Housing for professionals working in the modern economy are challenged in most of the world’s mega-cities. Lagos is no exception, as profiled by the BBC. Its reporter estimates that “middle-to-high-income” housing can cost between $5,000 and $40,000 a year. But the practice of paying a year’s worth of rent upfront sets Lagos apart: the BBC’s reporter was asked for between $11,000 and $22,000 for a two-bedroom apartment with electricity in a good Lagos neighborhood, Victoria Island.
For context, according to one estimate, average rent for an apartment in Manhattan is as high as $4,336 per month, or $52,032 per year, and about 97 percent of apartments in the borough rent for more than $2,000 per month. In New York and Lagos, the shortage of housing at all levels in acute. The New York metropolitan area’s population was 20 million in 2016, while that of Lagos state is often estimated to be 22 million. Both cities are built on islands next to the ocean, limiting the amount of land available for development.
But Lagos has particular challenges. Real estate financing and consumer mortgages are usually short-term, often five years or less. Such short term financial arrangements encourage developers to seek short-term profits, which, too often, result in poor construction and shoddy maintenance. The practice of paying rent in advance in Lagos also reflects the difficulty landlords often face in collecting rents.
Nigerians like to see Lagos as their New York. Indeed, the two cities are the cultural, economic, education, luxury, and transportation hubs of their respective countries. They both attract residents from a nation-wide catchment area. Both cities are characterized by gross inequality of wealth, with a small number of rich people and a much larger number of poor, though New York has a proportionally larger middle class. The BBC report cited here reflects the realities faced by a very small middle class in Lagos. In both cities, much cheaper rents are found outside the city center. But the trade-off is long commutes—much longer in Lagos where the transportation infrastructure is still developing. Nevertheless, the most profound difference between the two is that New York is one of the world’s richest cities while Lagos is one of the poorest. That reality intrudes on all aspects of daily life, from housing to education to transportation infrastructure.