|Sections of Kakamega town. [PHOTOS: BENJAMIN SAKWA/STANDARD]|
By BRYAN TUMWA
The term middle class has, today, come to refer to those with significant financial muscle. Its use draws to mind sleek cars, children in private schools and posh houses. Not yet made it, but heading there.
Kakamega’s growing elite might not meet this contemporary definition to the letter, but devolution has seen more professionals and business people move to counties. They have money to spend on more than basic needs.
In Kakamega’s case, however, housing is a problem — even those who can afford it can hardly get it. And those with a little money to spare have a difficult time getting homes to fit their status.
Demand for better housing has increased substantially among Kakamega town’s growing population. Middle class apartments are few and far between here, posing a challenge to those who want to buy or rent. The few units available do not give one many options to choose from either.
Part of the problem is shortage of land. Much of the land is used to grow sugarcane and food crops. A big chunk of land in this rural county is owned by individuals, while the rest is either trust land or government land.
Apart from the National Housing Corporation projects, there are no trends setting gated communities in Kakamega town. The expansion of Masinde Muliro University and other universities and colleges, in the town, has also added pressure on the few decent housing available.
According to Holland Mbohya, a project manager, many real estate developers in the town moved into construction of hostels to cash in on the steady transformation of the town into an education hub.
“Only the government has invested in infrastructure in Kakamega through the establishment of the provincial headquarters, police headquarters and other infrastructure. Most of the suburbs of Kakamega are still under agriculture, but the forces of demand and supply are working to change this situation,” says Mbohya.
Some real estate developers are putting up flats to maximise on land whose value has risen fast over the years. Mbohya says land values have nearly tripled in four years because of high demand.
“Around Kakamega town, one acre piece of land that was going for Sh300,000 has shot up to between Sh900, 000 and Sh1.5 million. This high cost of land coupled with high cost of development has discouraged investors from putting up big projects,” he noted.
As the situation worsens, professionals continue to pour into the town in search of job opportunities presented by the county government. The county government is in the process of zoning the town so that there can be distinct residential areas and industrial areas. This has been prompted by increasing interest from real estate investors.
The county executive committee member in charge of land, housing and urban areas, Major Suleiman Sumba, says all urban areas in the county would be subjected to strict development guidelines. Part of the plan is to develop a land bank to enable the county to have land for investors. There will also be slum upgrading.
“Our urban centres will be developed in adherence to the highest standards. Kakamega, Mumias, Lugari, Butere and all other urban centres within the county will have to conform to urban planning regulations,” says Sumba.
The National Housing Corporation put up a block of flats at Mundiri, in 2011, where about 80 households are accommodated. However, the buildings are already in a poor state of repair. Several roofs have been blown off, causing water to seep into the building and causing the houses to become damp. The paint is also peeling off the walls.
Vincent Rop, one of the tenants in the development, says since April last year, repairs have not been done despite petitioning the NHC to fix the problem several times.
“We cannot move out because there is nowhere to go. The rooms become damp whenever it rains. We are exposed to a health hazard, yet we pay rent promptly,” he says.
Since most occupiers are still repaying mortgages, NHC reserves the right to carry out repairs and maintenance. However, bureaucracies and lack of competent local contractors have made the problem persist for more than one and a half years now.
A local NHC official, who did not want to be named, says the houses built in the town have helped meet the high demand for housing.
“Before these houses were built, there was a huge problem for people looking for decent accommodation, and this should be counted as a plus. There have been management challenges in the corporation ever since senior managers in the company were removed, but the new management is aware of the problems at Mundiri and will act soon,” he said.
The plight of residents here highlights the general problem of lack of quality housing and the lack of competence among some local contractors to undertake huge infrastructural projects.
A two-bedroom house in Kakamega town goes for between Sh8,000 and Sh15,000 per month, depending on the finishing and location.
A three-bedroom flat goes for between Sh17,000 and Sh30,000 per month, while a bungalow goes for between Sh20,000 and Sh40,000 per month.
With a new water plant at Dindinyo and availability of electricity and sewerage facilities in the town, coupled with residents who have a higher spending capability, investors should be able to set up bigger projects and recoup their investments within a short time.