21 September 2011

Kenya: Government to Set Up Centres for Low-Cost Housing

The government is setting up constituency-based training centres for low-cost building technology that are expected to speed up development of affordable housing.

Housing minister Soita Shitanda said alternative building technologies such as interlocking blocks and plastic panels, also called expanded polystyrene technology (EPS), could help to boost development of new houses comprising 200,000 units per annum by next year. Kenya's housing market has a cumulative deficit in excess of two million units, against a government estimate of a supply of 60,000 units every year, mainly made from traditional brick and mortar.

"My ministry is in the process of establishing housing technology centres in each constituency to increase access to decent housing by promoting location-specific building materials and low-cost housing," said Mr Shitanda at the listing of Shelter Afrique's Sh2.5 billion corporate bond Tuesday.

The minister said 49 technology centres are already under construction, with the first one in Mavoko expected to be fully operational next month to serve eastern Nairobi that has a high population density.

"These centres will be used to train builders on new technologies and informing communities on the cost savings associated with using them," added Mr Shitanda.

Priority will be given to urban centres where slum housing is common.

The housing ministry has allocated Sh200 million for the projects with anticipation that more money would be set aside in the next national budget. The hydraform technology imported from South Africa seeks to minimise the use of both sand and cement by utilising interlocking, hardened earthen blocks. It is said to slash construction material costs by half.

Mr Shitanda said the technology is popular around central Kenya where the interlocking blocks have been used in the construction of homes and utilities including health centres and schools.

The training centres will also seek to promote the use of EPS, imported by the State-owned National Housing Corporation (NHC) from Italy.The NHC factory is scheduled to start operations in December.

James Ruitha, the managing director at NHC, says developers will save as much as a fifth of the overall construction costs by using the EPS panels, besides reducing the time for completion to three weeks.

EPS panels are made from compressed plastic pellets, similar to the material used to cushion electronic goods on transit, which are then sandwiched between mesh wire before being plastered to make walls and roofs.

It is the use of the two building technologies that Mr Shitanda is hoping could address the chronic housing shortage and eliminate slum dwellings in the major towns- whose growth has accelerated in the last decade as a result of high urbanisation rates.

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