No housing for low-income earners in Kisumu as developers focus on high-end clients

Thursday January 14 2016

A flat on the lower end of Nyalenda estate where house rents go for between Sh2,500 for bedsitters to Sh4, 500 for doubles and steadily rising as demands for houses go up. PHOTO | TOM OTIENO

A flat on the lower end of Nyalenda estate where house rents go for between Sh2,500 for bedsitters to Sh4, 500 for doubles and steadily rising as demands for houses go up. PHOTO | TOM OTIENO 

By SILAS APOLLO
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The dream of constructing low-cost housing in Kisumu is proving to be a far-fetched one as the lakeside town continues to struggle to accommodate its surging population.

Despite promises and groundbreaking projects by developers hoping to bridge the housing gap, little progress has been made so far to make the dream a reality.

The challenges come against the backdrop of a yet-to-begin upgrading of slum houses in the informal settlements of Nyalenda, Obunga, Bandani and Kaloleni to middle class status. Of the Sh4.8 billion slum upgrading project by the Kisumu county government, (Kisumu Integrated Strategic Urban Development Plan) only floodlights have been erected in a section of the informal settlements.

Matters have further been complicated by a focus on high-end and middle-class housing by developers, a fact that has locked out many, including first-time job seekers looking for pocket-friendly accommodation.

For instance, a one-bedroom house in areas such as Mamboleo, Polyview, Migosi or Lolwe, estates considered affordable, charge approximately Sh15,000 as starting rent, an amount many cannot afford. As a result, many residents, have had to seek alternative accommodation and housing in neighbouring towns, with some being forced to share houses to split the otherwise unaffordable rent.

Mr Collins Omondi, a recent graduate from Masinde Muliro University, who now works as a salesperson in the town, said he was forced to seek accommodation in the Manyatta slums after three months of searching for a decent house he could afford, without success.

 “Housing in Kisumu is simply unaffordable for the majority of us,” said the business graduate.

COST OF BUILDING

He is not alone. Ms Anita Chesot, a 26-year-old public relations officer in Kisumu, had to make do with a poorly constructed house that lacked a ceiling board, and whose walls were unpainted, after  two months searching for a house. As if that was not enough, going to and fro work was a challenge during the rainy season, since the dirt roads would become muddy.

“For all this inconvenience, I was charged Sh5,000 for rent. I lived there for two months before moving to students hostel, where I paid a similar amount. It was a bit better, but the student environment put me off,” she said.

Mr Wycliffe Abok, a real estate agent in Kisumu, attributes the housing problem to the increased costs developers have to foot when putting up affordable houses in the town.

Property developers in the town told DN2 that the problem has been caused by high bank rates on loans and mortgages, as well as the high cost of land in the town, which he said makes building low-cost houses a liability.

Due to this, more developers were concentrating on high-cost houses, which are in turn unaffordable to the majority of the residents.

“Land within a three-kilometre radius of the central business district costs an average of Sh3million for a 50 by 100 ft parcel, and Sh5million for a quarter of an acre. Which developer would then go ahead and build low-cost houses after spending that much?”  Mr Abok wondered.

His sentiments were shared by Ms Nishma Karia of Lake Estate Properties, who argued that despite the desire for low-cost housing, the cost of construction has turned a number of developers away.

“Nobody is willing to invest in low-cost houses because of the low returns. This is if you take into consideration the fact that building materials cost almost double what they did in the last few years due to inflation,” she said.

Currently, Migosi, Lolwe, Polyview, Nyamasaria and Nyalenda areas are the most affordable for the growing population here, while others have opted to live in the informal settlements of Manyatta and Obunga, which lack proper basic amenities and services.

NEW TECHNOLOGIES

According to Mr Abok, the only solution to this dire need of proper and affordable housing is the use of advanced building technology, such as the use of expanded Polystyrene (EPS) panels, a technology that is widely used in Malaysia and other South Asian countries, to reduce construction costs.

“We (Kisumu Real Estate) are, for instance, planning to construct  EPS houses to cater for the low-income earner, and which we intend to rent out for between Sh4,000 and Sh10,000, depending on the size of the house,” he said.

The EPS technology, which is  being increasingly used in Nairobi, makes use of composite building materials. The building panels are sandwiched around a foam core of polystyrene and consist of an insulating layer of rigid core sandwiched between two layers of structural board.

During construction, these are then sandwiched between a galvanised steel wire mesh that is plastered on both sides with concrete.

They are normally used as a substitute for traditional materials used to build walls, roofs, stairs and floors.

“The panels can reduce construction costs by about 30 per cent and time taken to build by half,” said Mr Abok, whose firm intends to build bungalows and maisonettes  for sale using this technology.

The panels can be used to put up a 20-storey building.