In this report, BOLA BADMUS and CHUKWUMA OKPARAOCHA look at the hue and cry trailing a housing scheme of the Lagos State government.
If you want an apt definition of contradictions, you could consider an aquatic state without water for the people to drink, a land where many apartments are without tenants, where many are, still, needlessly homeless – having paid their dues to have roofs over their heads.
A little over a year after the immediate past governor of Lagos State, Mr Babatunde Fashola, left office, one of his administration’s supposed frontline achievements – the Lagos State Home Ownership Mortgage Scheme (Lagos HOMS) – is enmeshed in controversies.
The state government claims to have invested billions of state funds in the construction of about 10,000 housing units in various areas in the state. Fashola famously announced that the project was expected to become self-sustaining in seven years if all beneficiaries of the scheme paid up their mortgages promptly.
However, the euphoria that greeted the scheme at inception – with the emergence of the first set of winners as well as the monthly draws that produced an average of 40 winners – is disappearing, or has disappeared. High cost and the state of the houses are blamed for the despair bogging down the scheme.
From the outside, some of the estates may appear ready but their insides still lack basic home amenities, it was gathered.
The situation became further exposed with a recent visit to many of the Lagos HOMS sites by the House of Assembly Committee on Housing. The projects under the scheme, over which there has been hue and cry, include those in Gbagada, Ibeju-Lekki, Sangotedo and Agbowa-Ketu.
The battle for refunds
Saturday Tribune gathered that despite all the draws and certificates presentation ceremonies held for winners of various housing units under the scheme, there has been an increase in the number of people asking for refunds. Those asking that their money be returned are largely people who, having emerged winners and satisfied all basic requirements, including paying the initial deposits, are finding it difficult to meet other financial requirements. Another group of allottees has expressed a significant measure of dissatisfaction with the scheme and as such is requesting for a refund.
The latter group’s grouse is that having satisfied all necessary requirements, including the payment of the mandatory 30 percent asset deposit, the government has reneged on its promise to hand them keys to their apartments.
The development, according to the affected allottees, has created a situation whereby they are losing on two grounds: having to continue paying rents to their landlords and having a substantial part of their life savings trapped in the scheme in one form or the other.
A former Commissioner for Housing, Mr Bosun Jeje, had admitted that not all winners who met the requirements had “successfully” moved into their apartments.
He said only 603 out of 1,348 allottees have been “lucky.” Saturday Tribune is aware that this situation has led to a barrage of petitions being hurled at the state government, even as some of the aggrieved have taken their cases to their representatives in the state House of Assembly. Jeje’s administration had also disclosed that the Ministry of Housing received 21 applications for refund of money paid for the purchase of houses in the Lagos HOMS, adding that 46 petitions were processed and five applications approved. But Saturday Tribune can report that the ministry has continued to be inundated with petitions, including those from allottees who wish to exit the scheme outright and have their money back.
Is this fraud?
Efforts by Saturday Tribune to see the contents of some of the petitions written by the aggrieved beneficiaries were unsuccessful but it managed to speak to a couple of those who felt short-changed one way or the other by the government and managers of the housing scheme.
With a preference to protect his identity, a winner of a unit in the Mushin project under the housing scheme said that despite the failure of the government to give him the keys to his apartment and his request for a refund, nothing has been done to show fairness in the matter.
“I would like to have my money back. A petition has been written to this effect but all we keep hearing is that we should remain patient. But for how long are we going to be treated this way, as we keep paying rents to our landlords, while we are supposed to be landlords ourselves? This is the same thing as losing money from two ends,” said the middle-aged man.
Another beneficiary who identified herself as Mrs Eunice Kadiri noted that in addition to not having her keys yet, the apartment she was given left much to be desired.
“I am far from being satisfied and so are a number of my friends who also won in other schemes. Some even informed me that many of the basic infrastructure that need to be in a house were missing from their flats and all these are things that were marketed to us at the point of applying for apartments,” she said.
