Christina Tieng sits with a faraway look in her eyes. The 30-year-old looks depressed and struggles to have any conversation about her dream investment. The home she struggled to buy is set to, in a few weeks, go down alongside 286 others.
Christina is among homeowners at Seefar Apartments facing an uncertain future following National Environment Managing Authority’s (Nema) and Water Resources Management Authority’s (WRMA) notice to tear down the apartments.
The apartments in the Kibera Highrise area along Mbagathi Road in Nairobi have been the focus of a debate about protection of riparian areas and a people caught in the cross-hairs of a government operating at cross-purposes.
They say when they bought their homes, everything checked out.
Set in the background of this nightmare is the irony of a government that only six years ago endorsed the same development in the person of no other than the late Minister for Housing Soita Shitanda, who officiated the opening of the apartments in 2013.
When we meet Christina, it is a Saturday morning. She is with her one and half year-old daughter. She talks to us briefly.
She talks of her bold step to invest in the housing market after after moving out of her mother’s house; the Government seems hellbent on pushing her back there.
“I took a loan with KENPIPE Sacco in 2013. After topping up with some of my savings, I was able to raise Sh5 million, which I used to purchase this apartment. All this property investment’s fate is not known for now,” She says.
Christina bought the apartment at Seefar in 2013 when she was only 25 years old. The sales development manager, alongside the 267 other home owners, on 15 October this year, were shocked when Nema issued a demolition notice on grounds that the apartment lies on a riparian land.
As the countdown progresses, David Kitavi, a 42-year-old father of three swears that if ‘Sany’, the popular tractor demolishing properties in Nairobi lands at the Seefar Apartment, it will have to crush him with his house.
He has a child in university, one is a KCPE candidate and the last a toddler.
“I bought this house as the third owner this February with Sh6.5 million that I had saved since I was in my 20s. I cannot go back to Kibera where I lived, before I bought this house this year,” he says.
‘I’m not going back’
Having been born and brought up in Kibera, he lived there throughout his life until this year when he chose to invest all his savings to live in his own house.
“My second born is sitting for KCPE examination this year. He is traumatised alongside the other kids. If they bring down my house, they will have to bring us down with all what we have looked for over the years,” Kitavi says.
Residents are wondering how in the year 2013, the then Minister for Housing, the late Soita Shitanda, presided over the opening of the apartments.
“We witnessed the opening of the apartments by Soita Shitanda. This gave us more grounds to buy these homes from the Chinese developer,” Lawrence Mungai says.
Mungai, 58, works in the University of Nairobi and is retiring in the next two years. He has no idea where is headed to as a retiree after he sold his only plot at Githurai Kimbo alongside other properties to buy the two bedroom at Seefar apartment as a retirement plan. he had it all together, and then he didn’t.
Documents seen by Home & Away show detailed correspondence between the developer, Erdemann Property Limited - a Chinese property development company, and various government agencies.
They show that Erdemann Property Limited had acquired approvals from the authorities to construct the apartments after addressing safety concerns that were raised during the development of the apartments, with Water Management Authority officials making regular visits during the construction of the 12-storey apartments.
“On request of your letter REF: EPL/0172/PRT dated 10th April 2015, WRMA officers visited the site on 13th and 14th April 2015 and established that the repairs works were carried out as per the designs earlier submitted to us to a satisfactory level. We recommend that a film (of 800m) of red soil be overlaid on the rehabilitated section completely covering the gabion boxes and grass be planted to reduce erosion and enhance aesthetic appeal,” the reply letter from WRMA referenced REF: WRMA/NRB/RPARIAN/1(56) reads.
Gave all clear?
The letter seemed to settle concerns the had authority raised before the construction started.
The letter further states that the authority, pegged and marked out the riparian land bordering Seefar apartments in July 2011 at 22 metres from the highest water mark from the Nairobi Dam and 15 metres from the highest water mark from the Ngong river respectively in accordance with the Water Act 2002 and the Water Resources Management Rules of 2007.
Seefar Home Owners Committee chairman Paul Otieno says home owners have tried to seek an amicable solution to the matter with WRMA with no avail.
“WRMA suggested we have a joint inspection of the building to ascertain whether the riparian land has been encroached but they have never honored the promise. We are now wondering why all their approvals and documentation show we bought homes in a safe place but they have place a demolition notice on our apartments,” Otieno says.
According to Seefar Home Owners association, they engaged a private consultant who also said in their report that the building is not on riparian land.
A spot check on the KOLMANS GEOMATIC Consultants Kenya Limited survey report for the determination of the distance between the highest point of Nairobi dam embankment and Seefar Apartments, Seefar Apartment is said to be lying at the highest distance of 54.98 metres with the shortest distance being at 42 metres.
As notice continues to count down, the issue is turning into a hot potato for those concerned.
For those who bought homes, convinced by documents issued by the Government that the apartments were legitimately built, it is unending agony.