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UN Envoy sends message to Buhari govt over vacant houses in Abuja, Lagos

Ms Leilana Fartha, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Adequate Housing, on Monday urged the Federal Government to impose vacant home taxes with a view to addressing housing challenges in the country.

Fartha at a news conference in Abuja, expressed concern over human rights crisis presented by poor living conditions in Nigeria’s informal settlements.

According to her, the informal settlements house about 69 per cent of the urban population.

She said: “Most residents in Nigeria’s ballooning informal settlements 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.

“My 10 days fact findings visit to Nigeria has presented an economic inequality in the country, which has reached extreme level and is playing itself out clearly in the housing sector.

“There is an estimated housing shortage of 22 million units.

“At the same time, newly built luxury dwellings are springing up throughout cities and made possible often through the forced eviction of poor communities.

“These units do not fulfill any housing need, with many remaining vacant as vehicles for money laundering or investment,’’ she said.

While urging the Federal Government to take urgent measures to address homelessness and poverty, Fartha advocated for a declaration of a nation-wide moratorium on forced evictions.

“Government must address the grossly inadequate housing conditions with the urgency and rigour befitting a human rights crisis of this scale.

“Apart from establishing a national commission to investigate gross human rights violations in the context of forced evictions, the government should provide basic services to all informal settlements.

“And must increase the number of shelters for persons in situations of vulnerability,’’ Fartha said.

She further expressed worry that the Bill for an Act to provide rent control failed in the National Assembly.

According to her, when the bill for rent control first hit the National Assembly, it wasn’t ripe

“It is unfortunate that the bill died in NASS.

“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 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.

“I don’t like a tax and you never see where the tax is going.

“There are other measures that can be explored, there are situations where homes are misappropriated given that the government has all the lands in trust,’’ she stressed

Fartha will present a comprehensive report of her visit to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2020.

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