of civil servants into cognizance.
“There should be a scheme where civil servants, especially those working in the FCT, are allocated plots of land and asked to develop same within a time frame,’’ he said.
Emma Akeem, a resident of the FCT, rather advised the Federal Government to construct affordable housing estates in different parts of the country such as it did in the 80s so that the average Nigerian could have access to decent accommodation.
“What private estate developers are doing is to create a class problem in the FCT where only the wealthy can own and live in descent homes.
“I foresee a crash in the estate market, especially in the FCT, because the income of most Nigerians is not enough to enable them to purchase these houses,’’ Akeem said.
These sentiments, perhaps, motivate the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) to put up measures at checking the activities of owners of unoccupied housing estates in the FCT.
Dominic Odenigbo, the Head of Aesthetics and Amenities, Department of Development Control of the FCTA, said the government would soon give directives to make leaving housing estates unoccupied for more than six months an offence in the FCT.
“Part of our condition for granting building approval is that construction should begin within six months of such approval and that it should be completed two years after.
“However, we have observed that many of the houses in the city, with a large number of them in mass housing estates; have not been occupied many years after construction, which is not acceptable.
“To stop this trend, we plan to include a clause in the approval that would compel builders to rent out such houses not later than six months after completion,’’ he said.
But some real estate developers insisted that they could not take the blame for accommodation problems in the FCT.
They said that housing deficit in the country was due to high cost of land and cumbersome mortgage loan processes in the country.
Benjamin Onuaku, the Marketing Executive, Netconctruct, an estate developer in Abuja, noted that the housing deficit had persisted because developers had no access to affordable lands.
He said cumbersome mortgage loan processes had not been favourable to workers who were interested in buying houses.
“The experience has been that when civil servants indicate interest to buy houses, the long period it takes to secure mortgage loans denies them the opportunity of buying such houses.
“When people who have available cash come to buy the same houses, they are sold to them immediately because the developers have to dispose of the houses,’’ he said.
Onuaku said a clause in the mortgage loan process such as the equity contributions, was a major obstacle for low income earners in accessing funds.
He, therefore, urged the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria to ease the processes of securing mortgage loans by the beneficiaries of the National Housing Fund.
He also observed that some houses in the FCT were locked by buyers who might not be ready to occupy them immediately.
“House owners put high price tags on their houses because of the initial cost of purchase and high cost of building materials.
“The houses are not occupied because the owners cannot rent them out at a loss,’’ he said.
In the light of this view, Ahmed Usman, the spokesman for Global Assets Company Ltd, an estate developer, solicited greater collaboration between real estate developers and appropriate authorities in housing sector.
“If lands can be allocated directly to developers by the relevant authorities, the cost of houses will be reduced to enable both the high income and low income earners to buy them,’’ he said.
Observers note that efforts at making land allocation accessible could have stimulated the recent decision of the Minister of Housing, Lands and Urban Development, Akon Eyakenyi, to inaugurate committees to address the challenges of land allocation.
The committees are Verification and Auditing of Federal Government Lands and Landed Property in the 36 States of the Federation and the FCT; Presidential Initiative on the Delivery of 10,000 Housing Units under the Nigerian Mortgage Refinance Company and a committee on National Housing Survey.
The minister urged the committee to undertake comprehensive inventory and audit of Federal Government lands and landed property in all the states and the FCT.
She also directed the committee on National Housing Survey to ascertain the characteristics of the various housing estates developed by the ministry, Federal Housing Authority and the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria.
According to her, the committee will also ascertain the characteristics of houses developed by the Real Estate Development Association in the last four years.
Eyakenyi urged the committees to undertake a national housing survey in collaboration with all relevant stakeholders and recommend measures that should be taken to solve accommodation problems in the country.
All in all, observers believe that if the relevant authorities make pragmatic efforts at addressing housing deficit and they back them up with stronger political will, the questions that why many housing estates remain unoccupied in the FCT will not rise.