Prioritise social over affordable housing in informal settlementsMonday February 06 2023
For over five years the government has been actively implementing an affordable housing programme in the country. The aim is to make the right to housing a reality for the majority of citizens.
The programme was one of the anchors of the Big 4 Agenda for the Jubilee government. President William Ruto has continued with this programme and sought to accelerate its realisation.
While the Constitution guarantees every Kenyan the right to housing, many Kenyans across the country do not enjoy this right.
The percentage of Kenyans in urban areas who own houses is 21.3 percent, according to a 2019 housing survey.
Read: Opportunities that are on offer under affordable housing
This is coupled with a low number of those who have mortgages. Consequently, the task of increasing these numbers is not just important but urgent.
One of the areas with the greatest need for housing is urban slums. A week ago, one media house organised a town hall meeting involving the Governor of Nairobi and his Deputy and the residents of the county.
One of the participants raised the concern that while the drive towards making Kenyans own homes was laudable, the greatest concern was the downpayment required.
Her argument was that being 'hustlers' they could not afford the initial amounts required yet they still desired to own these houses.
The solution to this problem would be to either eliminate or further reduce the downpayments and monthly payments.
The question from the lady requires that the government focus a lot more on social housing for low-income groups and especially for those living in slums.
Studies show that questions about tenure security in such areas normally place structure owners with tenants with one group focused on rights to property while the other argues for rights to housing.
Court cases have held that it is necessary to balance these rights so that both are enjoyed as stipulated in the Constitution and international conventions.
The current approach of affordable housing in slum areas while seeking to ensure ownership of houses raises the challenge of whose rights are being secured.
In many slums, there are those who own structures but do not stay in the slums where these houses are erected.
When affordable houses are built it is these structure owners who can purchase the new houses.
The residents of the slums invariably move to other areas, leading to the emergence of more slums. The consequence is continuous gentrification.
Against this background, it is important for the government to prioritise social housing over affordable housing.
This will require interrogation of the model being used currently towards a greater focus on communal ownership and rentals.
The low-cost housing projects that exist in Nairobi such as Makongeni and Bahati estates have a history that may be useful to learn from.
Read: How affordable housing can drive Kenya's growth
The model of social housing where those who stay there have access to basic services and pay nominal rent while the houses are vested in the county government is one that should not be dismissed offhand.