Affordable housing strategies: mixed income policies (Part I)

Urban societies are typically a mix of diverse people and interests that are often interdependent. It is therefore pertinent that urban housing strategies account for social integration of these varied interests. But the ‘affordability’ of housing seems to be an ambiguous subject matter. Definitively, affordability should capture the average income of the people, the design and material costs of building, the underlying costs of lands, maintenance costs and other associated costs that determine the price per unit of the housing structure. In Lagos where the prices of lands, materials and designs are comparatively high, the final price per unit of a decent housing development turns out above the average wage of the people and thus a luxury for the low-middle income groups. A realistic price for low-income resident should derive from the prevailing average income, ranging therefore between N18, 000 and N50, 000. The inflated cost of lands is due mainly to a combination of factors including inflexible land tenure system, land speculation, land grabbing and high incidence of fraud. The result is the manifestation of inequality and segregation in settlement pattern – for which mixed income/class policies are possible solution.

Mixed income/class housing is a strategic co-location of both social housing and market housing designs in an area with shared access to infrastructure in order to ensure social inclusiveness. Given the housing situation in the country, market motivated strategies only worsen inequality and social exclusion. The time is now to grease the stiff necks of the government, call the attention of private developers and community stakeholders towards mixed income/class alternatives. We must build political consensus on housing as a necessary human need for the rich and poor alike.

Challenges to mixed income/class housing policies

  1. Market mechanism: where the government has failed to provide the basic infrastructures that ensure social inclusiveness and lacks policies against gentrification of cities, private developers step in to fill the gaps however with a selection strategy that maximizes profits. For instance, if the underlying land is auctioned and developed under market process like in Banana Island, a decent unit in the eventual development becomes too expensive for the common man.
  2. Social costs: mixed strategies imply that low income earners live in the same neighbourhood as the wealthy where infrastructures are available. But these infrastructures and utilities such as energy carry costs that may exceed the income levels of the poor. Also, because prices generally tend upwards, the activities of wealthy may drive up prices – of foods, schools – such that the poor may sort themselves out. Example, Amuwo-odofin, FESTAC town.
  • Security: the growing disparity between classes has dynamic implication on behavioural patterns and environmental expectations for both classes. This for the wealthy class manifests in perception of insecurity around the poor and class tension. For the poor, it could mean oppression and intimidation.

Policy proposals: case study

Studies show that inclusive, equitable cities are more sustainable. In particular, two international case studies in Vienna, Austria and Maryland, USA show interesting outcome and could serve as guide in the approach to mixed housing strategies. In Vienna, the government drives the construction of most new apartments: land is sold to the winning developer at a subsidized rate, under low interest financing and long-term loan repayment schemes. In conformity with the stipulated design standard, ecological considerations, the developer must then rent half of the new apartments to low-income residents at prices regulated by the government. Today, Vienna is adjudged the world’s most liveable city.

In Maryland, the policy sets aside 15% of housing units over 50 units for affordable housing, of which one third goes to the Public Housing Authority for subsidized low-income housing, while two third goes to the modest income class.  Two approaches were compared thereof in this case study: in Mckendree development, the affordable residences were clustered in one area where there are high income residents as well. There were no shared facilities or community spaces, and maintenance was left to the individual residents. In Timberlawn development, the affordable units were dispersed around the city with the market-rate residences. The units also had shared facilities which were centrally maintained. Comparative surveys showed more satisfaction in Timberlawn than in Mckendree.

We can draw lessons from the successes in the international case studies. Policies can be designed to address the challenges that hinder the implementation of social housing programs across Nigeria. In Lagos for instance, a mixed housing policy could stipulate that 20% of estate development greater than 5 hectares have to be allotted for constructing affordable housing. Of the 20%, 15% may be reserved for moderate income class while 5% would be reserved for the low income category such as artisans, housemaids, and petty traders. These affordable units would be sold only to cooperative groups so as to avert the incidence of speculative reselling – at market values. However, members of the cooperative societies may sell or transfer their block or shareholdings to existing or new members. Rental price in the lower income segment may be a fraction, say 20% of their estimated average income. Government involvement is necessary to keep prices stable.

The design guidelines should follow the distributed-type mixed housing, proximity to social infrastructures such as schools, healthcare centres, parks and markets should be considered. Given the electricity situation, buildings should be at most, 5 storeys with navigable stairwell – without elevators. Kitchen, toilets and bathroom may be shared by optimum number of room/occupants. Designs should adopt simple parameters such as cross ventilation, double roofing and roof overhangs in order to boost environmental performance and reduce maintenance costs. However, these policy suggestions are not conclusive. They are simple, practical steps towards inclusive housing policies and are open to debate and further discussions. It attempts to call the attention of private and community developers, governments and other stakeholders to the possibilities in creating social housing.

(This article is based on the report, Achieving Mixed and Integrative Housing in Lagos by Heinrich Böll Stiftung and Arctic Infrastructure)

First published: