The Star (Nairobi)

2 January 2013

Kenya: 2013 Presents Some Exciting Opportunities for Informal Housing

opinion

As we start the New Year, 2013, there is every indication that we are beginning an entirely new ball game, new hope, fresh opportunities, a lingering fulfilment of a promise.

All this freshness is premised upon the Constitution of Kenya 2010, which for the first time since Independence in 1963, opens a new window for every Kenyan to live in decent shelter.

Majority of poor households, if not all, are housed informally in cities and countryside. In Kenya, the informal sector delivers dwellings and accommodation at a price and in quantities that the formal sector miserably and deliberately fails to address.

As profit making is so difficult when low-cost housing and formal sector institutions coincide, formal housing delivery systems rarely reach low- and non-income groups.

Yet there are abundant opportunities, given the staggering numbers of poor people in society. Latest statistics show that although Kenya attained a respectable six per cent growth in GDP, citizens living below the poverty line (less than a dollar a day) increased from 53 per cent to nearly 60 per cent.

In "The Challenge of Slums Global Report on Human Settlements 2003" the United Nations Habitat states that 'informal' suggests a different way from the norm, one which breaches formal conventions and is not acceptable in formal circles - one which is inferior, irregular and, at least somewhat desirable.

Research and practice have demonstrated that differences may not imply inferiority. Although an informal settlement may be built on land zoned for industry and is, therefore, illegal, it provides accommodation, location and identity for its inhabitants at a cost that they can probably afford.

Kenya's first comprehensive Housing Policy was developed in 1966/67 as Sessional Paper No. 5. Kenya's population was just over nine million people, growing at a rate of three per cent annually countrywide, and five to six per cent annually in urban areas. Annual housing requirements then were 7,600 and 38,000 new units in urban and rural areas respectively.

The policy directed the Government "to provide the maximum number of people with adequate shelter and a healthy environment at the lowest possible cost".

This by itself was a paradox. It was probably based on the Lancaster House negotiated Constitutional Framework of Kenya 1963.

It advocated for slum clearance and encouraged mobilisation of resources for housing development through aided self-help and co-operative efforts.

Investments in the housing sector, at the lowest end of the scale, since the 1966/67 Policy have been minimal, while demand for housing still far outstrips supply.

High rate of urbanisation, increasing poverty, corruption and escalation of housing costs and prices make the provision of housing, infrastructure and community facilities one of the most difficult issues in Kenya's socio-economic development.

Research on low-cost building materials and construction techniques has been limited, so no viable guidance to the sector's development.

Stringent planning regulations, and high infrastructural standards, as laid out by the Building Code are not useful in the housing delivery system.

Article 43 of the new Constitution now provides that all citizens are entitled to adequate shelter. Article 21 says "it is a fundamental duty of the State and every State organ to observe, respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights and fundamental freedoms in the Bill of Rights."

The State must thus take legislative, policy and other measures, including setting standards, to achieve the progressive realisation of rights guaranteed under Article 43.

Now the jury is out and Kenyans are slowly but surely discovering these rights, well hidden in the supreme law of the land.

Who will take the first bold step to prosecute for their rights? Who will listen? Who will obey? Wherever anyone lives that is what she/he calls home. Will the governed wait forever? I doubt!

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