Moderating inequality in property market

Estate        Abiodun Gboyega is a secondary school teacher who lives in a two-bedroom apartment in Satellite town, Lagos. He came back from work one evening to receive a quit notice issued by his landlord and wondered what could have happened when he has never defaulted in payment. On inquiry, he discovered that his co-tenants were also issued same eviction notice and were later informed by the landlord that he wanted to carryout renovation on the said property.

Left with no choice, Gboyega and his co-tenants relocated. However, few months later, he went back to his former neighbourhood to visit a friend and discovered that his former abode was occupied by new tenants without the property being renovated. Curious, he investigated and was shocked to learn that the new occupants, most of whom are businessmen, coughed up N300,000 per annum for an accommodation he once paid N180,000 per annum.

Have you been served eviction notice by your landlord under the pretext of carrying out renovation only to discover that he has given the accommodation you vacated to another tenant who paid higher rent without the renovation? You are not alone. Red-hot property markets are plagued by shortage of housing even as the less well-to-do are often priced-out of their neighbourhoods. Lagos with its huge housing deficit, has witnessed high inequality in property markets. Some people are being forced to relocate to outskirts of town with little or no access to public services which results in growth of slums. Places mostly affected are the highbrow areas where fast growing ‘cities’ occupied by the rich adjoin ‘slum areas’ where low-income earners dwell. Take Lekki for example. The exquisite estates and houses in Lekki Phase 1 and 2 are often occupied by expatriates, bankers, oil and gas workers and multinational companies’ staff, while the adjoining areas of Oko Aja, Abraham Adesanya, Sango-Tedo, Osakpa are occupied by those on the lower rungs of the income ladder. The same applies along the Badagry expressway where low income earners are persistently priced-out of their former neighbourhoods in Satellite and Festac towns. Consequently, they move towards the outskirts of Okokomaiko, Ajangbadi, Agbara, Oko-Afo, and far away Badagry.

Experts say as build-up of highbrow estates intensifies, low-income earners are pushed outwards; moving towards the hinterland and this creates dysfunctional settlements that lack adequate urban planning. Some of these settlements not only lack appropriate zoning, houses are also compressed into rows without adequate spacing and taste. These settlements with clustered houses also lack basic amenities such as paved roads, street lights and environmental luxuries such as tree planting. Without government playing in the property market, they reckon, the situation would worsen, thereby forcing the property market to be divided between the haves and the have-nots. “We live in a society of low trust. This condition where the rich and the poor stay apart promotes that trust divide. It creates the impression of them versus us,” says Ben Ugboaga, a property market consultant. It also promotes crime as most of the clustered settlements are often hotbeds of criminality.

The apartheid-like settlements system encouraged by the activities of greedy property owners promote a divisive society. As part of measures to check the trend, the Lagos State government, through its rent control law and Home-Ownership Mortgage Scheme (HOMS) introduced in 2011, provided housing to hundreds of Lagosians especially middle income earners who are first time buyers. At the establishment of the Lagos HOMS, former Governor Babatunde Fashola had said: “Home ownership has often been regarded as a utopian aspiration for a large majority of our people; a mark of great prosperity and the attainment of significant wealth. As a result, this status brought about by inequality has eluded our people decade after decade. We believe that equalizing opportunities will remain the expectation of every taxpayer from a government under any social democracy for generations to come. It is for this reason that our strong determination to provide better access to capital through affordable access to home ownership remains unshaken.”

What can be done to really ameliorate this challenge? Analysts believe as long as the huge housing deficit persists in the country, there is little or nothing government can do to curb this disturbing pattern as evidenced from the Lagos State failed attempt to enact rent control. Without enforcement mechanism in place the rent edict has failed to curb the excesses of greedy landlords. Moreover, in a free market system, rent edicts will be rebuffed by well-connected property owners who would fight it in the courts. “It is counter-productive to enact rent control laws. Once property owners know they can’t raise rents as they wish, most will not invest in property anymore,” says Paul Osueke, a legal practitioner. Indeed, achieving equality in the property market appears to be a utopian dream.

By Osaze Omoragbon

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