President Uhuru Kenyatta’s plan to provide at least 500,000 housing units might end up benefitting a handful of individuals.
This is unless the Government fully grasps and executes the concept of social housing, a recent report says.
The report- State of Housing in Kenya: Will Government Strategy Deliver on Social Housing?- looks at the state of social housing in Kenya in the context of the Government’s Big Four agenda.
Of key concern is the State’s reliance on Public-Private Partnerships, as a financing model to build the units, even with the backdrop of previous PPP projects that have failed to take off.
“The PPPs, if not designed properly can involve enormous risks and costs to the public sector, exacerbate inequalities and decrease equitable access to essential services,” the report says. “Government should rethink their approach towards private sector participation in social housing, and explore alternative means of financing.”
Key voices within the social housing debate argue that there can be alternatives to the proposed financing model which might, in the long run, offer better returns to not only government but the intended beneficiaries as well.
“The government can opt to get revenues from property taxes, service charges and user fees, in compliance with human rights standards, funding by public banks, the issuance of public (including county) bonds and find ways to cross-subsidise different public services,” says human lights lawyer Pauline Vata says.
“Social housing must lay emphasis on the broader social issues around housing and livelihoods. The housing deficit in Kenya is mainly felt by the low-income populace, therefore, supply by the Government must respond to this deficit.”
According to the report, the Government must formulate sustainable development budgets to implement the housing agenda. The necessary reforms should not be limited to the national level but should also target the county level given housing is a devolved function.
“The strengthening of public finance is necessary at all levels which must include sufficient financial support, predictable and reliable funding for county governments, to enable them to fulfil their social housing mandates,” the report says.
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Previous social housing projects that have been attempted in the country either by the Government or through partnership with other organisations have failed to take off.
For instance, the Kenya Slum Upgrading Programme (KENSUP) that developed low-income housing in Kibera, the World Bank funded Railway Relocation Development, the Catholic-led Mathare 4A and 4B home ownership scheme as well as the Kenya Informal Settlements Infrastructure Programme (KISIP) have all failed to live up to live up to expectation.
In Kibera, the original beneficiaries of the programme quickly sold off the units to an eager middle class and went back to rent houses in the very slums that ought to have been demolished.
The same problem has afflicted the Railway relocation programme that was marred by controversies such as double allocation of the units. In Mathare, the project stalled after a tiff between the Catholic Church, former slum residents and the government of Kenya over the adoption of a sustainable ownership model.
“The large population of people who do not have houses are the ones whose incomes are very low and cannot buy land,” Geoffrey Wachira, Managing Director of real estate firm Courtyard Estate Ltd said.
And, Ms Vata says, in a rush to implement the Big Four agenda, lessons from these previous projects that can be used to provide sufficient housing with the most prudent model have not been learnt.
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In 2016, the County Council of Nairobi released a detailed plan to redevelop at least seven estates within the city to what they were initially designed to be, complete with modern recreational facilities. The project meant to provide affordable and spacious housing with adequate facilities within old City Council estates.
However, a series of disputes between the county and residents of these estates put the plans on the ice. Residents argue that proper public participation was not done, another issue raised by the report, which also states that the redevelopment of old council houses will not deliver social housing.
It argues that the level of services required in high-rise development would mean that even if residents were to pay Sh3,000, the cost of services will be upwards of Sh10,000 in addition to maintenance requirements.
Another teething problem predicted in the report is the lack of up to date tenancy agreements between county governments and current residents.
Architectural Association of Kenya Chairman Gad Opiyo, however, says it is too early to critic the implementation process of the Government’s plan to provide affordable housing. “It’s still in the planning stages, scorecard after three years is when we can ask the Government what it has done so far,” said Opiyo.