Mombasa real estate struggling to stay afloat

Residential houses marooned around Nyali's Kwa Bulo areas in Mombasa County on Sunday,026th May,2019 following the ongoing heavy rains at the Coast .[Maarufu Mohamed,Standard]
It is drizzling on a Friday afternoon when Alamin Siwa Somo, a real estate agent in Mombasa County arrives in Mtopanga area in Kisauni constituency.

The youthful entrepreneur is accompanied by four potential clients who had expressed their desire to purchase residential buildings his firm has been marketing over the last one year or so.

The clients couldn’t wait to see the beautiful buildings captured in the colourful, glossy brochures designed by Somo’s firm, Shekha Enterprises.

But as he parks his car outside a flat, that his company also manages, Somo is actually apprehensive. Had he had his way, this trip would have been postponed for at least two weeks.

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As he leads his clients on a path leading to the buildings, the housing agent’s worst fears are confirmed. He cannot reach the buildings as the heavy downpour experienced in recent days has blocked all possible routes.

Between them and their destination, rain water has formed a small lake. He realises that to make it to the other end, they would require a small boat or canoe. But even if they made it, it would still be wasted a trip because the buildings in question are nearly submerged in the dirty water- a mixture of rain water and raw sewage.

Even as Somo tries to convince his clients to organise the visit some other time in the near future, he knows all too well that a deal that would have fetched him a tidy sum has just aborted.

Aborted deal

His potential buyers, who had travelled all the way from Voi town in Taita Taveta can’t wait to leave as they thank their stars that they had insisted on coming this very day. Pray, what would have happened if they came during the dry season? They unanimously agree that they’ve had a narrow escape.

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“This is not the first time I have lost a good business deal in Kisauni courtesy of the rainy seasons. It is impossible to convince one to buy, leave alone lease a building in the area during this period,” says Somo. He explains that although business is brisk during the dry season, things turn for the worst when the skies open up. A migration begins as residents leave the area in droves.

Although Somo has numerous properties he manages within Mombasa, Kwale and Kilifi counties, he says Kisauni has been a tall order. “The drainage and sewerage systems collapse every rainy season. Concern has been raised constantly but the County Government turns a deaf ear. We have reached a stage where it is not wise to invest in real estate in this locality which is unfortunate given its huge potential and close proximity to town,” he says.

A walk around several estates in Kisauni during the rainy season vindicate Somo’s sentiments. In Mwandoni area, locals could be seen carrying their property moving to safer areas. Some families had sought refuge in churches and mosques standing on a higher ground, and many children were not going to school.

It was the same story in Mshomoroni, Bakarani and Mlaleo areas. A random spot-check indicated that most commercial buildings along the Kisauni Bamburi road and in the estates had ‘vacant’ or ‘to let’ signposts.

Some are storey-buildings constructed over five years ago whose owners are now counting losses as they have no hopes of ever recouping their money.

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“I borrowed Sh30 million from a bank to construct this eight-storey building here. Although it is now complete, I only have five tenants. I have contracted several real estate agents to market the building but they have not been successful. It appears no one wants to live or invest here. It has to do with rampant insecurity and un-ending drainage and sanitation problems,” Mzee Osman Shariff, one of the dozens of Somali businessmen who have invested in the area says.

Foreclosure

He says his lender has threatened to take over the building to recover the loan advanced to him. “I will let them take it. It is presently of no use to me. Where will they get tenants if real estate professionals can’t?” he poses.

An elderly man carrying a rucksack overhears my conversation with Mzee Shariff and stops to make his contribution. “I have lived here for more than four decades and I can tell you for free that Kisauni is on a free fall. It is degenerating. First because of violent crime and secondly because of drainage and sanitation conditions that have made it a breeding ground for dangerous diseases. If Mombasa has a backside, then Kisauni is the anus,” the old man says as he departs.

Those who invested in other sub-counties such as Mvita, Changamwe and Jomvu are better off. But in some parts of Nyali, such a Bombululu, it is the same sad story.  

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Although fingers have been pointed at the County Government for failing to address the drainage and sanitation problems, environmental experts attribute the floods to poor planning and rampant corruption, leading to the illegal mushrooming of structures.

Settlement on wetalnds

They argue that the floods are due to the structures that have been built on water ways, wetlands and abandoned quarries. Benson Wemali, an environmental expert working with an environmental NGO, Active Environmental Team, says due to population pressure, people have invaded and settled in wetlands and abandoned quarries.

He says areas like Junda, Mshomoroni, Bombolulu, Kiembeni and Mwakirunge are wetlands that are not fit for human settlement.

“Because of laxity of government agencies, starting with the Mombasa county, Nema, and physical planners, we might continue to witness more deaths and disaster.”

“These agencies need to map out the wetland areas and ensure that nobody ever constructs anything in those areas. They are not supposed to allow people to live in these areas. The county government should also make a bold decision to evict the illegal settlers from the wetlands. It may be costly both financially and politically, but the county and the national government must work together in this and show they care more about the lives of Kenyans than money or votes,” he says.

Although President Uhuru Kenyatta in January 2017 launched the Mombasa Storm Water Drainage Improvement Project Phase 2 in Bamburi, Kisauni constituency, the project has not brought much success.

Governor Ali Hassan Jojo has in the past said the system cost more than Sh2 billion but only covered Kisauni.

“The county will need more than Sh6 billion to redo its drainage system, money that is not readily available. However, the county has and will increasingly be allocating more funds to infrastructure after improved revenue collection, which now stands at Sh3 billion annually,” he said.

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