Buxton housing project: Sh6b estate plan and how it has transformed 'cheap' housing

Some of the Mombasa residents toured the Sh 6 billion Buxton Point estate during the handover of the completed houses to their owners at Buxton in Mombasa County on September 16, 2023. [Kelvin Karani, Standard]

In September 2020, officials from Gulfcap Africa convened a meeting with tenants residing in the dilapidated Buxton Estate in Mombasa. Originally planned for two hours, the meeting stretched into an eight-hour discourse, unexpectedly becoming a contentious topic that involved political leaders and human rights activists. What was meant to be a straightforward follow-up on the relocation of over 500 tenants evolved into a complex situation.

Prior to this prolonged meeting, representatives from the developer, county government officials, and tenants had mutually agreed on a relocation plan, including compensation and other related expenses.

The tenants had consented to accept Sh240,000 for relocation and were granted the opportunity to purchase the new housing units. However, they later claimed financial constraints, citing unemployment as the primary hurdle.

Suleiman Shahbal, the driving force behind the project and an opposition leader in Mombasa, found himself under suspicion from critics who perceived the initiative as a political stepping stone for the 2022 elections. Collaborating with the outgoing governor, Shahbal faced accusations of being Hassan Joho’s heir apparent. Despite initial setbacks, the Buxton Housing project now stands prominently in Mombasa.

Reflecting on the journey, Shahbal acknowledged underestimating the political complexities associated with a project of this magnitude.

“But we received a lot of goodwill and support from those who appreciated the impact the project was to have on the common mwananchi. My team also were steadfast and we were able to deliver,” he said.

However, he expressed gratitude for the overwhelming goodwill and support from those who recognised the positive impact the project would have on the common mwananchi. Shahbal’s resilience, coupled with his steadfast team, ensured the successful delivery of the project.

The ambitious venture comes with a price tag of Sh6 billion, with Phase 1 accounting for Sh2 billion and Phase 2, recently inaugurated by the president, projected to cost Sh4 billion.

Developed by GulfCap Real Estate in collaboration with the County Government of Mombasa, the project represents a significant collaboration where the county provided the land, and GulfCap Real Estate mobilised the capital.

Growing up in the vicinity of the old and dilapidated Buxton Estate, Shahbal’s exposure to successful affordable housing projects during his travels sparked a transformative vision.

This vision aimed to bring modern, elegant, and affordable housing solutions to the common mwananchi, addressing the endemic housing problem in Kenya.

The ambitious project faced its most formidable challenge in Buxton, a twelve-and-a-half-acre piece of prime land on Mombasa Island hosting 500 dilapidated apartments on the brink of urban decay. Collaborating with the County government, Shahbal implemented a three-month vacation notice to facilitate tenants in seeking alternative accommodation. An agreement was reached, offering a transition allowance of Sh240,000 to tenants during the construction period.

The project, beyond mere relocation, incorporated several community benefits. Youth from the area were enrolled in construction-related courses at NITA, with their tuition fees covered by the developer. Former Buxton tenants were offered preferential buying prices, including up to a 40 per cent discount, facilitating their transition to homeownership.

Navigating the delicate transition for the tenants set the stage for the subsequent demolitions. Shahbal’s visionary idea, conceived in 2008, materialised in his gubernatorial manifesto during the 2013 elections, envisioning the rehabilitation of prime estates built in the 60s. 

“We weren’t just putting up buildings that were to turn into slums a few years down the line; we were building a lifestyle that owners would be proud of.”

The project’s efforts have garnered recognition, with Buxton receiving awards in architecture, environmental considerations, and being hailed as the most promising emerging affordable housing developer in Africa.

The one-bedroom units are priced at Sh2.9 million, while the two and three-bedroom units are offered at Sh4.4 million and Sh5.9 million, respectively. Suleiman Shahbal’s journey from a visionary idea to a tangible reality exemplifies the power of determination and community-focused leadership in creating positive change.

The Buxton housing project not only addresses the critical need for affordable housing but also contributes to the empowerment and upliftment of the Buxton community, leaving an indelible mark on the landscape and the lives it touches.

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