PUTTING HOUSING IN ORDER

Nigeria 2020 | REAL ESTATE & CONSTRUCTION | INTERVIEW

Urban Shelter doesn't only provide homes for Nigeria's population; it strives to make them affordable and useful by providing lenient payment plans and creating basic infrastructure.

Saadiya Aminu
BIOGRAPHY

Saadiya Aminu is an executive management professional who has over 15 years of progressive leadership experience. She has led Urban Shelter since 2015 and repositioned the company to be an industry leader in the real estate sector. Aminu heads the Thematic Group for Housing and Urban Development of NESG. She provides governance as a board director at a number of companies, including Shelter Suites & Hotels Ltd, Urban Shelter Infrastructure Ltd, and North South Power. She is passionate about gender equality and lends her voice to a number of NGOs. She is an alumna of Brunel University and the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.

What does Urban Shelter do?
Urban Shelter is a real estate developer in Nigeria with over 27 years of experience in project conceptualization, management, and delivery. We are one of the few real estate companies in Nigeria that covers the whole spectrum of real estate development. Our focus ranges from affordable housing to high-end homes, as well as retail and commercial. Our residential ranges from USD12,000-750,000. Geographical spread is also important to the company; we have six live projects in Abuja, one in Kaduna State, two in Niger State, and two in Lagos State. In 2020, we hope to launch in Enugu State and Kano State.

What makes affordable housing attractive to you, and how do you balance cost and quality?
Volume is key. We are not in business of making money; putting people in homes is our passion. Scale is important when developing affordable homes. The planning and development stages of a project is a labor of love, from the concept and architectural design to green tech and prop tech solutions, and so on. We would prefer to build 500 homes instead of 50. There has never been a project where the infrastructure is there already. We bring expertise in for power lines, water lines, sewage lines, and roads. That volume means that you have shared costs without diminishing returns. Rather than build a 2-km road for one house that costs NGN200 million to build, I would build that 2-km road and construct 500 homes for NGN5 million.

Can you tell us about how mortgages work in Nigeria?
Nigeria faces a challenge when it comes to mortgages. Mortgage services are limited, given the volume of demand. There have been some key institutions at the forefront of championing mortgage provision, including the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN) and the Nigeria Mortgage Refinance Company (NMRC). Mortgages make up less than 1% of GDP. Internationally, the mortgage market is the driver for housing construction and economic growth. FMBN rates are at 6%, which is accessible for any Nigerian contributing to the National Housing Fund (NHF). However, application and approval times can be protracted, while non-subsidized rates can vary from 20-27%. Part of our challenge is to make affordable homes more accessible to individuals. So, we devised a five-year repayment plan. Most developers do a one-year payback plan, with some doing an 18-month or two-year plan. Furthermore, clients can move in 30 months after the date of their first payment and pay the balance while occupying their homes. In 2018, Urban Shelter signed an agreement with NMRC that will effectively allow it to re-mortgage clients under the five-year payment plan. It is immensely gratifying to be able to provide financial tools and options for Nigerians to get a step on the property ladder.

How can Nigeria improve the situation?
We need to improve the Nigerian macro-economy in which we operate, live, and do business. Improving macroeconomic indicators means falling interest rates; what typically stops clients from getting into the mortgage market is high mortgage rates in the 20s. If inflation is already in the double digits, the market free rate is also going to be high. Interbank lending rates will be at double digits, around 13-14%. Money becomes too expensive. You also have situations where mortgage banks themselves are borrowing from commercial banks, which are also facing financial risks. Recently, inflation has gone down to low digits. That is a good sign, as is increasing political stability following elections earlier in 2019. We hopefully should see a cascading effect where other rates will fall and indicators improve. Eventually, that will reduce mortgage rates. The mortgage market also needs more liquidity, which the Family Homes Fund will help to address. Concrete intervention in the housing and mortgage market must be made. Examples can be found in Singapore and even Mexico.