A Solution For Housing? Why the Lagos housing scheme may be flawed

When I think of Lagos, series of images rise to mind: a piece of land thrown into the boundless ocean; a city surrounded by a busy seashore with unending waves; disenchanted lives with hurrying spirits. On this land bedded in the shingle is a chorus of thriving businesses, an arresting entertainment industry, irresistible hospitality, depth of cultural values and virtues, and an uncommon stretch of humankind.

I was born here, I grew up here and I love it here in Lagos. Admittedly, as a non-indigene of the State, I am not one of those for whom Lagos is an ancestral home. But what really matters is to be a “Lagosian”, or, simply, one of the millions of people who come over to Lagos in search of greener pastures. Indeed, over the years, the opportunities of this city have made it home for everyone. And that’s why it keeps growing.

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People in Lagos (source: ToLet.com.ng)

An Unrestrained and Uneven Growth

Lagos spans only 1,171 square kilometres but it never fails to receive approximately 6,000 people per day, as some have claimed. Across its 20 local government areas (LGAs), the state’s population has been on the rise for as long as it has been the hub for trade and commerce on this side of the Niger. Today, it is somewhere between 21 and 25 million people, accounting for almost 13% of the national population.

The economic strength of Lagos makes it easy for it to entreat its inhabitants to stay, irrespective of the pains of stagnancy caused by bad roads and numerous vehicles, and the rowdy ambience of densely populated suburbs like Idumota, Agege, Ojodu Berger, Okokomaiko among others. Even my parents and grandparents still find it extremely difficult to return to Kwara State, my state of origin.

Unfortunately, the rate at which the population has increased across the local government areas has not been uniform nor as expected. Epe, for instance, has the largest land mass (965 square kilometres) in the State and yet it is inhabited by the second smallest number of people – less than half a million which is just 1.84% of the entire Lagos population as projected in 2017. Along with such obvious differences in population densities among LGAs, there’s also an imbalance in the availability of housing for newcomers to the State.

Sheltering the Homeless

Shelter is a basic human necessity, and for a city constantly on the move, it is an indispensable one.  A 6-8% population growth rate makes Lagos Africa’s fastest growing city and the 7th in the world. Yet, there was a housing deficit of about 3 million as at 2016.

“Deficits are on the increase just from a cursory look at the supply side of things in the market,” Roland Igbinoba, a real estate consultant, explained for this story. Mr Igbinoba, who monitors the mortgage market and engages with governments on housing policy, thinks the “deficits will continue to rise if there is no deliberate investment” by the state government in housing. The implication, according to him, will be seen in the “proliferation of slums” and “rents will continue to rise as urban migration increases”.  

Indeed, the population of  Lagos is expected to be triple its current number by 2050, suggesting there is a real danger of an escalation in homelessness and destitution if housing deficits are not addressed. The problem is that, while areas like Lagos Island, Agege, Shomolu, Mushin and Ajeromi Ifelodun appear to have reached their maximum capacities, others like Badagry, Epe and Ibeju Lekki areas are yet to be explored as much. In these latter, there are still plenty of vacant lands to situate more homes.

Many years ago, foresighted people took advantage of the availability of these vacant lands to build property when their prices were relatively low. Fortunately, my father was one of them. With an average income at the time, he acquired two plots of land in three different locations along the Badagry expressway. Today, he is enjoying the dividends of that investment. Although more people have joined the fray, the prices of vacant lands have become much higher now due to the rise in socioeconomic standards and recent development being carried out in those areas. For the majority though, a lasting and more central solution to the housing challenge is required.

HOMS: The Silver Bullet For Housing in Lagos

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Since the 21,000 units constructed across 12 locations by the Lateef Jakande administration in 1983, there have been no new housing projects on such a scale in Lagos state – until 2014 when the Home Ownership Mortgage Scheme (HOMS) was conceived. The Lagos HOMS project was designed to be the state’s flagship scheme for investment in home ownership through mortgage finance for first-time buyers, people who have not owned a property in the city.

The HOMS project was created as a transparent means to provide opportunities for residents of the State to live in better homes and becoming a beneficiary required going through an application process. People were expected to fill out details such as their residential history for five years, their residential status (tenant, homeowner or other) at the time of application, and the number of dependants they have. Other information required include employment details (particularly about income) as well as those concerning the individual’s expenditures, liabilities and loans.

Although this initiative was targeted specifically at residents of Lagos, it was also meant to indirectly cater for the rapidly increasing population of the State as a result of urbanization. However, applicants were required to intend to live in the houses for which they applied as there were to be no transfers or resale of homes.

