Affordable Green Housing For Nigeria

An estimated 80% of Nigerians live in indecent, informal housing structures with no basic amenities and in deplorable conditions. Only few own the house that they live in. Chinwe Ohajuruka set out to prove to the Nigerian authorities and to communities in Port Harcourt in southern Nigeria that change is achievable – and that change means green housing.

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I could not believe the words of the former Minister of Housing, Ama Pebble when she pronounced then in 2011: 80% of Nigerians living in deplorable conditions, in informal housing without access to potable water and other public infrastructures. That would have affected 130 million Nigerians at the time! This was especially shocking, as, at that time, Nigeria was the 8th largest exporter of oil globally. At the same meeting, the Minister also estimated the housing deficit at a whopping 17 million units.


With an estimated 2014 population of 178.5 million Nigeria is currently the 7th most populous country in the world. As the population grows, so does the housing deficit, as the number of houses being built does not come close to the desperate need. In May 2014, at a World Bank forum, the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Hon. Minister of Finance of Nigeria Dr. Okonjo-Iweala had some grim statistics concerning housing construction, home ownership and mortgage penetration as follows:

* Mortgage finance (as a share of GDP) is extremely low in Nigeria at 0.5%, compared with 80% (UK), 77% (USA), 31% (South Africa) and 2% (Ghana).
* The housing and construction sector account for only 3.1% of Nigeria’s rebased GDP.
* Housing production is at approximately 100,000 units per year while 800,000 units are needed yearly.

As a result of this lack of a robust mortgage financing system, Nigeria’s rate of home ownership is one of the lowest in Africa at 25%. According to the Managing Director of the Federal Mortgage Bank, Nigeria’s homeownership rate is much lower than countries like Singapore (90%), Indonesia (84%), Kenya (73%), USA (70%), Benin Republic (63%) and South Africa (56%).

In addition to these obstacles to home ownership, Nigerians face daily battles with poverty, unemployment, low human development index (HDI), low access to clean water & improved sanitation and incessant power outages. A large percentage of Nigerians are unbanked as only about 40% of the adult population is financially included.


“Success occurs when opportunity meets preparation” – Zig Ziglar (1926 –2012)

Soon after I became aware of these troubling housing statistics, a golden opportunity arose, to demonstrate that green building could be viable at the affordable housing level.

The African Diaspora Marketplace (ADM II) Business Plan Competition

In 2012, in collaboration with an amazing team of dedicated professionals committed to sustainable development, we entered an African Diasporan business plan competition in the United States. The competition was organised by USAID and Western Union for Africans wanting to do meaningful and innovative development in their home countries. Out of 495 entries, we were delighted to have been among the 44 finalists, and ultimately, one of the 17 winners! Our winning entry was titled “Renewable Energy through the Vehicle of Affordable Housing” and our innovation was called the “Passive House Prototype”.

The term passive house (Passivhaus in German) refers to a rigorous, voluntary standard for energy in a building, reducing its ecological footprint. It results in ultra-low energy buildings that require little energy for space heating or cooling.

Our definition of “Passive House Prototype” (PHP) tailored to tropical Nigeria was: “A building that uses 50 – 75% less energy than a similar building in a similar location”. We boldly designed, engineered and built an energy-efficient model of affordable housing, targeted at upgrading the “Face-Me-I-Face-You” tenement housing. Our goal was to prove that it is possible to do well while doing good, thereby inspiring the private sector to get involved in green building and sustainable design at the grass root level.

We chose to upgrade the “Face-Me-I-Face-You” housing type because it is the most affordable and commonly found in urban areas across Nigeria. These rooming houses or tenement buildings usually accommodate whole households (of up to 8 persons) in one or two rooms, with central corridors, shared kitchens, toilets and bathrooms. They are often fraught with problems of security, safety, privacy and dignity, with living conditions that are less-than-ideal.

Project Data

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Building & Site Characteristics

Each building comprised 4 units for 4 families arranged around 2 courtyards on a single minimum-sized plot of land (15m x 30m, or 50 x 100 feet). Each courtyard is shared by 2 families, and each dwelling unit (of approximately 40m2) includes:

* 1 living room
* 1 bedroom
* 1 kitchen
* 1 bathroom
* Circulation/storage.
* Flexibility – each building can comprise 1, 2, 3 or 4-bedroom units.
* Phase-able – the units could be based in phases

The Process & Projects

Completing the detailed design, engineering, specifications bills of quantities and planning approvals took nine months. We approached the Rivers State Government and received instant support when we explained that we intended to build sustainable affordable housing. The approval process was thorough but swift and we were invited to make a presentation to the Executive Council of Government. We started off by building two prototypes in Igbo-Etche, Port Harcourt, close to the well-known “Eleme Junction”. The buildings had identical floor plans but used different materials for the exterior walls. One was built with 9-inch sandcrete blocks and the other with 9-inch compressed earth blocks (CEBs).