Unable to get the reaction of the current Commissioner for Housing, Mr Gbolahan Lawal, Saturday Tribune met a top official in the ministry who elected to speak anonymously as he lacked the authorisation to speak to the press on the matter. The official reiterated the commitment of the state government to achieving success in the housing scheme, inherited from the immediate past administration. He expressed regrets about some problems which, he said, are currently being encountered in completing the project and pleaded for more patience and understanding on the part of the beneficiaries.
According to him, asking for refunds is not the solution, just as no home winner should nurse any fear over the safety of their money.
“Yes, some people have been asking for refunds but this is not what we want for any beneficiary of the project, because we made a commitment to the people and we stand by that commitment. If, however, anyone insists on getting back his money, then they can initiate the process by following the laid down procedure. I can assure them that they will have their money back. We are not here to defraud anybody, we are committed to the well-being of the people,” he said.
At the Ilupeju estate project, which is one of the projects with the highest number of occupancy and perhaps success rate, home-owners are still full of complaints. Home owners under that section of the scheme are said to be disenchanted with the state of the facilities in the estate. For instance, they claim that at the point of applying to join the scheme, they were promised an effective waste disposal mechanism and an effective central power generating unit but none of the facilities has been provided. Many of the residents, it was gathered, are disappointed and are hoping that something will be done to correct the situation.
Three schemes, similar results
Saturday Tribune visited parts of the state where some of the houses built under the Lagos HOMS are located.
A close observation showed that Ilubirin Housing Estate, located in the Osborne Shore Waterfront area of Ikoyi, is made up of 1,254 two and three-bedroom apartments, all on eight floors. Perhaps the project that best captures the current state of the scheme is the Ilubirin project, which was one of the last projects handled before the end of the Fashola administration.
Despite the controversies that trailed the construction of the Ilubirin project, which saw the Federal Government deploy soldiers to stop work at the site, the project grew rapidly. Thus, in just a few months, blocks of flats sprang up in a place that was once full of dredged lagoon sand. However, the Ilubirin project is now a shadow of its former self and the excitement that greeted its kick-off has faded away. The site which was once a beehive of activities is now deserted and its partially-constructed blocks of flats abandoned.
The Mushin project
Facts have emerged that many other projects under the scheme have remained deserted. One of them is the Mushin project, which is gradually being overgrown by weeds. No fewer than 60 beneficiaries have lamented the inability to take possession of the apartments they were allotted since about 10 months ago. Reports indicate that the people are facing pressure from their landlords to leave the flats they are currently occupying since they have made their intention to pack out known after they emerged winners in the draws last year.
The Gbagada project
At the housing project at Gbagada, Saturday Tribune counted no fewer than 20 blocks of empty flats located on a wide area of land, which is well fenced and seems to possess every bit of amenity required in an estate. But the flats which appear ready for occupation are unoccupied. There was no sign of life or human activity in them.
A situation expertly foreseen
Some housing experts and critics of the scheme say that while many people appeared lost in its euphoria months ago, they had taken a critical look at the scheme with a prediction that it might run into trouble in the future. They say they were able to identify the major obstacle to the Lagos HOMS as the “prohibitive” costs of the apartments. The prices range from N4.2 million to N9.08 million for one-bedroom flat, depending on the area; N6.22 million to N18.61 million for two-bedroom flat in Gbagada, while three-bedroom flat is sold from N9.96 million at Hon Shotomiwa Estate, Igbogbo, Ikorodu, to N32.53 million, the highest in Gbagada Phase II, among others. These have so far, according to reports, proved too expensive for many people to meet.
A Lagos-based property consultant, Dr Biyi Adegoke, told Saturday Tribune that what is happening now is an indication that a government-owned project cannot be given to the public at the same rate as that made by private investors.
“Many of us were not overtly carried away when the scheme was unveiled at the beginning. This was not because we didn’t like the idea, which remains a noble one, but the grouse I have always had with the project is the rate (cost) at which it is made available to the public. We are told the scheme is meant for the working class with a steady source of income, but how many salary earners can afford to pay for a mini-flat that goes for N4million? Again, at double digit, the mortgage rate also proves to be too high for a lot of people to afford,” Adegoke said.
