The proposed Mortgage Refinance Company (MRC) being promoted by the Federal Government to address the acute housing problem in the country, is billed for launch in the first quarter of 2014. Initially planned to kick off in November 2013 , the federal government is said to have decided to shift the take-off date in a bid to ensure that every possible loophole that might pose challenges in its smooth running in future, is plugged. A source close to MRC's promoters, which is configured with majority private sector ownership, told THISDAY at the weekend that having secured the $300 million soft loan from the World Bank under its International Development Association (IDA) concessionary lending window, the government was taking care to address possible grey areas that may torpedo its commencement or pose challenges to its smooth operations after take-off. This consideration, the source said, prompted the government to consider moving the takeoff date to the first quarter of 2014, when there would have been enough time to also synergise effectively with the private sector stakeholders of MRC . Although the source would not drop any hint on what might constitute grey areas, THISDAY gathered that the Federal Ministry of Finance , which is the arrow-head of MRC's emergence, is factoring in the concerns of housing stakeholders, which were ventilated through public and private avenues in order to ensure that the proposed finance outfit fills the void in the housing sector. On the negative experiences of customers of the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria whose contributions did not derive commensurate returns, THISDAY gathered that Okonjo-Iweala had assured during a meeting with some governors recently that strong measures are being put in place to ensure that the bad experiences of the past are not repeated in the forthcoming Mortgage Refinance Company (MRC). The measures include strong governance procedures and the strong involvement of the private sector. She said that the federal government was also keeping an interest in the MRC to ensure that the mortgages are reasonably affordable. In announcing the proposed MRC early this year, the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said the federal government was also working on mass housing schemes with a rent-to-own option for workers to reduce the housing deficit in the country. According to her, the target of the first stage of the mass housing scheme is to increase the number of completed mortgages from the current 20,000 housing units to 200,000 units in three years. "Though this target is quite a tough one, we believe that with the leadership of the President and the commitment and hard work of the various ministries and agencies involved, it is achievable," she said, adding that plans were underway to develop the required policy and legislations to support the proposed reforms in the housing sector. The minister had recently met with Governors Peter Obi of Anambra State, Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State , Isa Yuguda of Bauchi State and Rabiu Kwankwanso of Kano State and the Deputy Governor of Plateau State for an interactive session on the new mortgage system. To ensure that Nigerians on the lower end of the economic ladder are not left out, the government is also focusing on mass housing, especially lease-to-own options with initial beneficiaries coming from 14 pilot states. THISDAY gathered that during the session with the governors and representatives from the pilot states as well as representatives from the World Bank , DFID and other partner institutions, Okonjo-Iweala declared: "There is still a lot of work to be done but the President has given us marching orders to ensure that Nigerians begin to enjoy affordable mortgage as soon as possible. "This is central to the President's vision for improving the economy and improving the welfare of Nigerians. When housing works, the whole economy works. From mortgage companies to building materials sellers to brick layers and carpenters and mason, the benefits in terms of job creation and overall economic development are immense," she said. The country is currently confronted with a deficit of 17 million housing units and needs one million units per annum for the next 17 years to meet this need. Managing Director, Asset Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON), Mustapha Chike-Obi had recently declared that meeting the need of Nigeria's housing market required an annual N10 trillion for the next five years. "But the total balance sheet of banks in Nigeria annually is N20 trillion. Nigeria's annual budget stands at an approximated N5 trillion annually; so where is the money for housing going to come from?" he queried.
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