A United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the rights to adequate housing, Ms Leilana Farha on Monday said imposing taxes on vacant houses might go a long way in alleviating the terrible housing challenges faced by Nigerians.
Ms Farha made this known on Monday in the nation’s capital, Abuja, while presenting her report at the end of a 10-day fact finding visit to the country.
She expressed concern over the human rights crisis presented by the inhumane living conditions in Nigeria’s informal settlement, which houses 69 percent of the urban population.
Ms Farha noted that Nigeria’s housing sector was in a complete crisis and existing programmes have not been able to address the ever-growing housing need.
She said, “Most residents in Nigeria’s ballooning informal settlement live without access to even the most basic services like running water and they lack any security of tenure forcing them to live in constant fear of being evicted.
“I was shocked to see that the communities most in need of protection and assistance by the state are instead persecuted, harassed, extorted and even arrested and jailed without having ever committed a crime.”
She noted that economic inequality in Nigeria has reached extreme levels and is playing itself out clearly in the housing sector.
The UN Rapporteur pointed out that Nigeria has estimated housing shortage of 22 million units while newly built luxury dwellings are springing up throughout cities – made possible often through the forced eviction of poor communities.
She added, “Nigeria’s housing sector is in a complete crisis. There is no current national housing action plan or strategy. Coordination and communication between federal and state governments seems lacking.”
Speaking on the rent control bill that failed in the national assembly, the UN official said the bill died because it wasn’t ripe.
“The idea of controlling rent caps is hotly debated in many countries. New York just tried to have rent control laws passed; Barcelona is close to getting rent-free as rent is actually frozen for some period of five to seven years.
“So, in many jurisdictions, they have started to impose vacant home tax.
“I support that kind of move from a human rights point of view only where that money from the tax is directly put into the creation of affordable housing.
“In the case of Nigeria, it could be used as a fund to upgrade informal settlements,” Ms Farha stated.
She then urged the government to address the grossly inadequate housing conditions with the urgency and rigour befitting a human rights crisis of this scale.
“A national-level moratorium on forced evictions should be declared by the Federal Government, until adequate legal and procedural safeguards are in place to ensure that all evictions are compliant with international human rights law.”
Ms Farha will present a comprehensive report of her visit to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2020.