Amaka Osarieme Nwaokolo describes herself as “results driven, strategic and a problem solver”. Precisely the kind of person you would expect to have a go at trying to make up for the huge gap in the supply of housing for Nigeria’s lower income families. The challenge she has decided to attack is a monster that seems to be growing apace, but she says she is determined to do something about pegging it back.
The high cost of land and building materials has meant that the much-talked about real estate boom that has taken place in some parts of the country hasn’t really benefited people at the lower end of the income spectrum. While high-rise office blocks and deluxe apartments have gone up, the majority who cannot afford these posh edifices have had to fight it out for the inadequate number of homes which are within price ranges that they can handle. The National Bureau of Statistics reported in its Real Estate Survey Report (2013) that Nigeria needed 17 million more houses than it had at the time of the survey to take care of its population’s demand for decent shelter. Current projections suggest that deficit has grown even wider.
Nwaokolo knows about these things; she spent five years working in the construction industry, and it was her experience in the industry that opened her eyes to this imbalance. In an interview with business insights magazine How We Made It In Africa, she said she began to think about how to solve this problem.
“I thought- if we can’t do anything about the price of land- because that is beyond our control –then maybe we can do something about reducing the cost of construction, so the price the end user has to pay won’t be as high as it is now”, she said.
Nwaokolo started her company, Blue Tower House Services, to provide quality housing at affordable prices for low and lower middle-income people. The company wants to use aerated blocks, which are light, porous and thermally insulating blocks made of concrete material, to construct houses. This, according to Nwaokolo, will cut down construction time by more than half and help to reduce building costs. Through her personal savings, she has funded the construction of five one-bedroom houses in Abuja. The homes are expected to be listed by the end of 2016 at a rent of up to ₦250,000 per year- a fraction of the ₦600,000-₦700,000 which houses similar to the one her company is building currently cost in Abuja.
The response to her housing project, according to Nwaokolo, has been overwhelming. She referred to the usual practice of paying two years up front, and explained that her company would be offering rents on a monthly basis instead.
“Just having a developer that says they can pay their rent monthly has made people very excited”, she said. In the long term, the company could give people who rent the option of owning their homes.
It cost about ₦2 million to build each of the five houses in Abuja. Nwaokolo says she expects to recoup her investment in six years.
Also in the works is a plan to develop 300 houses in Kaduna, which she reckons will be even more affordable, because of its larger scale. It would enable the company to cover the cost of importing the machines used to make the aerated blocks within a shorter time frame, thus making it possible to offer the houses for rent at lower prices. If successfully executed, this would set off the company on its path to giving Nigeria’s real estate sector a model that would benefit the less well off.