In 2016, the Ambode administration inaugurated the Rent-To-Own scheme as part of the Lagos HOMS project. Under this scheme, individuals were required to pay only 5% of the cost of the housing unit as the commitment fee with the balance spread over a period of 10 years. The government then developed 5008 housing units spread across the 3 senatorial districts and situated within 12 housing estates. These estates are located in areas of low population density which is probably due to the high availability of land in those areas.

The scheme has the highest number of units in Ikorodu followed by Alimosho and Ibeju Lekki. Interestingly, Ikorodu and Ibeju Lekki have lower population densities compared to other local governments like Surulere, Shomolu, Oshodi Isolo and Ajeromi Ifelodun. Therefore siting the housing units suggests an anticipation of migration flows in the direction of those two locations.

However, this does not explain the reason for so many units in Alimosho which is the most densely populated local government area in the State. Neither does it account for the fact that Epe, which has one of the least landmass-to-population ratios, has relatively few housing units allocated to it.

On a tour of the housing units in Badagry and Igando, I noticed that they were, as yet, unoccupied. The apartments in Badagry lined into the expanse of land dominated by the sound of birds chirping which broke through the stillness of the air. The tarred, unpaved and empty road stretched forth and seemed to disappear about five kilometres into the distance. The Igando units were slightly more alive, perhaps because they were facing other residential buildings. The roads were untarred and unpaved, and there were signs of illegal occupants in the lower floors of some of the units. A local informed me that those illegal occupants had arrangements of sorts with the security men.

These visits made me wonder even more about the siting of these housing units. I asked myself about the factors that determined the location of those housing projects and, more generally, the Rent-to-Own apartments in Lagos. While a lot of attention is placed on migration into this city, data on the population densities of its different local government areas should give a hint about how migration takes place within it. This information can better help determine where the housing units should be situated.

Understanding the Motives of Migration

Migration can be motivated by the pursuit of economic opportunities, social mobility, political and environmental pressures. My family migrated, when I was 17, from Ajeromi Ifelodun Local Government to Otto Awori in Ojo Local Government. My father had retired and felt no need to continue paying the house rent, so we moved into our uncompleted building. Then, my mother would journey three times every week back to her shop in Ajeromi-ifelodun so that she could augment my dad’s monthly stipend. If my parents had had the chance, they would have preferred to own a house in Ajeromi Ifelodun.

People will likely migrate from locations of poor commercial and social vibrancy to a better one.  For instance, people obviously prefer places like the “developed” Victoria Island with high employment viability and relatively safe to places like the “developing” Ajegunle where the commercial activities and security aren’t convincing.

It is reasonable to suggest that the Rent-to-Own apartments, in their respective locations, will witness significant adoption if the government puts in place adequate “pullers” to attract people to those locations. The pullers could be in the form of commercial and industrial activities supported by improved transportation systems. The ongoing projects and industrial hubs in Ikorodu Local Government – Imota Light Industrial Park, the 32 metric tonnes Rice Mill, the Mile 12 new site and Timber Ville (Oko Baba Revamped) – are important examples of pullers. By the time these projects reach completion, the housing units in Ikorodu axis will likely be occupied.

Similarly, the densely populated Alimosho could be expected to draw even more people ever since the government tweeted its decision to relocate Computer Village to the ICT Park in Agbado/Oke-Odo Local Council Development Area. For Ibeju Lekki, the population is likely to multiply by several factors as a result of the ongoing Lekki free trade zone and Dangote refinery projects being developed there.

There are definitely ways in which the government can lure people to less dense areas where the Rent-to-Own housing units are situated. It is natural to be attracted by places that promise better quality of social, cultural and commercial life. People will migrate once the flower blossoms – when they identify a chance for growth in those locations.

How Can the Flower Blossom?

People don’t just migrate. Aside from pullers that foster migration, people want to see positive things happen. For example, they will only migrate to the less dense local government areas of Ikorodu, Ibeju Lekki and Badagry if they witness or perceive similar or improved socioeconomic standards to the ones they enjoy in the areas they currently live. And this is often accompanied by a rise in commercial and industrial activity.

A number of key factors contribute to citizens’ unwillingness to take uncalculated risks. One of them is a lack of information. In about a year after we moved, my mother stopped her business in Ajeromi-ifelodun. She had set up a new shop at our new house. She sold only provisions and soft drinks but business was going well. She knew this because she had the information required to calculate her risks.

