High-rise is the way to go; but in them, could there be more than meets the eye?

Ziwani Houses in Kariokor, Nairobi.
Building upwards is the way to go solving the housing problem, especially in urban areas.

This was the consensus built industry professionals and the Governmnet appeared to have after the Architectural Association’s 2018 annual convention last week. It is what the government wants to do in the housing agenda, and in other areas like the Nairobi regeneration programme, where buildings of up to 12 to 16 storeys have been proposed.

The Government plans to redevelop old estates, replacing them with high-rise buildings. The Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of Transport, Infrastructure, Housing Urban Development and Public works James Macharia, while addressing the Architect’s convention, said all is in top gear.

To deliver on this swiftly and reduce cost of construction, the Government will launch the National Housing Development Fund.

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The Government is also setting up an online portal to manage the process where they have identified over 20 Industrial Building System providers, suppliers and manufacturers. But could highrise buildings turn into symbols of poor planning and inequality in the future?

Gad Opiyo, the Architectural Association of Kenya chairman says all Kenyan major cities are grappling with housing problems. “There is an increasing population due to large population migrating from rural small towns to these big cities. To handle this since a majority is low income earners; we have to build highrise buildings.”

Opiyo says, all that is needed is a well set out management structure. “It is in no doubt at the moment; to cure the housing problem, the future of these cities lies in construction of tall buildings with cross-subsidy management models,” Opiyo says.

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He says the only problem with highrise buildings is if the lower middle income earners are left to own these houses alone, they will not be able to afford to pay for the management services.

“Due to value of land in Nairobi for instance being high, you cannot do bungalows. It has to be highrise buildings so that it can be affordable as it is set out in the Agenda Four on housing,” Opiyo says.

For instance, he says, if the cost of an acre of land in Nairobi’s Eastland’s area is Sh300 million then you do bungalows, you will only manage about eight units. This means every household will pay something like Sh50 million for the house. “Is this affordable?” he poses.

“It is cheaper to do high-rise buildings because for the one-acre plot, you can do up to 300 units. This means every household will only pay a million spread across a period of time for the house. This is now affordable,” Opiyo says.

Opiyo says, the government needs to do cross-subsidy model to avoid future impediments. “In the high-rise buildings, we can bring in both the lower and upper middle-class together. Then the rich can subsidise the poor to support services like lift maintenance, water and garbage collection services,” Opiyo says.

Eco-Build’s Africa Prof. Alfred Omenya, however, says that building highrise buildings is not enough since more is into them than many can imagine. This is because, slum upgrading focus for instance, which is part of the on-going housing agenda by the national government and County government is beyond giving people houses and leaving them to pay for them.

He says, for the high-rise buildings, service costs for garbage, power for lifts; standby generators, lifts maintenance, water and sewer system need to be addressed since this will be necessary when people own these houses. “Servicing these houses after hand-over will be necessary. At what cost will it be?” Omenya asks.

In the housing agenda plan, houses will be selling for Sh600,000 for one bedroom and Sh900,000 for the two bedrooms and reserved for people earning below Sh15,000. This will also capture people in slums paying rent of Sh3,849 and 5,698 who some will qualify for mortgages that they will repay at Sh2,651 and 4,268 for 25 years.

But in this model, the service charges after people own a house is missing. “To maintain water supply up to like the 12th floor, garbage collection among other service can averagely go up to Sh15,000 in the current market rate. Will these people you are housing afford this in a month on top of the cost of servicing their loans gauging by what they earn in day?” Omenya poses.

However, he says, all what needs to be done is factoring in the services and management.

Also, the government should consider rentals and rent to own models as core mechanisms for access to social housing. “Turn current home owners into social entrepreneurs and landlords, remove obstacles for them and reduce costs for current home developers,” Omenya says.  

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Architectural Association of KenyaReal EstateHousingHigh-rise Building