Determined to bridge the housing deficit in the state and satisfy the needs of all residents, the Enugu State Housing Development Corporation (ESHDC) embarked on multiple housing projects for low and high income earners. The General Manager of the Corporation, Mr. Agu Chukwuemelie, in this interview with KENNETH OFOMA, highlights the strategy and challenges towards achieving these objectives. Excerpts:-
How has it been with your Corporation and the task of achieving your mandate?
I want to give God the glory and then thank the Executive Governor of Enugu State, Rt. Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi who has given me the opportunity in the first place to serve the state in the capacity of the General Manager of Enugu State Housing Development Corporation because without this opportunity I don’t know whether we can be discussing this. And secondly I thank him for the enabling environment he has created in the state, for the security which is actually the selling point of most of our parcels and our houses. We noticed that because of the peace in the state and because of the security in the state many people are relocating from outside the state, from the Diaspora as well and they are relocating back to Enugu which used to be the capital of Eastern region. I thank my management which has worked with me because I would not have achieved this without them.
Coming to what we have done as a team; when I took over, I told them (staff and management) that jointly we are going to break all records kept by all the other MDs and CEOs. And that has been our target. Our target is to reduce housing deficit in Enugu State.
When you look at the population of the state and the number of decent houses that we have, you notice a very big gap, I might not have the details of the gap but there is a gap between the number of people we have and the number of houses that are available to accommodate them because actually the first need of life should be I think after food is shelter. So you can’t live under the mango trees, you must have a roof over your head; even birds have nest talk less of humans, we need shelter.
Since my assumption of office, we have done seven estates. Those estates are WTC, Citadel, Heritage, Transparency, Rangers, and Valley estates. In Rangers we have Phases 1 and 2; in IMT that’s Citadel, we have Phases 1 and 2 as well. I can say that we have done well on the high end. High end is not parcels for low income earners; they are parcels for medium class and upper class. We have also been trying to expand our network to the outskirts because we noticed we are having congestion in the city and we want to face that squarely to see how we can help the Governor and the government to decongest the state. So because of that, we are moving towards the outskirts. We have started moving towards the outskirts.
I personally noticed that if you go outside the country, some people drive up to an hour to their offices. If you go to a place like US, you have estates outside the cities and people still come to work outside those areas. So we want to create value at the outskirts because that’s where you have large expanse of land.
We have an estate at Ugwuoba which is ongoing; we have another estate we call Coal City View at Aguabo which is like 10-15 minutes from Enugu city, also we are developing a parcel at Akagbe Ugwu. We have another estate we call Sand View at Akwuke. We are trying to develop these four estates simultaneously based on how far our capacity and our purse can carry us to create value to the outskirts. And in another one year, I think probably we should be done with all these four estates. And it’s something that we have to do to also reduce the deficit that I mentioned earlier.
So having done much on high end, what are you doing for the low income earners?
Currently we are discussing with the Federal Mortgage Bank and Primary Mortgage Bank as well as Family Funds. Family Funds is a Federal Government Agency, they have Funds to support civil servants to see if we can build for the lower income earners. So if these materialize as well, we are going to see a whole lot of low income houses coming on board within the next six months because we noticed that those that are heavily hit are low income earners because of the cost of housing units due to high cost of cement, high cost of iron rods, high cost of building materials and all that.
So we are paying major attention to low income earners and jointly with Federal Mortgage bank, and some of these other institutions we want to jointly develop like 500 units of low income housing in the state. And that we have started working on and after our presentation at Abuja and after my “Housing Award” at Abuja, they started paying more attention to what we do. These ones are on low income end.
We are also partnering with some indigenous real estate firms in the country to develop the high end, and these houses will be expensive but also it’s going to create value for the state. It’s expensive because of the type of finishing and their own objectives, their own sense of real estate. So you don’t expect them to do what you do for civil servants; that’s why. So we want to balance the high end and the low end so that we can satisfy all the housing needs.
Most people look at government housing projects as elitist projects meant to benefit only the rich; because if you look at the house rent in Enugu, it’s still one of the highest in the country; so how do you strike a balance?
Enugu State Housing Development Cooperation is a commercialised corporation. We don’t receive subventions from the state; we react to the market the way all other private real estate companies do because it’s from what we make as profit that we use to run the corporation. We pay our salaries; we have our overhead etc. I want to correct that impression of elitist minded projects. I normally see situations where they ask me, just like you are asking, why is it that you don’t have low income houses? And we ask them why is it that we don’t have low income cement, why is it that there are no low income iron rods? We are part of the society and we should begin to look at some of these problems from where it all started.
Why can’t the Federal Government give waivers to duties on cement and iron rods? I know that they produce cement in Nigeria, why can’t they support that project so that if I get low priced iron rods it will translate into low cost houses. So why will people want a high priced building materials to produce a low priced house? It can never work, it is not possible.
Besides, we don’t sell only houses, we develop estates. And for you to develop an estate, you are including infrastructure within the estate, such as roads, electricity, water etc. If I tell you how much they sell bitumen, you will be shocked. Even sand, we buy sand to do earthwork, then the drainage is is even more expensive than the road. Land as well, you have to pay for it because we are not getting land free; we discuss with communities, we pay them and we get this land and before we put the infrastructure on it we need to fence the whole area, we need to put electricity, we need to put water and then security before we now build on already high cost. And at the end of the day when you add up this it will turn out to be a high priced house.
Why do you have to move to the satellite towns for the low income houses considering that workers who live in such places will be paying transport fares which will add to their cost of living?
To build estates in the city will even worsen the price. To buy a land in the city we all know how much they are selling properties in town, because we can’t build on the air we need to buy these properties and build on top of it and it will turn out the normal way of being expensive. So what we are trying to do to solve these problems is we are talking to the stakeholders. We are discussing with Mortgage Banks so that civil servants; we know how low their salaries are, can you allow these people to pay for 20 years depending on the number of years they have in the service. So it’s working out because they have started listening to us because they feel now that we have the capacity, they now know as well that we have that good image, we will be able to get off-takers.
So we are putting our off-takers together, the cooperatives; already we have over 1000 people who are interested. With this it will be possible, but without this it will never be possible because I don’t like chasing shadows because you cannot make impossibilities to be possible.
Most often we see conflicts or misunderstanding between some institutions or communities, who lay claim to lands acquired by the corporation; some are accusing the government of forceful takeover of either communal land or land that belong to institutions and commercializing such without any benefit to them?
No, it’s a wrong impression. What we do is that we meet, we normally discuss with some of the communities or most of the communities. I will give you examples. In Coal City View which is Aguabo, we called them; we normally give them some money for what they call traditional rites because we don’t want to get involved in it.
Then secondly, we give them percentage of the developed area. For Aguabo I think we gave 20 per cent of the developed area back to the same community; the same thing in Rangers Estate and so many places. But you know out of every 12 there must be a Judas. You will see some people who will say we don’t agree with what you discussed with our community and they are in the minority. They want more or they want what is not possible, that is one aspect.
The second aspect is that the state might declare an area problematic if this area is causing problem in the society and they want to solve it and sometimes it comes from the House of Assembly because of reports of criminal activities. And the House of Assembly will now force the State Government to acquire the land because people are passing through hell and all that. And in such a place you don’t do any other thing because in the initial time they were given compensation.
So it’s not something that is hidden, we normally have our agreements with the communities written and we settle them and we still give them some percentage of the developed areas.
Source: New Telegraph