Confession: I have had a mild case of obsession over the subject of social and affordable housing in Nigeria and across Africa.
Blame it on Maslow and the hierarchy of needs.
Over the last few months, I have been drawn to research, strategy and policy focused on reducing homelessness and creating affordable housing solutions. If you live in Lagos, Nigeria you will agree that the city needs this kind of intervention fast! I have friends who have signed leases to brick and mortar nightmares, no thanks to fraudulent real estate agents. Ever visited the Police Barracks at Ikoyi? the deplorable living conditions of residents is such a heart-wrenching contrast to the otherwise swanky neighbourhood.
After several conversations and a continued search for practical and sustainable solutions, my friend mentioned that a Nigerian author wrote a book to address some of my questions. Boom!
The idea Tayo Odunsi presents in his brilliant book Affordable is that delivering sustainable and affordable housing for a country is dependent on the involvement and partnership of all players, according to the book, the five sides of the Affordable Housing Pentagon namely: government, private sector, professionals, the community and the individual. They all play distinct yet important roles in making this work.
One theme that reverberates throughout the book: the challenge of affordable housing cannot be solved by one or even two parties.
On the role of government, the author shared the story of the Dutch Housing system which is one of the most organised housing sectors in the world with 60% of residents being owner-occupiers, 7% renters, and 33% of the population living in social housing, and they didn’t achieve that feat by luck. The strategy? Government must be the umpire of this game from policies that influence land availability and pricing to housing subsidies and favourable mortgage systems.
Before reading Affordable, I had done some research on the Chilean Architect, Alejandro Aravena, founder of Elemental and reading a reference to his work made me smile. Alejandro’s team worked on the Quinta Monroy project on a subsidy budget, developing 100-row houses for families on land allocated to build for only half that number. The innovation and resourcefulness demonstrated through the project earned the team worldwide acclaim, with the Pritzker Architecture Prize awarded to Alejandro. There was a nod to the courageous work by Fibre, the property brokerage company in Nigeria, helping young people rent homes in Lagos by introducing the monthly rental tenure, a switch from the cumbersome 1 or 2 years upfront required by most landlords in the city.
Inspiring stuff, I tell you. The book says it loud and clear: everyone has a role to play and there are examples around the world to show it can be done.
Housing career? Ever heard of that one? In the book, Tayo makes a solid case for how every individual should have one. He says ‘the housing solution for everyone should be progressively dynamic, having a life cycle — like a good professional career.’ A housing career would look like this: young school leavers rent starter homes (read: studio apartments and mini flats), they get married and have bigger flats (2–3 bedrooms) then transit to family homes if they have more children. This would also be a good stage to consider homeownership.
Do you have a housing career?
True to being robust literature, the book drew from European, Latin American and African contexts, sharing solid action points in each chapter.
This book is easily one of the best books I have read lately, not only because the author kept each chapter to a breezy 3 pages but also the simple language with which he explained the research and technicalities of affordable housing.
I recommend Affordable as excellent reference material for housing professionals in government and private circles, developers looking to contribute to the solution and anyone curious about how affordable housing should work… well, that’s everyone!
Ps: Not sponsored. Book reviews are labours of love I get to share.