The Problem with the Kenyan Housing Sector

President Kenyatta in Huruma Estate where the six-storey building collapsed.

The recent disaster of a six-storey building collapsing in Huruma, Nairobi that resulted in loss of lives and casualties has raised some very serious questions on the state of the housing sector in Kenya. To be able to address these issues, let us first begin by quoting the constitution of our great nation, Kenya. Chapter 4 of the constitution, the Bill of Rights in Article 43, states that every person has the right to accessible and adequate housing, and to reasonable standards of sanitation.

This human right, has one important characteristic it shares with all other rights; it is meant for every human being. However, we need to acknowledge that the concept of equity in a society is merely an intangible wish, directing me to perform a good contrast between equality and equity, which I’ll do some other time.

A report I came across sometime last year on the issue of rural-urban migration in Kenya had been titled ‘Why Kenyans love living in cities.’ It is wrong to say that the reason cities in Kenya are densely populated is because Kenyans love the city–life. They don’t love the city-life. They are made to come to the city because it is in the city that resources in terms of opportunities and social amenities are available ‘in plenty’. This is indeed debatable. However, the new constitution introduced devolution, meant to take these resources closer to the mwananchi. Thus, statements such as “Work hard in school and go to the big city and get a job” would be a thing of the past. Those jobs, and other opportunities would be available at the grassroots.

The huge demand for housing in Nairobi has resulted in making the housing sector to be one of the most lucrative sectors to venture into in Kenya. Greed, unfortunately having replaced reason, has led to contractors constructing buildings that are extremely unfit for human occupation. It is very worrying to even see the condition of some of those buildings, and one is left to wonder, “Who allowed such negligence to thrive in the open? Who is responsible? Is this another ’great’ opportunity to blame the government, or has the time come for collective responsibility on huge matters such as these?”

Consequentialism, in my opinion, defines the state of the housing sector in Kenya. Yes, there is a huge demand for housing in Nairobi, and other cities. Yes, the government cannot solve this on its own, therefore members of the private sector can play a role in making this possible. Yes, a majority of city residents are unable to afford the rates of houses in the leafy suburbs. And yes, constructing houses for rent at affordable rates is a good way of being part of the solution. HOWEVER, what is the means to this end? It is wrong to do a shoddy job during construction, and still ignore duty of care, allowing innocent citizens to rent in, not knowing they are sitting on ticking time-bombs.

What needs to be done to solve this? Let’s begin with the policies. The unfortunate thing about laws is that, even though they are meant to provide law and order, laws do not cover all aspects of human action. Malicious people are smart enough to identify the flaws, and take full advantage of this for their own selfish needs.

After the tragedy that hit Huruma, the National Construction Authority was widely blamed for not executing its mandate. However, the NCA Chairman Fred Oundo in an interview on-site, stated categorically that the mandate of the NCA is only carried out during construction, and provides certificates of compliance if the construction process meets all the set requirements. However, on completion, the occupation certificate is provided by the county government, after confirmation that a building’s structural integrity is flawless. There is a flaw here, see it? Then we have the Building Inspectorate Unit under the Ministry of Land, Housing and Urban Development which perform audits every now and then to check the state of buildings in various areas. But the major challenge is during effecting a demolition to happen after the audits performed declare the buildings are not in good condition for human habitation.

There is need to have better coordination among the agencies involved in construction. Laws need to be put in place that define clearly how the various mandates of the agencies should be carried out in a coordinated manner. The NCA also lacks prosecution powers to arrest wrongdoers even after construction. The role of the August House should be to revise the NCA Act and provide more powers to this authority to even carry out demolitions.

Tenants have a role to ensure that the buildings they live in already have occupation certificates. They too need to be part of the change. Speak out. Demand what is rightfully yours; your safety. Stay alive.

Finally, let us all be our brothers’ keepers. The spirit of nationhood needs to be the core of our foundation as a nation. Businesses, need to be sustainable. Contractors, need to not only focus on profit for their shareholders, but also the welfare of all stakeholders. The tragedy that hit Huruma is a painful reminder that corruption is expensive, and sadly, it kills. The solution to this monster is not only ordering arrests, but joining hands all of us as Kenyans and fighting against it to the very end.

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