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The demand for affordable and accessible housing in Kenya is mostly within the urban informal areas.

A 2017 World Bank report indicates that Kenya needs at least 2 million low-income homes to be able to realise economic growth. The government of Kenya plans to build 1 million homes by 2022, 800,000 of which will be affordable homes, while 200,000 will be social housing.

The demand for low-income housing by the urban poor surpasses by far what the government has planned. Ideally, social housing, from the government’s perspective, refers to one or two-roomed accommodation in slums, old council estates and new greenfield developments.

There is no clear definition on the same. In the United Kingdom, where the concept has been applied for decades, social housing is mainly rental to the low-income and the poor who cannot afford housing at market rates. The housing is subsidised by the state on the grounds of equity.

Further, the state attempts to mix this with different types of accommodation to limit stigmatisation and encourage cross subsidy.

Kenya has recently adopted the “social housing” terminology. While it is not clearly defined, the state seems to use the term to mean housing for those who cannot be catered for by the market, but there is still ambiguity in the understanding.

Development projects of such scale need a lot of care to ensure that the marginalised who are disenfranchised from basic essential services are able to access housing without further stigmatisation with regards to the project locations.

In the past, we have seen many housing projects meant for the urban poor end up with the wrong beneficiaries, thus exacerbating already existing inequality gaps. For social housing projects to thrive, some basic minimums need to be followed.

The project must promote meaningful engagement and use of data to ensure the most vulnerable and those genuinely in need benefit from the houses.

A clear data management system must be in place, with up-to-date enumerated numbers of people living in the settlements to ensure informed allocation of houses, but also prevent double allocation of houses. Each beneficiary must benefit only once to give other Kenyans an opportunity to also benefit.

Social housing must also not promote forced evictions in the name of development.

For the avoidance of doubt, a forced eviction is defined as “the permanent or temporary removal against the will of individuals, families and/or communities from the homes and/or land which they occupy, without the provision of and access to appropriate forms of legal or other protection.”

Clear mechanisms on resettlement before project implementation must be adhered to, to prevent forced evictions.

Social housing must also not be narrowly interpreted to mean the end product, it must encourage and facilitate community participation in the building process and factor in sweat equity as a form of beneficiary contribution to the project. This will considerably reduce the cost of owning a house for the low-income cadre.

Social housing is an incremental process and might not yield to immediate results in the short-term, particularly in changing the situation in urban informal settlements.

The government must acknowledge that informal settlements and their residents are an integral part of urban life and they have a right to accessible and adequate housing with reasonable standards of sanitation.

The government can attain some quick wins through building of access roads, ensuring adequate and affordable supply of water within the settlements, and supporting investment in community infrastructure.

It is also essential that aspects of gender and inter-generational equity are factored in to ensure sound investments.

Housing is a devolved function, with the national government having the role and mandate of developing housing policies.

The letter of the Constitution must be actualised and counties must also be well-resourced to deliver on the Big 4 Agenda on housing, this is vital to prevent mushrooming of informal settlements in counties.

The national government should not be the sole implementer hogging all the resources.

Social housing can only be achieved through commitment at both levels of government with the understanding that social housing is essential in transforming any economy.

- The writer is the Executive Director, Economic and Social Rights at Centre-HakiJamii

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