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Problems and prospects of housing needs, demand in Nigeria – Nasiru idris

Housing is a “process” that has a “product”. The product is a dwelling unit. It is not static, when a man needs changes, the product can be modified to satisfy needs, the process describes the act of building and re-building to satisfy man’s needs. The house should not be seen simply in terms of it’s physical characterless (what it is), but it can be seen in terms of its meaning for those who use it (what it does).

Professor Nasiru M. Idris
Professor Nasiru M. Idris

By implication, the material values of humans are values of which the material value is only one amongst many indicators. The human needs that dwelling house should satisfy include physiological or biological human needs, psychological needs of man, social needs of man, cultural needs, political needs (status) and economic needs.

However, housing does not only provides shelter for the family but it also serves as a centre for its total residential environment, as a focus of economic activities, as a symbol of achievement, and social acceptance, and as an element of urban growth and income distribution, so housing fulfils social needs. Housing should be considered as an intricate part of a dynamic urban system.

Therefore, housing is a product, a highly complex product. Thus, once built in a particular place, it remains there. That it assumes a fixed location, it is both an economic and social process.

Housing need is the term used to explain the total requirement for shelter of individuals and family within a given community or society. It also refers to as a “planning concept”, which in reality expresses the differences between actual exiting conditions on one hand and a defined socially acceptable minimum standard on the other hand and the needs can either increase or decrease.

Thus, need is an urban housing deficit in terms of inadequacy of existing provision when compared with socially acceptable norm taking no account of price. Housing need “as the quality of housing that is required to provide accommodation of an agreed minimum standard for a given population considering its size, household, composition, age distribution, without taking into account the individual household’s ability to pay for the housing”.

Housing need is based on the societal view regarding quality and quantity of housing that its members should receive, rather than individual’s household ability to pay for the housing allocated to it. In view of that, the requirement on related to the future charges in population composition is the emphasis rather than individual income and price charge. The United Nations also refers to need which is expressed objectively by reference to standard. It indicates the necessity of considering the culture of people, their values and goals in determining their needs.

To achieve this, it needs an interdisciplinary approach. The distinction between housing need and demand is less critical than it is always assumed to be, the choice of minimum socially acceptable stands is a function of the prevailing levels of incomes and price in any given society.

Housing need is, therefore, the difference between the existing situation and the expected standard housing need. In other words, housing need is the existent to which the quality of existing accommodation falls short of that required to provide each household in the population irrespective of ability to pay or of particular personal preferences, with accommodation of a specified minimum standard.

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The United Nations defines housing need as a “number of conventional dwellings or other suitable housing unit that need to be constructed or repaired in order to bring housing conditions of a particular point of time without nationally adopted standards”. This will include the number to be constructed or maintained conditions remains at the standard level over a stated period of time. This conception is therefore a social one and it expresses its total requirements for shelter regardless of the household’s ability to pay for it.

Moreover, housing need can both be quantitative and qualitative in the sense that figures are used to give an indication of or reflection of deficit/shortages in housing and on the other hand, the quantitative view considers the housing condition, utilities, social service, facilities (like electrically, roads, water, sewage, transportation etc.) and the general environment. A poor assessment result of these variables give an indication that there is a problem with quality of housing need.

Housing can also be viewed from two perspectives namely: Subjective and Objective perspective. The objective perspective holds on the premise that government takes realistic strides satisfying the housing needs of its low and medium income earners; hence the individual’s choice is greatly influenced in terms of tenancy/issues related to cost and comfort, arrangement of facilities, space requirements, location, form and shape of house. On the other hand, the subjective perspective of housing need rests personally on the individual household, the existing market condition, the purchasing power and the financial ability of the individuals to the real existing stock.

While the term demand means the desire, ability and willingness to pay for some services either by individual or a particular group. Therefore, housing demand is closely related to the issue of price, subjective individual preference, ability to pay or affordability and a willingness to pay. When housing demand is subjective, it can be qualitative or quantitative. Whereas effective demand refers to the number and quality of the dwelling units which can be affordable by the population, given patterns of household income, expenditure, operation of housing finance, and delivery system and policies on housing subsidy, therefore, it entails the consideration of the variables for demand as well as the cost of units in relation to the level of income and also willingness to pay for house provided.