Let’s consider the daily commute of workers in Lagos. My father’s workplace was at Victoria Island. He had been commuting almost every day from our house in Ajegunle to his Kofo Abayomi office since I was in primary two. When I started secondary school, I joined him. In those days, we would drag ourselves from sleep at 5am in the morning in order to beat the Apongbo traffic and the sure gridlock on the Air Force Officers Mess bottleneck. At half past 8am, he would drop me off at school before resuming at his office – oftentimes late. But returning home was even more hectic. Even as a kid, I was sure my father would have gladly accepted another job if it were closer to home.

Comfort and ease of the mobility of labour are key factors determining the likelihood of residence and internal migration in Lagos state. Transportation systems play a crucial role in influencing the level of comfort possible to residents who have to live and work within the metropolis so that an affordable system that provides ease of navigation would be a major attraction for people to reside in certain areas. These are the sort of calculations made by working citizens in Lagos.

Sadly, transportation is decrepit in many areas of Lagos; and the rail mass transit system, which promised so much, is crawling to completion. The project is a seven-line plan but the first one, the blue line, is still under construction. What is worse, citizens are not provided with any information about when it will be ready. This results in uncertainty and unpredictable migration patterns.

Looking Beyond Demographic Data

The state could do with paying attention to collecting and providing datasets beyond population and population density. Understanding the social factors driving migratory patterns calls for more focus on mining behavioural data. Because of its rich, qualitative and multidisciplinary nature, behavioural data will provide deeper insights for a robust policy approach.

Acquiring datasets like behavioural data and spatial analysis will help the government map out patterns and carry out a predictive analysis of when and where people will tend to migrate by the time Lagos celebrates its diamond age. This precisely human centred data supersedes random quantitative data as it uproots the true reason for urbanization. Furthermore, making this important data available to the public would help the government garner suggestions and expert advice on more datasets to mine.

One example is public contracting data. Although we read about Rent-to-Own housing units being released to individuals, we know too little about how those projects were executed, who the builders were, when they were contracted and for how much. When such data is made publicly available, prospective owners of those housing would know, for example, when the estates are due for completion or what kind of quality to expect from certain contractors. In addition, knowing how much the housing units cost the government to construct would present potential owners with a rough estimate of how much the rents would be pegged at.

Overall, with more information, Lagosians would be better prepared to adopt the scheme. This would undoubtedly increase their confidence in the good intentions of the government to solve their housing problems.

A Data-Driven Solution to Housing

A palpable sense of dissatisfaction accompanied the application stages and during the process of allocating homes to beneficiaries. Mobolaji Adedamola Akerele, in a post on the Lagos HOMS Facebook page, lamented that the Rent-to-Own scheme may actually be construed as “an organized scam” and then advised “fellow Lagosians” to “stay clear of this scheme. It’s wasted funds.” Another commenter, Fola King, described the process as “looking more like a fraud.” On other platforms, people have grumbled about the absence of transparency and credibility in the scheme.

It is possible to appreciate the Lagos State government’s foresight and innovative approach towards its housing challenges and still conclude that the scheme has become a white elephant, another funnel designed to siphon public funds. The project will likely not make as much impact or leave the great legacy that the Lateef Jakande low-cost estates provided, not only because of the apparently confusing policies behind their siting but, more so, because of the opaqueness that characterises everything about it.

In an era where digitally-aware and data-savvy citizens are becoming public watchdogs, it is easy for the government to appear corrupt when citizens cannot directly trace the reasons behind actions that are meant to serve as value for their hard-earned taxes. Citizens have seen projects, such as the HOMS, and they unconsciously begin to ask questions; and when they see no rationale behind them, they immediately draw negative conclusions. As elsewhere, the Lagos State government needs to provide responses to their questions or face the well-known ignominy of losing their trust. With elections on the horizon, the latter is unlikely to be an option the current administration would be willing to take.

Otherwise, the kind of response being proposed is clear: the facts and figures about government projects, such as Lagos HOMS and Rent-to-Own, presented to the public in an open, proactive and consistent fashion.

So when we think about Lagos, a new image would come to mind: a true home for all where everyone gets access to the basic human needs: shelter, food and clothing without the fear of homelessness, without disenchanted lives and hurrying spirits. So that we can all, as much as we desire, be delighted by the arresting entertainment industry, the friendliness of the irresistible hospitality and the freshness of the calm inviting beach.       

It would still be the Lagos I was born in, the Lagos I grew up in and the Lagos I love – just only better.

Cover image source: thenationonlineng.net

About Sodiq Ajala