Above the roaring din of revving Eastleigh matatus, the streets are slowly getting their character back. And by character this refers to the bustling horde of humanity that has over time become synonymous with this part of Nairobi.
Coming into Eastleigh from Nairobi’s Central Business District, you can almost feel the subtle change. And no, this has little to do with the sludge that pedestrians wade through in between blocks, where roads are supposed to be.
Shoppers go about their business quickly, but this is not foreign to Eastleigh. People from all over the country usually descend into Eastleigh for business. To a regular visitor, however, the change has more to do with the people. The sense of wariness is difficult to escape.
Under the rushing humanity, is uncertainty. Eastleigh has borne the brunt of security operations and police swoops are not altogether a foreign idea.
One casualty of the security situation is the real estate sector. This was an area that was growing fast, but the unease is being felt right across the area.
Roads in Eastleigh are narrow dusty when sunny and muddy when it rains. The construction of a six-kilometre road connecting Juja Road and Jogoo Road is set up to open the business in the area.
On the side of the narrow roads a bust sewage pipe gushing smelly water into the road and in a distance are piles of uncollected garbage next to a food market.
A few years ago Eastleigh witnessed a property market boom that surprised many in the sector. The demolishing of old buildings to pave way for construction of towers.
So vigorous was the upsurge of property construction that allegation of “piracy monies” funding the projects emerged.
That was then. Today, Eastleighs’ property market is on the brink of collapsing.
Hussein Haji, Chairman Eastleigh Community Association, also a property owner in Eastleigh says: “Rental properties in Eastleigh were a more profitable venture than most parts of the city. Here we had tenants willing to pay Sh40,000 or even more monthly for a two-bedroom house.”
Some of the pricey new properties in Eastleigh are referred to as “pirates”. The argument by residents being that the rent in these houses were too high and only a pirate could afford them.
John Mwangi, a care taker in a development in Eastleigh Phase 5, says the security situation has done little to calm fears. His building is one of the many feeling the pinch.
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“The vicious police raids in Eastleigh spread fear among many of the residents, especially foreigners who were mostly Somalis, Ethiopians and few Sudanese. We have heard that some of them were deported while some have relocated to other parts of the city,” ha says.
Another property hit by the police swoops in the area is a well-constructed apartment, aptly dubbed executive apartments. A three-bedroom room flat here goes for Sh6.5 million.
“At least six of our tenants vacated during the swoop,” says the caretaker. He adds; “The property has 24 units unsold or rented.”
As we hop through the muddy road, my companion Mzee Haji narrates; “When the Somali government collapsed in 1991, Moi’s’ regime accepted to host the refugees, these were the pioneering businessmen in Eastleigh and the first to import and trade in fabrics, shoes and electronic businesses which were then the Asian trade.”
Haji says that it was not until 2006 that the Government decided to award the refugees alien cards that allowed them to bank and buy properties, sparking the property market in the area.
“Many of the residents of Eastleigh were receiving foreign remittances of an average $400 to $2,000 (Sh35,040 to sh175,200 by today’s exchange rates) monthly from their relatives abroad and this kept the businesses running here,” he adds.
Haji observes that demand for houses and investing in property business in Eastleigh has plunged significantly, by about 60 per cent.
Haji points out that many of the properties in the estate are funded by banks. And these owners are now faced with an uncertain future. With no tenants and reduced income from rent it is just a matter of time before the banks start repossessing some of these buildings.
When the property market was lucrative, 100 or more investors in Eastleigh with Sh1 million each would come together and contribute to a pool from which they would start up a project. Many of the properties in Eastleigh are as a result of this pooling of investment.
“In a single day we would receive between 40 to 50 containers from the Port of Mombasa. Today, you hardly see three arriving in Eastleigh,” says Haji.
In Eastleigh Section Two, the hub of property business, a quarter acre plot went for Sh1 billion. However, Haji says, this has dropped to less than Sh100 million.
Amid the skepticism in the property industry in Eastleigh; phony property agents are selling and issuing out fake land titles.
Something Haji says has led property owners to put up warning notices to the public that their land was not for sale.
Eastleigh was founded in 1921. At this time, the area was predominantly occupied by Asians and a few Africans who worked as clerks, builders or shoemakers.