Mind the market, infrastructure in fresh affordable housing drive

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DNCOASTBUXTON1210C

While on a visit to the island of Zanzibar a while back, I’d marvel at their social housing apartments. They looked decent, with multiple units in robust-looking blocks. Not too high though.

Families looked like they lived dignified lives there, with clean-looking surroundings. Just the kind of quality and environment any urban manager would wish for their residents. Hope they have sustained it.

But let’s get back home. Housing shortage in our urban areas bites. Policy wigs indicate that the gap is sharp.

No wonder, the mushrooming of informal settlements, and construction of poorly serviced owner-occupied houses in peri-urban areas have become the norm.

To close the gap, the State Department of Housing expects to facilitate the development of 250,000 affordable housing units annually.

Related promises by the Kenya Kwanza government, as articulated by President William Ruto, are indeed most welcome.

I hope that the pertinent strategy will include enhancing the capacity of the National Housing Corporation to deliver and provide an enabling policy and regulatory regime to the private sector.

But beware of a few things while escalating housing. The land is one. Whether it be public or private, sufficient measures must be taken to process the targeted land to ensure efficient transmission of the units to beneficiaries.

Where private, plans for purchase must be made, and adequate cash allocated. Where owned by the national or county governments, pre-negotiations should be made for its administration and the management of any benefits or liabilities.

Secondly, one must mind the target market. I have, for instance, been watching the high-rise units developed opposite Sir Izaak Walton Inn in Embu town. I keep hoping that the targeted market will respond.

The units befit the elite segment, perhaps slightly above middle income. But in a rural county with short motorable distances such as Embu, the elite often opt to live in their homes, from where they drive into town every morning.

This lifestyle, which may be true for other rural counties, can undermine uptake.

The cosmopolitan cities of Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, Nakuru and Eldoret may, however, provide markets for the middle and slightly above-middle-income segments.

However, the low-income segment, which cuts across all towns, calls for innovative interventions.

The service infrastructure should be minded too. For instance, once complete, the ongoing high-rise development under the affordable housing project behind Pangani Police Station in Nairobi will introduce heavy extra traffic.

Suitable plans must therefore be made to expand the existing road to provide for deceleration and acceleration lanes for the entry and exit traffic.

Furthermore, the sudden inflow of thousands of residents into the blocks will call for the expansion of the existing water, sewer and power services, or else the new residents and the old ones too will suffer shortages.

Lifts in high-rise buildings particularly call for a stable power supply without which the regular use of generators will escalate maintenance costs.

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