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Buxton protest shines the light on affordable housing projects

Opinion

It was proposed and marketed as a model affordable housing project, but Buxton Point in Mombasa has ended up a symbol of deceit, corruption, opaqueness and criminality.

What former residents knew two years ago is now public knowledge, thanks to the Senate Committee on Roads, Transportation and Housing, which responded to a petition by the evicted residents in partnership with Haki Yetu organisation.

On March 5, 2021, the 522 residents were forcefully evicted and obliged to find low-cost rental accommodation in already overcrowded neighbouring settlements. The promise and hope were that once the units were complete, they would be given priority to own the new homes. The developer, Suleiman Shabhal, of Gulf Cap Limited, is on record – as the internet never forgets – stating that they would pay just Sh6,000 per month as part of a Tenant Purchase Scheme (TPS) to acquire ownership of the units.

Reality proved otherwise as the Mombasa county government failed to protect both its land and the interests of its residents in surrendering 90 per cent of the proposed 1,840 units to the developer in a Public Private Partnership (PPP) whose full details are yet to be made public. The remaining 10 per cent was given to the county government, which surrendered the land for the proverbial 30 pieces of silver.  Talk of TPS was quickly forgotten and the units were only available to those who could afford a mortgage which automatically ruled out the 95 per cent promised to the former tenants.

But the tenants never gave up even when the first petition they filed in 2021 was rebuffed. A second petition was submitted to the new Senate on the second anniversary of their eviction. This time they found ears willing to listen and the Housing Committee came to Mombasa to see and hear for themselves what had transpired. It took half a year for the committee to compile its report but its findings and recommendations were worth waiting for.

On November 2 this year, Nairobi Senator Edwin Sifuna submitted the report for adoption and it was scathing. He said Buxton Point could not by any stretch of imagination be described as meeting the criteria of the government’s affordable housing programme. In his words, what happened in Buxton must never be allowed to happen anywhere again, especially in the 13 old estates in Nairobi also due for renewal.

The Senate ordered the Mombasa County Government to hand over their 184 units to the former tenants and petitioners and to submit a clear implementation plan within 60 days on how the remaining 336 evictees would be accommodated in the TPS scheme. Finally, but notably, the Senate ordered that all PPPs on housing agreements be made public and public participation must take place before a single stone is laid.

The consequences of that order are of national importance, but most especially in Nairobi. Two weeks ago, Nairobi Governor Johnson Sakaja failed to attend a meeting of the same committee. Apparently, he has been ignoring such summons for the past 12 months and so the Senate fined him Sh500,000.

However, the Senate threatened to suspend multi-billion contracts he had entered into until he responds to concerns of the affected tenants. Senator Sifuna stated that “after the experience of Buxton, we have resolved that all contracts between counties and private developers regarding any utilisation of public land should be made public”.

This persistence and unity has challenged not only the County Government of Mombasa but also exposed lack of consistency, integrity and inclusiveness in the Kenya Kwanza government’s housing policy.

Housing Principal Secretary Charles Hinga has promised that the 520 tenants will benefit from Phase 2 which has not started, but could not explain why most units in Phase 1 are empty and unavailable to them.

Meanwhile, you continue paying 1.5 per cent housing levy while what is presented to date looks more like a scam. Buxton’s values need to be shared nationwide and then maybe affordable urban housing might become a reality.

The writer is a Priest and Executive Director at Haki Yetu. 

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