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Prices go steep as the rich go uphill

By | July 2nd 2009

By Harold Ayodo

Investors in residential property are transforming Riat Hills in Kisumu into a palatial estate. Along the Kisumu-Kakamega Road, modern architectural designs of maisonettes and bungalows are the main attractions on the hill, right from the foot to the top, including the sides.

Homes in expansive compounds, some of them forested, stand behind neatly trimmed edges in this leafy suburb where residents have gone further and domesticated animals and birds. Private developers say the wealthy adore the area for its ambience and the aerial view it provides of the lakeside town, including Lake Victoria. From the hilltop, one can also enjoy the view of Kisumu Airport.

The construction boom on the hilltop is changing the face of the property market in an area that was once referred to as Port Florence. Now the wealthy in Kisumu, who occupy places like Milimani and Tom Mboya, have another alternative. Other upper class estates are Kenya Re and Mountain View.

Housing experts at the Municipality of Kisumu say many residents are working towards owning homes even as statistics show that 77 per cent live in rented houses. Kisumu has a population of slightly over 500,000 people with 60 per cent living in informal settlements within the town’s proximity.

Housing minister Soita Shitanda says Kisumu requires Sh28.7 billion to upgrade its slums, and this is out of a national budget of Sh884 billion needed for the same exercise countrywide.

"The Government has set aside Sh100 million towards construction of affordable houses in Kisumu," he announced at an official function at the lakeside town recently.

As residents wait for the Government to fulfil its pledge to construct 150,000 houses annually countrywide, investors are cashing in on big businesses currently being enjoyed at Riat Hills.

Some of the homeowners atop Riat Hills admit they were attracted by the rapid development of the estate. In addition, most land sold here is in freehold, meaning that adjudication was done and residents were registered as absolute owners as provided in the Registered Lands Act. Some are selling their land now.

"It is so quiet up here," says Margaret Aganyo. She bought her piece of land and constructed her family home away from the hustles of the Central Business District. "It is much cooler here compared to the high temperatures around the city."

Rain harvesting

She also attributes the fast development of the estate to lower construction costs as a result of the availability of rocks. "Developers here spend less money digging foundations because there are rocks," she adds.

Another attraction of the hills is the option of rain harvesting to offset the perennial water shortage that affects Kisumu. "We rely on rain water for domestic use as an alternative to piped water," she says. "Most of us have fixed gutters on buildings and connected to huge tanks for storage."

Like most other homeowners on the hills, Aganyo also keeps dairy cows and chicken. The remaining space on her compound is used for planting vegetables.

For Pauline Atieno, her move to Riat Hills where she owns a quarter-acre was influenced by peer pressure.

"Most professionals like doctors, lawyers, architects and university lecturers have built homes here," she says. "Initially, I had my mind set on buying a home in Milimani until a friend invited me for a social gathering on her compound here (in Riat)."

Consequently, demand for Milimani and Tom Mboya estates has reduced as more people opt to settle at the hilltop.

"The greenness and privacy of the area is reminiscent of Karen and Kitsuru in Nairobi," Atieno adds. "I bought my quarter acre plot here for Sh500,000 and I plan to start constructing next month once I get clearance from the Municipality of Kisumu."

Real estate agents say the value of property on the hilltop would appreciate further if the local authority improved infrastructure. Ounga Commercial Agencies Drector, Eric Ounga, agrees the construction of tarmac roads and installation of streetlights would improve the value of the area.

"The potential of Riat Hills as a residential and commercial estate is enormous, but the Council needs to do more to encourage investors," Ounga says.

Site and service

According to him, an acre in the area in 1992 fetched less than Sh200,000. Today, the same plot of land is selling at Sh2 million or more. "The market price has changed tremendously. The closer one is to the road, the higher the price."

Proximity to learning institutions, including Great Lakes University of Kisumu, Ramogi Institute of Advanced Technology (Riat) and Ukweli Pastoral Centre has also increased the thirst for property in the area.

Patrick Nyamita, the director of housing at the Kisumu Municipality, says the local authority has embarked on a ‘site and service’ scheme in Riat Hills to encourage more investors. ‘Site and service’ is a real estate jargon that describes the process where a developer identifies a plot he or she wants to develop and the Council ensures the area is habitable.

"The Council has resolved to improve infrastructure in areas like Riat where prospective investors have shown signs of constructing homes," Nyamita says.

Scarcity of land for residential houses in Kisumu has forced developers to purchase plots and erect flats in a former colonial cemetery. It is today known as Polyview Estate. At first, residents kept away from Polyview (formerly Kaburini estate) over cultural beliefs regarding the dead, but the pressure on housing eventually reformed their mindsets.

Nyamita says the shortage is forcing middle and high-income groups to own homes. "Getting a house in areas like Milimani and Tom Mboya is almost impossible and that is one of the reasons the wealthy have relocated to the hilltop," he says.

To compound matters, the municipality says several acres of undeveloped land were irregularly allocated to individuals in Kisumu, which compromised space for construction of residential houses. The Council is now planning to put up more housing in the repossessed land.

"We are in a number of public-private partnerships with a few organisations to improve on the residential real estate," Nyamita adds.

Through the ‘site and service’ scheme, the municipality plans to construct 1,500 residential houses annually. The municipality has also earmarked some ancient estates, which are the majority in this area, for urban renewal. This is the reconstruction towards meeting demand. Colonial estates targeted include Anderson and Lumumba.

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