The recent drive towards an open market economy has led to the private sector providing various services that were traditionally under the mandate of the state or municipality. Critics, however, view this development as an opportunity for well-connected individuals to control essential services and reap profitable returns. In Nairobi, Kenya, some of the key areas that are now handled by the private sector are garbage collection, public transport, street lighting and in some cases water and sewerage management. Mostly a result of policies and measures adopted by the now defunct Nairobi City Council, the current state of affairs has gradually contributed to the belief that these sectors are now run by cartels which even the authorities have little control over.

Kibera, Nairobi

Residential housing is another sector that municipal authorities have gradually left to market forces. Following upon its British Colonial heritage, the Nairobi Municipal Council -and later Nairobi City Council- made efforts towards construction of municipal owned housing for rent paying tenants. Prior to independence this was done in a racially segregated manner in accordance with the then racial residential division laws evident in housing schemes like the then upmarket Woodley Estate for Europeans and Uhuru, Kaloleni and others on the Eastern Side for Africans.

Post- independence in 1963 Kenya witnessed a mass influx of people into urban centers and the government (working with the municipal authorities) recognized the need to provide adequate and affordable housing for them. The Government partnered with various bodies in trying to achieve this as seen in the 1970s site and service schemes in Dandora and Umoja (council- provided plot and World Bank and USAID- provided loans for construction of houses by residents).

The 1980s saw attempts by National Housing Commission to provide low cost housing in Pumwani and Highrise as a form of slum-upgrading. However, due to the massive shortage of affordable housing in the city, most of the units ended up with middle income earners. The poor, on the other hand, continued to live in their informal shanties which were routinely declared illegal resulting in regular demolitions by local government enforcement. Lack of alternatives would normally lead to re-location of the settlements. Economic challenges and political change in the early 90’s  halted many of these projects and it was not until the early part of this century that the National Housing Corporation once again started constructing housing projects, mainly aimed at middle income earners.

Kenya’s ideas around municipal housing stem from some of housing successes in Great Britain. The idea of council housing originated in the 19th Century as a means of eliminating slums that had developed in major cities, particularly in London. Although initially challenging due to poor planning (the first programme saw only 11 of the 5000 slum residents moving into newly constructed houses,) the housing projects slowly gained momentum.

The County of London Plan of 1943, (Also known as the Abercrombie Plan) called for the establishment of a ring of new towns around London. Britain’s municipal council housing building boom only came after the Second World War however, as the government built houses to replace those brought down during the war. Policies of various Labour Party Governments who believed in the duty of the state to provide adequate housing for the people further contributed to the boom. Housing schemes like St. Andrews Gardens in Liverpool that targeted mainly casual based dockside workers were eventually more successful. Another successful housing scheme that was not limited to the poor was Stevenage;(this also had very strict tenant rules and regulations that were regularly enforced by inspection).

The 1960s and 70s also experienced unsuccessful attempts at high-rise blocks which were stopped due to massive degradation including anti-social behavior, crime and dysfunctional families.  Similar challenges were faced by housing projects are found in other places of the world such as Ponte City Apartments in Johannesburg and Pruitt Igoe, in St. Louis, Missouri. It is understood that by the 1970s one third of Britons lived in council housing. The 1980 Housing Act and the explosion of “right-to-buy” saw the transfer of many council houses to their occupants as owners.  Currently, municipal housing is only provided on a need basis and within a time framework.

The Nairobi City County has shown intentions towards executing urban renewal projects in some of its older estates. Reports indicate that the County intends to put up 14,000 housing units, with a final construction target of over 100,000 units. The old “Eastlands area – an area reserved for Africans during the Colonial era- is the targeted area. It currently holds 17,000 units. The urban renewal housing projects are some of the projects targeted under Public-Private Partnership agreements. Among the targeted areas are:

Name Acreage Current Use Council Estimated Potential
Bachelors/Jevanjee Estate 8.8 acres. several bungalows 24 storied buildings with a total of approximately 1,470 units broken down as follows: 3 bedroom-210 units, 2 bedroom-840 units and 1 bedroom-420 units.
Ngong Road Estate (Meteorological Department) 15.0 acres old bungalows housing County staff, an area for football and other sporting activities 12 storey apartments with a total of approximately 2,520 units broken down as follows: 3 bedrooms-360 units, 2 bedroom-1440 units and 1 bedroom-720 units
Old Ngara Estate 3.28 acres storey buildings which are in deplorable state which need to be demolished and the access roads improved to allow ease of movement high density 24 story apartments with a total of approximately 840 units broken down as follows: 3 bedroom-120 units, 2 bedroom-480 units and 1 bedroom-240 units
Pangani Estate 5.2 acres 2 storey buildings in a courtyard formation with a play area in the middle high density 24 storey apartments with a total of approximately 1,050 units broken down as follows: 3 bedroom- 150 units, 2 bedroom-600 units and 1 bedroom- 300 units
Uhuru 7.5 acres high density 15 storey apartments with a total of 1,050 units broken down as follows: 3 bedroom- 300 units, 2 bedroom- 600 units, and 1 bedroom- 150 units
New Ngara Estate 4.12 acres high density 24 storey apartments with a total of approximately 1,050 units broken down as follows: 3 bedroom-150 units, 2 bedroom-600 units and 1 bedroom- 300 units
Suna Road 5.2 acres currently part of the famous Toi Market that stretches from Kibera and reaches all the way to Adams Arcade next to the Uchumi Supermarket a market and a total of approximately 1,050 units which are broken down as follows: 3 bedroom- 150 units, 2 bedroom-600 units, 1 bedroom- 300 units.

(Source: Nairobi City County, 2015)

Artists impressions shared by the County show that the current dilapidated structures will be demolished to make way for more modern high-rise structures.

A big question remains as to whether council housing is an entitlement or not, and whose responsibility it is to take care of the maintenance of this housing. Given the current situation where 55% of Nairobi’s population lives in slum areas,yet occupy only 5% of the land, while middle income earners are experiencing tremendous challenges in obtaining satisfactory and affordable housing, the housing challenges in Nairobi cannot be ignored.

Construction in Nairobi,

Nairobi City Council’s housing schemes have suffered due to poor maintenance since the late 1970’s. However, as rents are very affordable, families will hold onto the houses for generations and even ‘sub-rent’ them out when they can afford to move elsewhere.

The middle income housing question is a major challenge in many growing cities and Nairobi is not an exception. Ignoring the challenge has led to the proliferation of unplanned privately developed middle class housing in many parts of the city. Moreover, this has also been done without any consideration of service provision and required facilities. Nairobi currently has slightly over 200 informal settlements. The Bill of Rights in the Kenya Constitution stipulates that adequate housing is a basic right for every Kenyan, a goal that remains elusive.

Should municipalities provide housing for all or only for those in need? Should housing be let under strict rules and regulations or should it be mortgaged to people? What role can municipalities play between housing the poor and filling the middle income housing gap?

3 thoughts on “Public vs Private Urban Housing, what direction for Nairobi, Kenya?

  1. Housing should be for all, MIG, LIG and EWS.
    Goverment should be open the all option for promotion of housing like Public Private sector, cridit link subsidy on the base of annual income. Keep the criteria of reservation of hoses in every project for EWS.

  2. I tend to think both(private & public) compliment one another. I cannot imagine for instance proper provision of electricity without the existence of both KPLC and KenGen. While the former has had a good record in terms of power distribution and expansion of their network, the latter has been key in giving the former that much needed boast in terms of power generation. Proper legislation and regulation can actually enhance the two sectors in terms of complementing one another.

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