Nostalgia, despair as city estates with rich history set to come down

Nairobi County houses in Kaloleni and Maringo areas. The buildings are set for demolition. [File, Standard]

Nairobi residents living in houses earmarked for demolition in old estates to pave the way for affordable housing are sceptical that once they move, they will not be allocated new units.  

Those who spoke to The Standard noted that although the idea both from the national government and Nairobi City County Government is noble, the plan is shrouded in mystery.  

More so, the demolition of the old estates where some families have called home for up to three generations will give rise to units that are expensive compared to their income.  

A case in point is Ziwani Estate, which belongs to the Nairobi City County Government, some houses there are rented at Sh1,200 for a one-room unit and Sh2,500 for a two-room unit.  

The estate constructed in the 1940s is said to be home to over 690 families, according to the estate’s resident Association chairperson Bob Matola. 

He said Ziwani is made up of three categories of units: the former staff houses allocated to Kenya Breweries Limited, those allocated to Kenya Bus Services and the other category for Nairobi City County staff.  

“This excludes extensions,” he said. Extensions are semi-permanent structures which some residents put up to create either extra rooms for their families or in some cases for rent.  

Matola said the Nairobi City Council used to refurbish the units but stopped in 1978. Since then, services like garbage collection are also not provided.  

Okiri Onyala, who has lived in Ziwani for more than 40 years, said the main fear of the residents is being swindled out of the units. That is why they do not want to move out.  

“We want to be involved in every process, which is not happening. We want to get priority. We know each other from house numbers,” he says.  

When the county embarked on redeveloping Jeevanjee and Pangani estates, the plan was also met with protests from residents who refused to move even as the then Governor Mike Sonko insisted that the process would be humane. 

The national government is being faced with the same predicament in the notice earlier issued to have residents living in Jogoo Phase I and II vacate to pave the way for the affordable housing programme. A case is currently in court over the same. 

“We actually moved here in 2020 from another national government estate. Someone like me I have known this to be my home for 17 years,” a resident who wished not to be named told The Standard. “We are not sure if we will move because there is an engagement ongoing with the estate leadership and the national government.”

There are also fears that the running project may destroy the city’s heritage, some of which is encased in historical houses in Ziwani and the estates along Jogoo Road.

Affordable housing project in Pangani estate. [File, Standard]

In Ziwani, the unit belonging to the late Tom Mboya is still standing. The house number 38 is now being occupied by a relative of the late Labour minister.

“Ziwani has a good history,” said Matola, a resident of Ziwani. He said the unit he lives in was handed to him by his father who was allocated before independence.

The units are simply bachelor pads of some sort and it is said as Tom Mboya’s stature grew, he was issued with another unit in the same estate.

The late Oginga Odinga’s unit in Jerusalem Estate is not among the first seven earmarked for redevelopment. However, it is also in the pipeline. 

Nairobi City County Chief Officer for Urban Planning Patrick Analo, however, told The Standard that the project seeks to preserve the city’s heritage

The plan, known as the Urban Housing Renewal and Regeneration Project, targets seven estates where modern apartments will be built in place of the old ones to not only give Nairobi a facelift but also address the shortage of housing.

Ziwani, Kariobangi North, Woodley, Jericho I, Jericho II, Maringo and Bahati are the earmarked estates for redevelopment.

Analo said the county is cognisant of the history in some of the estates, citing Makongeni and Ziwani among them and the plan is to conserve them during the renewal and regeneration.

“We have areas of conservation like there some houses where founders of this country like Tom Mboya used to stay in Ziwani. The first Parliament was held in a house in Makongeni. Some of the great boxing legends and footballers were also raised in these estates,” said Analo. 

Analo adds that their approach will be to begin construction from available unsettled areas before the settled ones.

“We will first target the open spaces, and we have massive land – almost 4,000 acres consolidated in all the county housing estates,” he said.

The approach by the county is similar to that of the national government's affordable housing programme, where the private sector will play a major role while the county provides land. It will be a joint venture.

“There are some units which will be left to our partners through a joint venture project to be offloaded to the market in order for them to recoup their investment,” he said.

He said scoping studies have been done including baseline surveys whose findings give the county a picture of the kind and density of amenities and services the residents will need.

Tom Mboya's house in Ziwani estate, Nairobi.  [Jenipher Wachie, Standard]

“We are now at the stage of discussing with joint venture partners then we will go to targeted engagements with residents,” said Mr Analo.

The county will then sign a Memorandum of Understanding with existing residents that will guarantee them units once completed.

“In some places we have the third generation occupying the units. We will take this into account to ensure these people get back their houses. Basically, they are the ones who have been taking care of that place,” he said.

It is the same concern raised by residents who occupy national government units, which some have also been earmarked for demolition to pave way for affordable housing programme.

At Jogoo Phase II where planned demolitions are set to take place in a month’s time after residents were asked by the national government to relocate, the concerns are similar.

Water and sewer are some of the amenities that both levels of government have been asked to be cognisant about as they implement the project.

Mairura Omwenga, chairperson of the Town & County Planners Association, said the planned redevelopment of old estates in the city is timely. However, the major question is the density of the expected new estates.

“The question would be: what density are we going to develop so that as we accommodate more people, we make sure there is adequate infrastructure, water, sanitation in terms of sewerage, community facilities, schools health facilities, and green spaces for children to play and also for grownups to walk around and enjoy the sun,” he said.

He said the concerns raised by residents on allocation are genuine considering the history of such projects in the country. This, he said, is a governance issue that should be addressed.

“With increased population, the need to develop housing is timely. There has been serious shortage of housing for the low-income,” he said.

According to the Nairobi City County Assembly Report on the Consideration of the Sessional Paper No 1 on the Urban Housing Renewal and Regeneration Policy, high and mid-rise apartment complexes will be constructed in place of the decayed bungalows existing in the old estates.