And for housing supply, it refers to as the quantity of houses that suppliers offer for consumption at any given time. Thus, supply includes the production of new dwellings or as well as any spending on existing dwellings that increases the sum of quality available for consumption. This is also supposed that housing supply reflects the addition of housing units to the existing stock. It also involves the restoration of dilapidated areas.

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It is worthy to say that one or two things about the nature of housing production with the exception of housing built by direct labor organization, a public agency that private sector operates under the market conditions that produces all housing for owner-occupier, this may take the form of a contract to construct new or renovate existing dwellings on behalf of a public or private sector agency.

In Nigeria, supply sector can be categorised into two. First, the public supplied sector. This can be referred to as the centrally administered housing supply sector; the private sector can be qualified as “profit motivated” housing supply sector. The popular sector on the other hand can be qualified as “use motivated” housing supply sector.

There are four subsectors within the public housing supply sector.

  • There is the “housing for the public”, which can be identified in Nigeria through what is called the low-cost housing scheme essentially by the Federal Government. Here, the units are provided by the government with the intention of supplying these units to the public, which is sometimes defined in terms of income level.
  • Apart from housing for the public, there is the staff housing – this refers to houses provided by the government or government agencies especially for the staff of government at staff quarters or housing estates. The Nigeria experience started during the colonial era where housing units were provided by the colonial administrators to the colonial staff at very minimal rent.
  • Institutional housing: the units that are provided by government or government agencies for particular institutional workers, for example the university staff housing; and
  • Specialised housing: these are housing provided by government or its agencies for special groups of people in the society for example, orphanages, houses for old people, houses for the disabled and destitute, houses within hospital settings and houses for the military. They are usually provided as social services.

Secondly, the private supply sector: this sector includes individual and organisations that provide houses essentially as commercial ventures, commercial subsector and for owner occupation, private popular subsector. The private commercial subsector provides housing units either for sale or on rental basis. This may either be single unit or as an estate, in both cases, the ultimate goal is to make profit. Therefore, the rents charges are commercial rents unlike the situation in the public sector.

In Nigeria, particularly, the private commercial supply subsector has made significant impacts in supplying houses in single units and sometimes, in large housing estates. The private popular subsector provides housing units essentially for their use and value. Units are provided essentially for occupation by the builder. The bulk of the Nigerian housing stock falls in that category, most especially; this is where about 70% of the population lives. Most of the houses constructed using locally available materials fall in this category, because it is of a value.  The user obtains the finance for the construction essentially from private savings or loans, even units are constructed through self-help.  

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For any future policy package designed to achieve sustainable housing would necessarily have to be designed to meet three primary objectives which includes: i) Policies that must provide the basis for household improvement; ii) Empowerment of the poor people; and iii) Policies that must be to psychologically in nature and given the lower segment of the urban society a feeling of self-worth.

To achieve sustainability in the housing sector, certain policies in five areas must be devised and implemented. These will differ in form from place to place, as the underlying causes of present conditions themselves vary from place to place. There is no such thing in housing as universal “best practice”. Reliance on best practice is simply a substitute for thinking and analysis.

  • First, involvement of the community in all steps concerned from planning, constructing and up to final stage of the process.
  • Second, ensuring that those who build housing, whether they are self-builders or private sector firms, have access to good quality building materials at affordable cost.
  • Third, building standards. It should not be necessary to even mention this area, as it has been discussed as a constraint on residential development of poor areas for well over 50 years, yet it is still with us today.
  • Fourth, attention is required is in the realm of housing finance and
  • Finally, the fundamental problem of land. There is little doubt that this is the major area in which the government must be involved as any transaction concerning transfer, trade or sale of land almost certainly involves central authorities. Government must ensure the availability of adequate land for residential construction at a price that householders can afford.

In conclusion, if these five policy areas were developed and implemented, housing would go a long way towards achieving sustainability, yet the most important question that needs addressing is whether housing policy is sustainable, but whether the housing needs of the poor have been met.

Given that 60 years of housing policy development has not solved this problem and since the number of people in inadequate housing in the country increases each year, there is little reason to believe that just because we label something “sustainable” it will be successful.

Hence, it is important to recognise that the major constraint on meeting housing needs is the low incomes of the economically weaker sectors of the society. Low incomes are due to several factors in the country of which government needs to address.

Professor Nasiru Medugu Idris is Dean, Faculty of Environmental Science, Nasarawa State University Keffi, Nigeria; nasiru@nsuk.edu.ng

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