Streamline sector to address housing crisis
By Samuel Mathenge
Singapore gained its independence at around the same time as Kenya. It is, therefore, expected that the two countries should have had similar growth challenges as well as solutions. But this is not the case.
Today, Singapore is a high-income economy and one of the least corrupt and has the third highest per-capita GDP. Kenya, on the other hand, is still struggling, so to speak.
I will focus on the housing sector which remains a crisis in Kenya.
According to global organisation, Habitat For Humanity, the housing deficit in Kenya stands at two million and continues to grow at a rate of about 200,000 units a year. There is a proliferation of informal settlements in urban areas, with 61 per cent of the urban population living in slums.
But where did the rain start beating us? Despite high potential growth of the housing sector in Kenya, we are still grappling with challenges that can easily be eradicated.
The biggest challenge in the sector is lack of proper regulations, which has left the private sector to run the show. The consequence is poor planning, high cost of land and proliferation of illegal structures.
There is also the issue of underutilisation of land in both rural and urban areas. Look around; there is still a lot of land which is bare and underutilised. This still boils down to legal loopholes that allow a few people to own chunks of acres of land while the rest of Kenyans squeeze in slums.
Some greedy local contractors have compounded the matter, developing sub-standard and unsafe buildings.
Yet, all these issues can be addressed through strong stakeholder’s cooperation in the industry. The major stakeholder, of course, is the government.
The rise of gated communities and neighbourhoods is welcome, but should be complemented by construction of core service centres and a mix of affordable housing. The model can help accommodate Kenya’s ballooning population. It is also affordable and accommodating for those who may not have enough cash, but can work with a long-term payment plan.
The country also needs to make good use of urban spaces and density by zoning out areas where high-rise buildings should be constructed. It is economically viable to build a high-rise building with many units than a standalone house.
There is need for an integrated approach to housing—the sector should be solely controlled by the government to avoid foul play by the private sector. This form of control is on the part of the land acquisition and also approval of projects.
Creating long-term political commitment is a challenge. For the country’s GDP to grow, the housing sector must improve significantly. The political class must come up with policies that will solve this crisis once and for all.
President Uhuru Kenyatta set a good example by including affordable housing in his Big Four agenda, but without political will, this ambitious initiative may remain a pipe dream.
There is also need for proper enforcement of existing laws regulating the sector. For instance, the Judiciary must hasten court processes regarding housing or land disputes. Some of these disputes have led to delay in development of great housing projects across the country.
The Executive must ensure all its agencies are at work to ensure that housing laws are adhered to. On its part, the Legislature must pass bills in favour of solving the housing crisis on long term basis.
— The writer is managing director, Ritz Housing and Properties