Another expert, Samuel Omoniyi, in a recent interview, said: “They are even more expensive than houses put up by private developers who, unlike government, are basically in business to make money. How could government that has free land and would build several flats on one plot of land sell houses at a rate more expensive than detached flats sold by private developers?”
The experts are therefore calling on the state governor, Mr Akinwumi Ambode, to take another look at the costs of the Lagos HOMS and review them downwards in the interest of the tax payers to avoid a situation where the projects will only become inhabited by reptiles, rodents and weeds.
Similarly, a former chairman of the Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers (NIESV), Lagos State chapter, Mr Stephen Jagun, advised the state government to re-examine some of the issues concerning the eligibility criteria, pricing, repayment structure and restrictions of the Lagos HOMS, being administered by the Lagos Mortgage Board (LMB).
Saturday Tribune recalls that at the inauguration of the scheme in 2010, former Governor Fashola said that the scheme was introduced to bridge the housing deficit in Lagos. It was hope rekindled for low income earners as they saw the scheme as offering a unique solution to the substantial supply gap in housing stock in the state.
“The HOM schemes are ordinarily available to middle and low income bracket people who are our target under this project. For instance, our one-bedroom flat is 60.22 square metres while the two-bedroom is 75.79 square metres and the three-bedroom is 123.88 square metres. They all contain more living area than many of the standard one, two and three bedrooms in the market,” Fashola said at the inauguration of the scheme.
As a way of ensuring the sustainability of the scheme, Fashola said the government would set aside the sum of N200 million monthly at the beginning. The amount was later upgraded to N500million.
But after the completion of the first phase, the reality appears to have dawned on the low income earners that the scheme is not meant for them, contrary to the word of the governor as the price tag placed on the completed houses is out of their reach.
Priced beyond reach?
Right now, the structures, following nearly the same design or pattern, can be sighted in places such as Ojokoro, Ifako, Shogunro, Ibeju-Lekki, Ojokoro Ikorodu, Igando in Alimosho, Ilupeju, Epe, Otedola, Oko-Oba in Agege, Mushin, Omole in Ikeja, Eti-Osa, Surulere, among others, as one-bedroom with one bathroom (room/palour) in Epe costing N4,340,000.00, while the same space in Ilupeju costs N9,080,000.00
For a two-bedroom with one bathroom at Ikeja, the cost is N10,510,000.00, while in Chois Gardens – Abijo, Ibeju-Lekki – it is put at N9,750,000.00. A three-bedroom Type 4 with three bedrooms and two bathrooms sells for N17,710,000.00 at Chief Anthony Enahoro Scheme (Shogunro), Ikeja, while same goes for N11,020,000.00 at Alhaja Adetoun Mustapha Scheme – Ojokoro, in Ifako Ijaiye.
As of today, most of these housing estates have either been completed without allocation to the original allottees or left uncompleted. For instance, a structure, which is already standing in Magodo Estate, Phase 1, in the Isheri area of the state and being undertaken by Concrete Concept Ltd, is awaiting painting and some other fixtures. The uncompleted building, the address of which is given as Block 34, Plot 18 and 19, Magodo-Isheri, has been in that state for many months now.
There have been lots of stories weaved around these homes being available but no buyer is getting them. Reports have indicated that the buildings were not in fact meant for civil servants or salary earners, given the high costs at which the government of former Governor Fashola wanted them sold.
Unconfirmed reports also had it that the incumbent Governor Ambode had seen through the complaints of Lagosians and is reviewing the prices downwards so that the target buyers, that is, the middle and low income earners, can afford the houses which they have rightly applied for after obtaining the application form and paying the mandatory N10,000.00.
With no government official ready to publicly accept responsibility for what has the colouration of doubt, isn’t the fate of the allottees permanently sealed?