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Will the housing levy be used to build houses for the already rich?

Opinion
 Buxton Housing Project in Mombasa County, September 2023. [Kelvin Karani, Standard]

It was lauded as the model affordable housing project and ten days ago, the 584 buyers of Phase I of the Buxton Housing Project took possession of their new homes in Mombasa.

Despite the media hype around the event, it turned out to be a low-key celebration with no dignitary from national or county governments to cut the ribbons or hand over the keys.

There was no cause for celebration, however, for former tenants of Buxton, forcefully evicted two years earlier to make way for the new construction.

Their dreams of ownership turned out to be a nightmare as Mombasa County and Gulf Cap Real Estate - partners in the Public Private Partnership (PPP) - reneged on the promise that former tenants would pay Sh6,000 monthly in a Tenant Purchase Scheme (TPS), and be homeowners of the luxury apartments.

Instead, the new units were snapped up by those able to pay cash or who managed a mortgage from local banks. Anyone earning less than Sh100,000 monthly was ruled out of the mortgage option and so a mere 60 of the original 520 tenants were successful in the off-plan purchase scheme.

The remaining 460 families were forced to find shelter in the already overcrowded settlements of Mishomoroni, Junda and Kibarani. So much for the promise of affordable or social housing.

The two partners had promised openness in the exercise but opaqueness would best describe their engagement. One year ago, the governor promised to release names of new owners to Haki Yetu, as per a High Court order, but to date has kept that list hidden from public scrutiny.

The county will be granted a mere 10 per cent of the units in exchange for donating public land freely to Mr Shabhal for the project.

However, how public land can be privatised and granted title without public participation or strict adherence to the law is a matter the EACC is currently investigating.

Housing units built on land that didn't cost a penny of course made them more attractive to speculators and individuals well-connected.

Buxton Point is now offering a further 1,400 units for sale to willing buyers on an off-plan basis.

The current asking price for these is Sh2.9 million for a 1-bedroom unit; Sh4.4 million for a two-bedroom and Sh5-9 million for a three-bedroom unit.

It is interesting to observe how this government initiative compares with what is currently on offer in the private business world.

Recently, Erdemann Property Limited offered the public one week to purchase a three-bedroom apartment as part of Great Wall Gardens 6 in Athi River. The units are for sale on an off-plan basis and available for occupation by December 31st 2024.

They are offering their three-bedroom unit for one week at the ridiculously low price of Sh2.9 million compared to Buxton Point's Sh5.9 million. Besides, the Buxton Apartment floor plan measures 802 square feet compared to 1,113 sq. ft. of Erdemann.

This column is not a marketing station for private enterprise. However, is it now time the public demanded to know what the government housing programme is really all about.

Put another way, have taxpayers not a right and a duty to ask if their 1.5 per cent Housing Levy is being used to construct houses for those who could afford them anyhow?

In other words, if 55 per cent of Mombasa residents live in informal settlements, what are the chances of any of them ever occupying these new units?

The question to ask the Ministry of Housing is who will benefit and when will the TPS become an option in Mombasa as it is promoted elsewhere?

There are five other old housing estates in Mombasa due for replacement with a total of 30,000 units planned for construction. There is no clear information on what is happening.

Likoni residents have been evicted but the building site is silent like a graveyard. The tenants of these estates are watching closely and the focus is on Governor Abdulswamad Nassir to provide answers as to how those in greatest need can benefit from his housing programme.

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