Behind every successful man is a woman, goes the adage. But behind Maragua town’s success in rental yields are women tenants.
The common consensus in the town is that its rental economy is feminine.
This is reinforced by the town’s Landlords Association Chairman James Irungu, who fears that should women tenants relocate to another area, then Maragua would be reduced to a ghost town.
“Women tenants’ occupancy of this town’s housing units stands at 90 per cent. And of the 800 landlords who are members of my association, 720 are women. In our meetings, all of my members also report that the majority of their tenants are women. In my case, I have 50 rental rooms and 46 of my tenants are women,” he told Home and Away.
The town’s children have Kianjiru-ini Primary School as the only public school near them. The school’s head, Peter Kagwanjai, reports that nearly 70 per cent of his school population are children of single mothers - the majority of them tenants in Maragua town.
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“It can safely be said that women are the engine of Maragua town’s economy. Even though these Maragua women have their challenges, we do not have alarming incidents of their children deserting school, which gives me the impression that they do not default on their rental obligations either,” he said.
However, as is the case with many towns, organised crime plays a big part in the performance of the property sector.
Area Nyumba Kumi security initiative committee member Joram Kiago says rental yields in some areas have remained low owing to narcotics and illegal brew trade.
He observes that the trade is run by gangs who thrive on violence, threats and defiance to authority, which makes transforming some residential buildings a risky affair.
“We also have the gangs forcing landlords in some areas to invest in security, hence bringing down the returns. We hope that the State will enforce the rule of law in those areas, specifically in Maica Ma Thi village that is the source of the gangs that have a strong grip on Maragua town,” he says.
Area Federation for African Women Educationists (Fawe) Coordinator Cecilia Gitu says the power of women tenants and landlords in Maragua town is a force to reckon with “to a point that the town was picked to host Murang’a County’s Chapter of Maendeleo ya Wanawake headquarters”.
Mrs Gitu, a commercial tenant in the town, says the force behind landlords smiling all the way to the bank is creative women tenants.
She notes that the town’s rental rates are affordable to various income earners, hence the attraction to all categories of women seeking social and economic independence.
“We have residential house rents averaging between Sh200 for the low-income earners, Sh2,000 for the lower-middle-income earners and as high as Sh15,000 for civil servants and businessmen. For business premises, we have the majority of tenants in stalls managed by the county government,” she said.
For the commercial business premises, rental rates average between Sh200 and Sh500 per square foot.
Maragua MP Mary wa Maua lauded the town’s hardworking women, noting that they struggle to live quality lives in addition to educating their children.
“This town is home to very enterprising single women who have realised the value of hard work and independence. They are organised in chamas that boost their finances. They even have chamas that help them pool rental budgets,” she says.
Single Mothers’ Union in the town led by Mercy Mwende says “we are bound by our determination to house our children, educate and feed them. That agenda is the one that makes us realise we have to pay rent on time”.
She says her union extends a shoulder to lean on during lean economic times for its members. “We advance zero-rated loans to our members to pay rent. We also intend to segment ourselves into groups of 12 members each, save and borrow to invest in rental houses either in this town or elsewhere,” says Mwende.
Mrs Wa Maua adds that most of the property transactions for the past five years have women as owners.
She says her office is liaising with women chamas in the town to come up with a sensitisation programme that will help many women save to own homes.
She said the housing agenda of the Big Four can be realised in Maragua town through women who have shown readiness to adopt programmes that add economic value to family units.
She urged the town’s men to join chamas to achieve affirmative action.
This, she noted, will counter the notion that “women are deliberately favoured in empowerment programmes”.
“Women are buying and selling land in this town. They are also building houses. Some of our prominent clients in this town’s asset financing are women,” says Amica Sacco Chairman Hiram Mwaniki.
He revealed that a woman investor had procured a Sh100 million loan from Amica to fund a prominent basic education institute in the town.
“The majority of our customers are women who have sourced for credit to build or buy homes in this town and its environs. In a nutshell, women form a major part of our branch’s clientele,” he said.
Area Assistant Chief James Irungu concurred that women tenants are the backbone of the housing sector in the area.
“We have areas like Soweto, Rurii, Mathare, Boarder and Maragua Rural Estates with women constituting more than 90 per cent of tenants,” he says.
“Other areas like Milimani, Kanyumbani and Mutaro estates have around 70 per cent women tenants. Even the general physical presence on the town’s streets will tell you this is a female-dominated town.”
Being home to more bars than hotels, schools and churches combined also means that there is a big population of barmaids in the town.
“We have 234 registered barmaids. The highest paid waitress gets Sh7,500 per month with the majority of other outlets paying Sh4,000. We also have 456 registered commercial sex workers. These combined form tenants in the low-income estates and I am happy to report that there is a lot of tranquillity among them and their landlords,” he says.
Mr Irungu, who also chairs a savings and credit chama dubbed “Hustlers” of which majority are women, says of all rental disputes he arbitrates, women are rarely involved.
He says it has been rare for landlords to complain that women tenants have defaulted on rent or been involved in other related disputes such as vandalism of the premises.