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City dwellers retreat to the villages for a fresh start

Travelers board a matatu in Kagemi Nairobi
Travelers board a matatu in Kagemi Nairobi on August 8, 2020. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU | NMG 
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For close to a month now, commuters on key up-country routes have been treated to frequent sights of trucks and public service vehicles(PSVs) exiting Nairobi and other satellites towns while loaded with household goods.

With the economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic gradually sinking in for most households due to job cuts and overall suppressed business, many affected city dwellers are taking tough decisions to survive the turmoil.

While some have opted to relocate to smaller and cheaper accommodation within the city and on its outskirts, others have chosen to exit the capital and return to their rural homes to escape a tough life without income.

“It made no sense to continue paying rent in Nairobi without income. I lost my job as a salesman in May and it only made sense to retreat to the village and rebuild my life. I am a qualified salesman and will be back to the city to earn a living once things stabilise” says Peter Odhiambo, a father of two, who relocated to Nyahera in Kisumu County.

He is among those who have exited the city since July 6 when President Uhuru Kenyatta announced a phased reopening of the country from a coronavirus-induced lockdown, lifting restrictions in and out of Nairobi and the coastal city of Mombasa.

Lifestyle changes

“Several of my neighbours in Lucky Summer estate also exited the city. We were hurting with no money and the reopening of travel in and out of Nairobi was a big relief,” adds Odhiambo.

During the three-month lockdown, life got tough for many households in Nairobi and Mombasa amid rising food shortage.

Out of desperation, many households resorted to food aid from their kin in rural areas of the country. Transport companies such as Easy Coach, Transline and Guardian registered a huge increase in shipment of foodstuffs from upcountry.

A handcart arrives at Machakos Country Bus with household goods

A handcart arrives at Machakos Country Bus with household goods. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

Like Odhiambo, thousands of people have lost jobs since Kenya reported its first case of Covid-19 in March. Data by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) shows in the first quarter of the year alone, the number of people not in the active labour force increased by 5.1 per cent (or 435,369 people) to 8.53 million, worsening the dependency ratio. The number of unemployed people is projected to have significantly increased over time.

Due to the health pandemic fallout, many households in the city have had to change their lifestyles and restructure budgets to ease the economic deal with the economic pinch.

A combination of high rents and low incomes have left many straining to afford necessities like food and cater for power bills, cooking gas and fuel.

With rent constituting a huge portion of most household budgets, many families in Nairobi have opted to downgrade to cheaper housing.

“Most Nairobians are estimated to spend around 40 per cent of their income on rental expenses, hence the bill taking the huge portion,” says Tony Watima, an economist.

“With salary cuts, the first item to cut expense is rent by moving to a more affordable house. For those who lost their jobs, they have no option but to vacate premises with a number moving back to their rural homes,” he adds.

Fredrick Magadi, the managing director of Proteam Movers Kenya, a relocation and storage firm in Nairobi’s Langata area, says the company has recorded increased demand by clients seeking to move houses.

“Some are downsizing to smaller houses, either within the same estates or blocs or moving out to cheaper houses in other estates,” he tells the Business Daily.

Most relocation firms report that in the four months since March, there has been increased activity of households shifting to Nairobi’s Eastlands estates such as Buruburu, Dohnholm, Embakasi, Fedha and Umoja. Others have been moving to estates in Roysambu on the Nairobi-Thika highway as well as Ruaka and Thindigua in Kiambu.

Travelers at the Machakos Country bus terminus

Travelers at the Machakos Country bus terminus on July 19, 2020. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU | NMG

Many families shifted from mid-level estates such as South B, South C, Imara Daima, Syokimau, Kileleshawa, Kilimani and Lang’ata.

Renters exited the houses to occupy other residential areas, out of city such Kitengela and in adjacent counties.

“People are also relocating to houses they were building. Most moves of this kind are mainly to houses in locations like Syokimau, Kitengela and around Northern Bypass,” Magadi adds.

Some with rent arrears moved out without part of the household items such as electronics and furniture which were attached by landlords.

“Some landlords also enlisted our services to store their items as they battled rent arrears issues,” Magadi further notes.

Another relocation firm, Nellions Moving and Relocations Company, similarly report an increase of demand by families moving houses in the city.

“More people are moving from apartments to their own standalone homes even when some are still unfinished,” says Cosmas Kamuyu, the founder of Nellions Moving and Relocations.

A Guardian Angel bus

A Guardian Angel bus. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Housing shake-up

Analysts see the pandemic shaking-up housing trends in the city in the long terms as more companies embrace the work-from-home arrangement.

“There is the cohort of Nairobi renters who have realised they don’t need to live within Nairobi environs to be close to work after ‘working from home’ when disruptive change happened. They can cut cost by living outside Nairobi as long as they have stable internet connection,” observes Watima.

“This trend will continue because prices of houses within Nairobi are high and even if they come down, they will not be as low as where people have moved to. And this is a structural problem of Nairobi,” he adds.

Within Nairobi, the Covid-19 pandemic has triggered demand for semi-detached houses, according to the latest survey by the Architectural Association of Kenya (AAK).

Single family detached homes particularly attracted huge interest, a report—an indication of the preferences generated by more people working from home due to disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Single family detached homes, seemed to generate interest, perhaps now that more people are working from home. Moving forward, it is possible that the same trajectory may be experienced post-Covid” AAK says in a report.

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