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One company's plan to create affordable green housing in Nigeria

Founded by Chinwe Ohajuruka, The Comprehensive Design Service aims to provide simple, sustainable housing to people in Nigeria who otherwise could not afford home ownership due to high building costs and a rapidly expanding urban population.

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A prototype of a home built with a bioclimatic design by Comprehensive Design Service in Nigeria. The group is preparing to build a multi-housing development comprised of studios, one-, and two-bedroom houses that are energy efficient and affordable.

Justice Ilevbare/The Nation

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Rapid urbanization has forced millions of Nigerians to live in slums and squatter settlements, as the country’s population is growing faster than its ability to build new housing. Today, more than 80 percent of Nigerians live in substandard housing conditions, and many lack access to electricity.

However, for some, relief is on the way thanks to a company called Comprehensive Design Services (CDS). The company caters to people who would not otherwise have access to home ownership. It seeks to improve the living standard of Nigerians by providing affordable houses, reliable renewable energy, clean water, and recycling strategies.  

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CDS was launched by architect and social entrepreneur Chinwe Ohajuruka, who was the sub-Saharan African Laureate of the Cartier Women's Initiative Awards in 2015. “Comprehensive Design Services aims to turn challenges in the Nigerian built environment into opportunities,” she says.

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In 2012 CDS was one of 17 winners (out of 495 entries) in the African Diaspora Marketplace Business Plan Competition in the United States. Between 2013 and 2015, CDS built 12 affordable green housing units in the Nigerian city of Port Harcourt.

“People’s lives have been changed for the better because eight families now live in decent homes with access to clean water, improved sanitation, and renewable energy. More importantly, they now live with dignity,” Ms. Ohajuruka says.

The group is currently preparing to build its next multi-housing development comprising approximately 40 small homes including studios, one-, and two-bedroom houses.  

Last year, Nigeria’s minister of Power, Works, and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, said that factors working against home ownership in Nigeria include the high cost of land, lack of financing, high interest rates, high material and construction costs, and delays in obtaining titles to land and buildings.

Ohajuruka says that few housing developers are interested in affordable housing, as the profit margins are small. “We have seen a need, and have developed ways to build decent housing quickly, affordably, and sustainably,” she says. “We are trying to lead by example, to improve the lives of Nigerians with simple, sustainable housing. We are trying to tackle large, complex problems with simplified solutions, one home at a time. We design, engineer, and build compact homes that are self-cooling, solar-powered, and water-sufficient. They combat climate change in a natural and groundbreaking way.”

She explains that the technology, called bioclimatic design, is quite simple.

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“It means designing and engineering the buildings to suit the climate by going back to first principles: keep out the sun, rain, and insects; maximize natural ventilation and natural lighting; raise the building off the ground for flood prevention and control, and capture rainwater where possible,” Ohajuruka says. Water comes from underground boreholes, pumped using solar power.

“We have the best climate in the world, but our buildings have become hot, stuffy, and dark, requiring fans and air conditioners,” says Ohajuruka. “We should work with the climate in the design of buildings and not against it.”

She explains that CDS did not invent the technology; the country’s traditional architecture was better suited to the climate than many modern buildings. “We simply revived and modernized traditional architecture principles. We are not the only ones doing it in Nigeria. There are many climate-conscious architects who are doing similar and better work.”

Initially funded with a grant from USAID and Western Union Foundation, CDS is now working to raise funds from the private sector. Ohajuruka says that CDS’s constructions typically cost 25 to 50 percent less to build than similar homes in similar regions, and consume 50 to 75 percent less energy. “That is why they are called affordable and green. The cost varies according to the quantity: The more we build, the cheaper they become because of economies of scale.”

Nonetheless, she notes that it will take a major effort to curb the country’s housing crisis. “I am of the opinion that we have to do much more if we hope to close the 17 million housing unit deficit. Sustainable thinking will have to be deployed on a massive scale,” she says.

Over the long term, Ohajuruka’s goal is to replicate the model across sub–Saharan Africa. 

“Our greatest challenge to date has been that all we have done so far barely scratches the surface of what needs to be done. Scaling up our operations has not been easy. It has often been said that if you want to understand a problem, try to solve it. We now understand firsthand why providing affordable housing is a global problem. To the glory of God, we have started on a path to success, and there is no looking back, no matter how formidable the challenges are.”

This story was reported by The Associated Press. The Monitor is publishing it as part of Impact Journalism Day, an international effort by more than 50 news organizations worldwide to promote solutions journalism. To read other stories in this joint project organized by Paris-based Sparknews, please click here.