An estimated 13 million Kenyans live in cities and towns. Kenya’s urban population is swelling rapidly. Yet, more than 70 percent of urban residents in Kenya live in informal settlements.
Rapid urbanisation has put pressure on housing in many cities and towns. This has resulted in proliferation of slums, thus raising pertinent questions about the sustainability of our urban centres. What is needed is a sustainable housing strategy to enable more Kenyans access to good housing.
Sustainable housing is described by the UN Habitat as housing that is inclusive and accessible to all. It is a key element in the development of sustainable cities.
The UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 identifies access to housing as a core pillar in building sustainable cities.
The government of Kenya has given priority to affordable housing under the Big 4 Agenda for development. This involves building 500,000 new affordable housing units by 2022. Kenya has an annual deficit of 200,000 houses.
But a decision to impose a 1.5 percent deduction on employment income has sparked public debate on the modalities of financing the scheme.
There is, however, broad consensus that steps must be taken to expand home ownership in the country. The escalating cost of land, poor infrastructure and low mortgage uptake remain major challenges to home ownership in Kenya.
Failure to tackle such constraints undermines the quest for decent but affordable shelter for all.
With the rapidly growing urban population, building sustainable cities will remain a mirage if appropriate strategies to drive inclusive housing are not in place.
Thus, moving people from slums into decent homes, and converting more Kenyans from tenants to home owners, will remain an elusive goal.
One way to achieve inclusive housing is through partnerships between government and the private sector. Such projects should be anchored in a buy-land-build-a-home model.
This entails making land cheaper and reducing cost of construction through the use of innovative building materials and techniques. That way, more Kenyans can build their own homes.
There is also a need to arrive at a reasonable market value for housing units for the lower and middle income segments.
For instance, the price of a three-bedroom bungalow for an average middle class family could be anywhere between Sh2.5 million – 3.5 million, excluding the cost of land.
A 40-by-80 feet land that is sufficient to build such a house should be reasonably priced at about Sh700,000 with the developer still making a profit.
Government at national and county levels should provide land for housing at a cost lower than the market price while providing support infrastructure like electricity, water, drainage, sewerage and roads.
Doing so, especially in areas contiguous to major urban centers, will not only lower project costs but also help fast-track housing project, thus easing pressure on towns and cities.
The government should also rein in rogue developers swindling innocent land buyers through dubious schemes that have seen many Kenyans lose millions of shillings.
A well-regulated real estate sector is essential to safeguarding public and investor confidence needed to propel the country’s housing agenda to the next level.
Providing tax and other incentives to genuine home developers would also attract substantial private investment in housing projects.
Promoting local manufacture of cheaper building components will encourage more Kenyans to aspire to put up their own homes.
Embracing all these measures and more will bring Kenya closer to attaining her goal of narrowing the ballooning national housing deficit and providing decent shelter to millions of Kenyans.
Inclusive housing is indeed a catalyst for the growth of sustainable cities and building a prosperous economy.
A holistic approach with the private sector playing a leading role will unlock the huge opportunity for home ownership in Kenya.