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What it takes to build a home at affordable cost

Beautiful suburban house [Courtesy]

House hunting can be a nightmare. From dealing with rogue agents to getting the right house but in the wrong location, the process of finding an ideal house can be hectic.

But building your own home is also no walk in the park either.

You have to factor in many things including the site location, getting the most reliable team and the required documents from local authorities, the house size and most importantly - the budget.

If you are looking to have a successful construction project, you need to have a spending plan that will not only cater for your needs but also prevent you from dealing with unforeseen expenses.

Building a house is costly, especially with the current economic hardships as many people are still struggling to recover financially from the adverse effects of the pandemic.

Developers provide less than 50,000 units with nearly all of them targeting the upper-middle-income earners leaving the low-income households with a mere 1,000 units.

This culminates into a housing deficit of over two million units with nearly 61 per cent of urban dwellers residing in slums. The deficit continues to rise owing to reduced demand and supply and a high urbanisation rate of 4.4 per cent, equivalent to 500,000 new city dwellers annually.

Kenya’s Affordable Housing Programme launched in December 2017 as part of the ‘Big Four Agenda’ aims to solve the housing deficit in the country.

The government promised to have 500,000 units complete by 2022. However, in a 2020 report by the Treasury, only 228 units had been delivered.

The units are located on Park Road, Ngara in Nairobi and as of late last year, a total of 1,370 units have been completed in the area.

Affordable housing

An additional 250 units have been completed and delivered in Kisumu, 152 in Machakos and 463 in Mavoko according to the State Department for housing and urban planning.

Habitat for Humanity Kenya (HFH-Kenya), an entity that provides access to decent and affordable housing for low-income households has embarked on a five-year (2020-2025) plan to provide adequate and affordable housing to facilitate more efficient and inclusive housing market systems.

Through a partnership with the Architectural Association of Kenya and the Terwilliger Centre for Innovation in Shelter, an HFH arm, HFH-Kenya organised a low-cost housing design project that sought to reduce the cost of house construction, which range from Sh750,000 to as low as Sh350,000.

According to Architectural Association of Kenya (AAK) Chairperson Mr George Arabbu, the size of the house is the key determinant when designing low-cost homes.

“The house size is not about the actual size of a room, rather in terms of provisions such as the number of rooms and in-built furniture,” said Mr Arabbu.

Incremental housing is also an important provision in low-cost house designs, especially for the rural poor. It involves the gradual completion of a house while occupying it.

HFH Kenya’s housing programme has moved from direct community intervention to an integrated systems approach to incremental housing processes that support housing as an incremental process.

Building materials are also an important aspect of low-cost construction and Mr Arabbu recommends the use of locally available materials. “Look for locally available materials especially within your site location to cut on transportation costs,” he said.

“For the project, we used iron sheets for roofing, gum poles (Eucalyptus) for the structure, interlocking bricks for walling and a typical concrete slab for flooring,” he added.

The interlocking bricks are especially beneficial as they are less labour intensive and cost-saving since cement mortar is not needed for construction.

Blue gum poles are also suitable for roofing and are very affordable, going for as low as Sh600 apiece in Nairobi.

The project design consists of a decent modern single room that acts as a kitchen and bedroom with an outdoor latrine and bathroom plus a water tank.

HFH Kenya is hopeful the State adopts the designs as a possible housing solution.

“If the government could adopt the low-cost models, subsidise the cost of construction materials, coupled with the formation of youth groups to use local materials, we could build more houses,” said HFH Kenya’s National Director Ms Ruth Odera.

To mark its 40th anniversary, the organisation plans to build 40 homes to cater to vulnerable families in Machakos, Tana River, Laikipia and Homa Bay counties.