Nigeria: Taking Affordable Housing From Dream To Reality

   on January 21 2014 10:15 AM
Lagos
Lagos Reuters

On Jan. 16, Nigerian President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan launched the Nigeria Mortgage Finance Company (NMRC), signaling the beginning of a process that would finally increase opportunities for Nigerians to own homes at an affordable price. The process will also involve the reinvigoration of mass housing initiatives which will, along with the NMRC, give the housing sector the necessary stimulus to start realizing its great potential for the good of the country.

But it is not only individual Nigerians who will benefit from the establishment of the NMRC and the Jonathan administration’s stronger focus on mass housing. The country as a whole will also gain significantly from the unleashing of a sector with the capacity to transform the entire economy through millions of direct and indirect jobs as well many other ancillary benefits. To appreciate the significance of this, let us consider a few facts:

Nigeria’s significant housing demand has been estimated at 17 million, with an additional 2 million units needed every year. Labor impact assessment studies in countries with similar demographics and economies as Nigeria, estimate that at least 5.62 direct jobs can be generated with every new home, and 2.48 indirect jobs in housing-related expenditures. So far, our country has yet to realize this potential. In 2012, housing, construction and real estate accounted for only 5.54 percent of our GDP. This figure is low in comparison to many other developing countries. Addressing the housing deficit will have a game-changing impact on our society and our communities.

Globally, there is a strong consensus that the development of the housing sector is important for stimulating economic growth and job creation in any economy. Indeed, housing construction is one of the most used indices for gauging the economic situation in most developed countries. The S&P/Case-Schiller Index, which is used to monitor housing starts in the U.S., is a good example. Likewise, in Malaysia, one of the main contributors to the country’s 8 percent per annum three-decade-long GDP growth were its housing and construction sectors. New-home construction is a major generator of jobs through direct employment in the construction industry, with significant multiplier effects on other sectors of the economy. This is the kind of potential that the launch of the NMRC and related initiatives is set to unlock.

This explains why President Jonathan made the housing sector a priority in his Transformation Agenda. As a practical expression of this focus, he directed in May 2012 the convening of a major presidential retreat on the housing sector that brought all stakeholders together to discuss issues of land titling and land administration foreclosure policies, access to affordable housing finance and cost of construction materials, among others. The second event was a roundtable on housing finance, which the president instructed me to convene in November 2013. This was attended by banks, development finance institutions, private sector players, and public sector partners like the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, and the Federal Mortgage Bank -- to review and analyze the potential for housing finance in Nigeria and see how to overcome trenchant obstacles.

A major outcome of the roundtable was the setting up of a housing finance committee chaired by the Federal Ministry of Finance, and comprising the Federal Ministry of Lands Housing and Urban Development, the Central Bank, Nigerian mortgage and commercial banks, supported by the World Bank and the IFC. The committee was mandated to take forward the work of developing a facility that would significantly scale up access to affordable mortgages for the Nigerian people.

The outcome of the committee’s work was the recommendation to set up the Nigeria Mortgage Refinancing Company to significantly increase the liquidity available to mortgage organizations such as primary mortgage institutions (PMIs), banks, housing microfinance institutions and other financial actors. 

The NMRC is a public-private sector initiative with majority shareholding by the private sector. The federal government is a sponsor and also a shareholder. It is backed by a World Bank zero-interest credit of $250 million with a 40-year tenor and 10 years of grace, a very attractive facility. The NMRC will further float an additional 50 billion naira ($314,700,000) in bonds as soon as it is operational, to which institutional and other investors can subscribe. Further bond issuances will take place in a phased manner to significantly boost NMRC’s resources and liquidity for purchase of bundled mortgage products from PMIs and other institutions.

The launch of the NMRC and the initiative to open up the housing sector also involves efforts to improve land titling and land registration, speed up governors' consent, improve Foreclosure policies – all of which presently poses impediments to the proper functioning of the Housing Sector. Many states are active in housing development and have put in place supportive policies.  However, the advent of the NMRC hugely expands the horizon of what can be achieved. As such, 14 pilot states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) are working closely with the Federal Government on this initiative.  Once they fulfill laid-down criteria in putting in place appropriate policies, their citizens stand to benefit from greater access to affordable mortgages.

The governors of Abia, Anambra, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Delta, Gombe, Kano, Kaduna Lagos, Edo, Enugu, Ondo and Ogun States and FCT have signed on to work on the housing initiative.

An important component to the launch of the NMRC is the development of mass housing schemes by private developers working with the Federal Mortage Bank of Nigeria and other institutions. Some of the mass housing will be done on a rent-to-own model that will allow low-income participants to rent a home over 15-20 years and own the property at the end of that period.

The new approach to the housing market is expected to result in thousands of new mortgages at low double to high single digit interest rates. This will hinge on maintaining a stable macroeconomic environment with low-single-digit inflation -- a feat the country has shown over the past few months that it can achieve.

The launch of NMRC and enhanced housing initiatives will have significant multiplier effects on many sectors of the economy, unleashing jobs for architects, builders, plumbers, welders, carpenters, painters, interior decorators, furniture manufacturing and other allied smal- scale industries.   

We know we lack many of the skills listed above in sufficient quantity and quality and often recruit them from neighboring countries. We must now position ourselves to train our youth for those skills. President Jonathan has instructed the Federal Ministry of Lands and Housing working with private-sector developers and the education ministry to embark on this endeavor.

Nigeria stands at the cusp of a brave new initiative that has transformative powers for the individuals and families impacted as well as for the nation.  An initiative that is both social in its scope and deeply economic in its impact.  It is left to us to grasp these opportunities and working together as both public and private sectors unlock an important door for our economy.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance of Nigeria.

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