Housing hopes in tatters as slum upgrade drags on

A woman walks past houses in Kibra slums with posh Langata Estate in the background. Nairobi. September 5, 2020. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Kenya’s Constitution provides that every person has the right to housing, but there is little to show 10 years after this provision was entrenched in the supreme law.

The worst-hit are the urban poor who continue to peg their hopes on a government programme to upgrade slums and give residents decent quarters with toilets, clean drinking water and other modern infrastructure.

The Kenya Slum Upgrading Project (Kensup) under the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development has not delivered its promise to slum dwellers such as John Mwangi, a resident of Katwekera area in Kibra, Nairobi County.

When he retired as a machine operator 20 years ago, Mwangi, 78, had to give up the relatively comfortable self-contained house in a good environment and shelter in the sprawling informal settlement.

Today, he lives in a single room inside the slum with his wife of 55 years, getting by on the meagre earnings from his small business of selling second-hand tools.

Mwangi is among many Kibra residents selected to be beneficiaries of Kensup in Kibra slums, where they were to get a one, two and a three-bedroom unit at Sh600,000, Sh1 million and Sh1.5 million respectively.

“The first phase was completed in 2016 and few benefited. We were promised we would get our houses in the second phase but more than three years now, we are still waiting,” he told Home & Away during an interview at his shop.

“I hope I will not again miss in the next phase because I am tired of living in this kind of house yet I’m a senior citizen of this nation,” he said.

Many other poor urban residents of the country’s numerous slums hope to one day not have to pay for toilets and endure raw sewage, a crime such as muggings and poor roads.

The primary goal of Kensup, a multi-stakeholder programme started in 2005, was to improve the livelihoods of at least 5.3 million slum dwellers by 2020 in accordance with the UN Sustainable Development Goals of reducing slums in urban areas and ending poverty.

It was to focus on slums in Nairobi, Mombasa, Nyeri, Kisumu, Nakuru and Machakos counties.

“Our next projects are the redevelopment of Kibera Soweto East Zone B and upgrading of Mariguini informal settlement, which will both see proper planning and construction of approximately 4,400 and 2,600 housing units respectively, with Kibera Soweto East Zone B  project being at an advanced stage,” said Kensup Deputy Director Mary Ndungu.

“Another one is upgrading of Mukuru informal settlement and construction of 462 housing units in a sustainable neighbourhood programme in Mavoko, Machakos County.” 

Poor funding

Ms Ndungu, however, said the programme has been poorly funded over the years, resulting into delays in project implementation, court cases during upgrading process, political interference and lack of trust between the communities and government.

So far, she said, they have redeveloped Kibera Soweto Zone A, delivering 822 housing units, social hall, youth centre and 245 market stalls sold to beneficiaries at a subsidised rate.

But even as the informal settlement upgrading continues, other low-income earners not under the programme are unable to get decent housing.

This is even as the government estimates that the need for urban housing stands at between 200,000 and 250,000 units annually - against the 50,000 being constructed by both the government and private sector.

To add salt to injury, majority of developers target the middle to high-income segment that can afford a house costing Sh4 million and above, yet the greatest demand for homes is from the lower-middle and low-income households.

It is hard to get a good one-bedroom apartment with less than Sh4 million in Nairobi, for instance. 

Developers blame this on a number of factors such as high cost of land, approvals, building materials and lack of infrastructures such as access roads, power and water among others.

These costs are passed on to the buyer of the house.

“If meeting the above requirements and infrastructures cost between Sh4 million to Sh5 million alone, how will I price a one-bedroom unit at the same amount?” posed Alex Muema, managing director of Ndatani Enterprise, a real estate developer and land dealer.

“The government needs to develop these infrastructures even if it’s through public-private partnerships with developers to see that the cost of the units come down,” he added.

He said the least price of land on the outskirts of Nairobi or peri-urban areas such in Machakos, Kiambu and Kajiado is Sh4 million for a plot measuring 50 by 100 feet.

“That should the price of a (house) unit in some places. Currently, there is a glut of houses but no buyers because the houses are expensive and developers are not willing to reduce prices less they burn their fingers,” said Muema.

The government has made an effort to seal the housing gap over the years, with mixed results.

One of them is through the National Housing Corporation, which was established under the Housing Act of 1953.

The State firm is credited for developing several middle income housing estates in major towns, such as Madaraka Estate in Nairobi.

Other recent initiatives are the Big Four Agenda, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s project that has food security, manufacturing, affordable housing and universal healthcare as its pillars.

The Affordable Housing Programme seeks to construct 500,000 houses by 2022 and so far 228 units of an expected 1,370 units have been completed and handed over to the government at Park Road, Ngara.

A Sh5 billion redevelopment of Pangani Estate is also underway, with house prices set to be around Sh1 million to Sh3 million.