To say the least, the 17 million number of housing deficits brandished by some experts could have been reduced by the huge numbers of vacant and unoccupied estates lying idle in major cities of the country. Also, several people left their homes, states, towns and villages empty to come to the city to look for accommodation. This would not have been so had government created job opportunities in those areas to discourage people from leaving their states for the cities.
Again, there are a lot of estates built by some nouveau riche Nigerians who do not bother even if the buildings remain unoccupied for decades. These set of people do not know the definition of recession since what they and their family need for the next five decades have been secured. To these set of people, those writing or crying about housing deficits are not facing realities of life.
Going by available statistics, Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, alone accounts for 10 per cent of the 17 million housing deficits in the country. The situation persists despite the fact that many mansions dot the landscape of the territory uninhabited. Houses that have been completed but remain unoccupied, are scattered across some districts with many located in private housing estates.
Indeed, there are a number of issues and insinuations associated with the empty buildings. One of such is that the owners could have embezzled public funds and laundered them on acquisition of properties. Other insinuations associated with the unoccupied buildings are that some of the owners kept cash in them to evade moving stolen funds through banks and that the buildings are owned by some past and current public office holders who did not have real needs for such properties but had to acquire them using looted funds.
One of the most surprising things about this development is that most Nigerians living in the FCT and environs have no access to decent accommodation. Worse still, a rising number of completed estates in the capital city and across the country are presently unoccupied and some have been taken over by miscreants.
Research into estates in high-brow areas in Abuja like Maitama, Asokoro, Wuse II and a number of other places in the capital city, revealed that most of the completed houses remained unoccupied years after their completion, due to the high cost of renting or leasing of such property. Also in Apo, Dei Dei, Gwarimpa, Lugbe, Wuse, Gudu, Life Camp and Katampe, the unoccupied houses owned by society’s most influential and wealthy have been converted into safe houses for the storage of their loot and venues for laundering money to keep away sniffing anti-graft agencies.
Strangely, some of these housing units are leased out by the gatemen to desperate house seekers in order to make some money by the side. Who can blame them, when the owners of some of these buildings have not visited the area for more than seven years and, as a result, know very little about the state of their property.
A four-bedroom bungalow in Maitama, Asokoro, Wuse and Garki goes for between N3 million and N5 million a year, while those who wish to occupy the same type of apartment in satellite towns like Gwarimpa, Kubwa, Lugbe and Karu, among others, must cough out between N800,000 and N1.5 million in some estates. There are many dimensions to the issue of unoccupied estates in Abuja. Some of them are built not to be occupied, because they were used for money laundering; the owners did not have the opportunity of taking the money to the bank because they might be apprehended. The only option for these people who apparently have looted the public treasury is to use the money and invest in property that even if they are not occupied for years they are not worried. As the value of houses are always going up, they are not bordered about the houses being empty.
Another aspect of the issue is the inability of those who built the estates to get buyers for the houses because they are not affordable, coupled with the fact that the purchasing power of prospective buyers has gone down. When a two-bedroom apartment is put at N14 million, how can it be affordable, and even when you are asked to pay 20 per cent or 30 per cent of the amount, it is still not easy for many people to afford.
In addition, the government should do something about the cost of building materials, which is affecting the cost of building. The cost of acquiring land and processing land title documents should also be checked. If government does that, the cost of housing in Abuja will definitely be forced down.
The danger is this, with too many houses that are standing without buyers due to lack of purchasing power, the prices of houses may crash. Going by the law of economics, when the supply is high and demand is low, prices will be forced to crash. Some of the owners of those occupied estates got the money from somewhere. It is not all of them that are public treasury looters because some got the money from banks, so they cannot continue to hold the banks’ money, considering the high interest rates, while the houses are unoccupied. So, I foresee prices coming down.
Another way of handling the issue of those idle estates is for government to begin to impose taxes on the properties. Right from the time you are getting approval for your building, there should be clauses indicating what the tax will be for buildings that exceed a specific period of time without being occupied.
Take, for instance, when you have a law stating that a house must be occupied within a period of six months or thereabout after being completed or there will be tax imposed on it. I think that will prevent the developers from putting exorbitant prices on their developed properties. So, imposition of taxes is one veritable instrument that any serious minded government can use to regulate the kind of situation we have in Abuja and few other cities in Nigeria.
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