In June, 2013, a block-making machine was brought to site and the CEBs were moulded from a composition of 95% laterite and 5% cement. The laterite came from Obehie, Abia State, 35 kilometres from the site.

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Second Project

During the construction of the Igbo-Etche project, we were awarded the construction of another Passive House Prototype close to the Port Harcourt International Airport at Igwuruta-Ali. This time, we were asked by the client to build the external walls using a combination of sandcrete blocks and CEBs. Construction started in October 2013 and by December 2013, this PHP, comprising four 1-bedroom apartments was erected.

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The solar system was installed, activated, and the building turned over to the client in September 2014.

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Lessons Learned

* On both projects, various challenges were experienced, not totally unexpected on pilot projects. Of significance was that they were built during the rainy season, which, in Port Harcourt, involved very heavy rainfall. This caused delays, as September typically has 21 rainy days out of 30!
* Building sustainably basically involved going back to first principles of bio-climatic design.
* With careful thought and team collaboration at the design stage, the projects did not cost more.
* Using compressed earth blocks resulted in cooler interiors.
* The CEB walls took less time to erect, but in this case, were not cheaper than the sandcrete block walls. Laterite for the CEBs had to be transported from a distance.
* If the laterite source is close to the site, CEBs can work out much cheaper than using sandcrete blocks, as erection is faster, mortar is not needed and the walls do not need to be plastered.
* Light coloured roofs, light coloured walls and shading went a long way in aiding the building to cool itself, eliminating the need for expensive mechanical cooling equipment.
* Economies of scale allowed for more cost-efficient construction. The costs could go as low as N7.5million per building if 10 or more were to be built at the same time.
* With commitment and care, it is certainly possible to do sustainable affordable housing developments!

Opportunities for the Government

In October 2014, the Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, Mrs. Akon Eyakenyi stated that 43,126 housing units had been added to the nation’s housing stock between July 2010 and September 2014. She also said the Federal Government has created the enabling environment for the private sector to take the front seat in the provision of housing for millions of homeless Nigerians. While these achievements are commendable, Nigeria needs to build at least one million housing units per year to address the growing deficit and population increase. Enabling conditions such as providing infrastructure, unlocking land, reducing bureaucracy and increasing the availability of mortgage and construction finance will facilitate the process. If housing policy is focused more towards building sustainable 1-bedroom units, more decent housing can be provided affordably to improve the living conditions of a greater number of people in less time! These will come with added benefits of clean energy, potable water, improved sanitation, employment, poverty reduction, wealth creation and national economic growth.

Opportunities for the Financial Sector

The absence of mortgage products is a huge barrier to large scale provision of affordable housing. 1-bedroom apartments are cheaper and quicker to build than larger residences and micro mortgages and/or micro loans could be designed to service this housing type. The provision of housing microfinance and micro-mortgages could also present opportunities for reaching the unbanked and increasing financial inclusion in Nigeria. Home-ownership is a dream of all and could be the bait used to draw in the informal sector through housing cooperative schemes, to open accounts and make regular deposits. Micro-mortgages should be expanded to include home construction, as most of the houses in Nigeria are self-built.

Opportunities for the Private Sector

We could not have achieved the success in developing our Passive House Prototypes without the collaboration and support of the Rivers State Government, especially the Greater Port Harcourt City Development Authority. We discovered that engaging the government brought interest, cooperation and more opportunities. The government cannot and should not have to solve the problem of the housing deficit on its own, and is waiting for the private sector to come forward with bold and innovative ideas. The opportunities for the private sector are endless, ranging from Public Private Partnerships, to private sustainable real estate development. Imagine how the built environment could be transformed if large corporations invested in affordable green estates for their lower income staff as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR).


On a site visit in 2013, I hired a taxi driver called Faith to take me to and from the project sites. After I had spent about 2 hours inspecting the construction and taking photographs, he remarked:

“Madam, I hope you don’t mind if I say something? I took my time to go around the site and inside all the buildings. At first, I thought you were building a house for yourself. But when I went inside, I saw that each building had four apartments. Each apartment had 1 living room, 1 bedroom, 1 kitchen, 1 bathroom, a small store and a corridor. I realized that these apartments were for people like me! Wow Madam! Look at the quality! Wow! Madam, you should run for office!” His comments revealed to me that people are not asking for too much to be satisfied: food, clothing and access to decent housing, all of which are fundamental human rights. Faith will indeed become one of the potential homeowners, as he has expressed his willingness to occupy one of the apartments. He also has a community of people that he says would also be willing to move into the apartments, and he is delighted at the prospect of owning his apartment in the not-too-distant-future. Together, we will navigate the journey of obtaining financing until they own the units. We will start with a “Rent-to-Own” agreement, and explore traditional and modern sources of microfinance such as “Isusu” and micro-finance.

Affordable green housing could well be the “silver bullet” to address the triple bottom line for sustainable development in Nigeria. With the sheer size of the Nigerian market and economy, Nigeria could lead the world in environmental sustainability, affordable green housing, green mortgages and leases, green facility management and achievement of its Millennium Development Goals.