Home ECONOMY Kenya must go beyond the home ownership agenda

Kenya must go beyond the home ownership agenda

by biasharadigest
Columnists

Kenya must go beyond the home ownership agenda

Kibera slums
Kibera slums. Kenya must focus its efforts on sustainable urban planning. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

A 2018 report by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics indicated that in Nairobi, a majority of the population live in rented housing with approximately 34 percent of the households living in single room rentals across the different informal settlements while another 36 percent live in single room tenements.

In some cases as the one recently highlighted in one of the local media stations, homelessness has pushed a number of Kenyans into living in some of the direst of conditions including at the bases of elevated roads.

In many ways, the story mirrored the narrative of public housing in Kenya. That is, decades of neglect and lack of new infrastructure leading to a patchwork of public and private services which a vulnerable person needs to negotiate to get the most basic of things: a roof over their head.

The state of housing in Kenya is also the story of a neoliberal economic policy – an unbroken run of prosperity that saw housing transform from a social need into an asset.

The nation’s over 30-year-long boom has made a lot of mum and dad investors property millionaires – at least on paper. Far from being good for all, however, Kenya’s long boom has actually exacerbated housing inequality, creating a shameful legacy of a massive increase in the number of people unable to afford adequate housing, leading to a sharp rise in homelessness.

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Consequently, Nairobi remains a city notoriously divided by class, with development highly driven by an avaricious property market.

Recently, Housing Principal Secretary Charles Hinga handed over 228 units at the Park Road, Ngara housing project which is part of the government’s long-term goal to deliver 500,000 houses by 2022 and while this is laudable to say the least, a lot still remains to be done.

A 2019 report by the Slum Dwellers International (SDI) revealed that although it is often assumed that Nairobi’s rental costs per unit of space is low per m2 for single room housing, the same may not actually be true as a critical analysis shows that the apartments for middle class residents in estates such as Kileleshwa have a lower average cost per m2 as compared to single-room tenements in Kawangware.

Accordingly, the report presupposes that while home ownership may address some of the challenges in the city and beyond, the most feasible solution would be adoption of tenure and occupancy arrangements with particular focus on affordable rental housing and economic development strategies targeting low income earners (SDI, 2019).

Singapore, which has always been Kenya’s most preferred benchmark, established the Housing and Development Board (HDB) in 1960 to solve the problem of housing affordability. In the early years, HDB focused on producing rental housing.

Kenya must focus its efforts on sustainable urban planning underscored by land management practices to encourage land banking and address issues of land speculation.

Built environment professionals and developers must be empowered to ensure that the planning, designing and construction of housing adhere to the minimum housing standards.

The writer is urban planner in Nairobi.

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