Groping in the Dark: Housing Intervention without Data

If a benefactor decides to provide food for members of a household, he or she must perfectly understand the food need of that household, both in quantity and quality. Every intervention that succeeds must be guided by information or data. With data, one can determine the number of people that requires intervention, and the exact kind of intervention most appropriate. This is the backbone of effective public policies. Governments rely on valuable data for planning and execution. Unfortunately this has rarely been the case in Nigeria.

For decades, Nigeria has embarked on housing sector interventions, as a solution to homelessness, but these interventions have failed to produce results partly because of inadequate data. Current housing reality – especially in dense urban areas – suggests that Nigerians live in worse conditions, even if the right data is not available.

As much as one can see so many Nigerians living in slums or in decrepit shelters, one cannot really state the exact number. In Nigeria, numbers are approximated or assumed and thrown about, making it impossible to plan based on data. Some suggest that Nigeria’s housing deficit is 17 million, others believe it is way more than that or less, but none of these are based on credible suggestions.

For example, the issue of lack of data to plan and take decision on matters that will advance the interest of the sector is the reason why the Nigeria Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola do not agree with those who say Nigeria has a housing deficit of 20 million. Even he isn’t sure of the exact figure.

In a recent move, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) announced plans to adopt the housing sector as one of the critical sectors the government will focus on after the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, real estate development stakeholders that can provide evidence of profiled off takers and with the financial capacity to repay will be given funds when covid-19 ends, to enable mass production of affordable housing for millions of Nigerians in dire need of them.

The governor also pledged to ‘’consider ways to assist the mortgage finance sub-sector as well as build capacity at the state levels for their land administration agencies to process and issue land titles promptly, implement investment friendly foreclosure laws and reduce the cost of land documentation, as this has remained a major inhibiting factor in the provision of affordable housing in the country.’’

This is indeed laudable, and perhaps an answer to incessant calls by housing sector stakeholders like HDAN for government to prioritize housing because of its ability to provide not just homes, but jobs and security.

But there is a critical question that needs to be answered first.

What data is the CBN or the government going to rely on for these interventions? The availability and access to accurate, reliable and timely data is very important in the workings of the real estate sector, estate surveying and valuation either for valuation/appraisal, management or agency purposes.

The CBN itself will soon find out why data is important because one cannot imagine how it will be able to verify the authenticity of off takers that will be provided by real estate developers who are seeking to benefit from its funds.

In spite of efforts to have a dependable database on the housing sector and its market, stakeholders are yet to find a way out. Both local and international stakeholders cannot access any independent and reliable database on the Nigeria housing sector. This makes intervention – whatever kind it is – more or less a guess work.

CBN itself, in collaboration with REDAN, FMBN, NBS, FMWH, GIZ value chain and others have tried to achieve something along this line but little is still known about its real estate data after a year since its launch. Stakeholders are still waiting to get figures from them, all to no avail. However, it is important to acknowledge what the Federal Ministry of Works and housing has decided to do by conducting surveys of available houses in Nigeria. One can only hope that the commitment to fully achieve this is present and it can become an important information for all.

The fact that stakeholders can hardly agree on how to come about a strong and reliable database, accessible to all, is indeed a cause of worry. Their inability to agree however doesn’t reduce the importance or need for a dependable real estate data. Tracking and reviewing data from business processes helps you uncover the performance of each part of the process and realize which step needs to be fixed; which are performing well or not.

The unfortunate incidence where estate developers go on to build houses that many cannot afford is largely due to the unavailability of data. Many developers build houses hoping that someone will come buy them. Meanwhile they do not have an idea about their target market, their affordability and preferences. Accurate data makes it possible for both government and estate developers to build houses for a definite set of people whom have already shown their ability to afford specific type of houses and in preferred locations.

If the CBN or any stakeholder wishes to advance Nigeria’s mortgage sector, it will still need data to achieve that. For mortgage creation, one has to know those who are eligible and the categories they belong to, how defaulters can be identified and other valuable information on the market.

Keen investors will definitely want to know the number of houses that were built in the last year, the number of mortgages created, the number of off takers in the civil service that can afford a house and service the mortgage successfully, among other facts. The unavailability of such information are significant barriers to housing development in Nigeria. Until Nigeria is able to have a pool of data that can help government and private investors in planning and investment, it will remain a wish to change the fortune of millions of Nigerians in dire need of their own homes.

Like many problems in Nigeria, having such a data is only a matter of will. Modern technology makes it possible to easily collate and categorize data that can be popular and accessible. This has to be a collaborative effort where all stakeholders can contribute their efforts, ideas and information. The process ought to be centralized as the data is going to be a collective asset. Individual stakeholders coming up with their own figures can lead to contradictions.

As a matter of fact, housing intervention without data is like groping in the dark. It is a critical problem that needs to be solved now, and it is upon it that other achievements can be recorded.

Importantly, the CBN should show serious interest in funding a private sector led real estate data collation system which will finally put an end to the problem of inadequate data in the real estate and mortgage sectors in Nigeria.