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Why affordable housing scheme is huge scandal waiting to unfold

Buxton housing project construction site in Mombasa County on Friday 25th March 2022, [Kelvin Karani, Standard]

The media may have fallen for the elaborate launch of the Buxton Housing project but thankfully neither civil society nor the Senate was so gullible as to believe this is the answer to Mombasa’s housing challenges.

After several petitions by evicted tenants of the old estate with legal counsel from Haki Yetu, the Senate has robustly engaged Mombasa County Government and the developer to unravel the facts behind the tendering, contract and the prospective beneficiaries of the Public Private Partnership (PPP).

The Senate Committee on Lands and Housing visited Buxton last month and brought their report and recommendations.

Senator Bonny Khalwale described the housing project as a scandal in the making, claiming Mombasa people had been swindled of their land while the new housing units were sold off to the rich.

In addition, he told the House that former tenants were denied compensation and not offered a viable option or plan to own one of the new units. Put another way, what was advertised as affordable and social housing resulted in the former 520 tenants being forcefully evicted and obliged to seek shelter in already overcrowded informal settlements.

As part of the PPP, two thousand units were to be constructed, with 90% going to the investor and ten per cent remaining with the county government. As Senator Mohamed Chute of Marsabit pointed out in the Senate, the investor was the big winner as he was granted ten acres of public land that didn’t cost him a shilling.

The two senators claimed the prime land is worth Sh3 billion, while in return the county received a mere 200 units valued at Sh640 million.

You don’t need to be a mathematics professor to realise this is a massive fraudulent deal.

The Senate also complained about the poor quality of the new units which they claimed were even smaller than the units that were demolished with one observer alleging you could hardly put a king-size bed into most of the bedrooms.

Senator Chute has also requested the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission and the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee of the Senate to investigate the land matter as the National Land Commission is yet to explain to the public how public land could be privatised in such a manner.

The county government has been put on the spot as it addresses a problem not of its making. However, it cannot wash its hands off the problem nor pass the buck on to the banks or the national government.

Its response to the Senate’s demands that the former tenants benefit either through a tenant purchase scheme (TPS) or rental option was to state that it is currently negotiating with banks, but without giving a timeline or any suggestion they are seriously addressing the matter.

The reluctance of the county to release names of beneficiaries of Phase 1 of the project - despite a court order to that effect – is far from satisfactory and only increases the suspicion regarding the opaqueness of the project from Day One.

Housing is a sensitive issue and a priority area for the national government. Many urban areas and counties have launched similar projects. Indeed, there are nine old estates in Mombasa included in the overall refurbishment programme.

Some have already been demolished but all tenants are keenly watching Buxton, wondering if this really is affordable housing and if will they ever occupy any of the proposed new units.

Now, even Kenyans who own their homes or rent a single room are being asked to pay 3 per cent housing taxes for houses that they neither want nor can afford.

This week Bishop David Oginde was sworn in as the new chairman of the EACC. His in-tray is already full. However, as a national concern, he might consider prioritising the Housing programme and begin in Mombasa.

Haki Yetu will gladly cooperate with him. A forensic study of the programmes is urgently required if it is to meet the demands of Article 43 of the Constitution which speaks of accessible and affordable housing for all.