Developers say lack of accurate housing data makes it hard for them to plan properly

Thursday January 21 2016

Shafiq Zavery of White Gold Holdings Limited at the site of a show house under construction in Ruby Estate, a gated Community coming up in Kibos Area. PHOTO | TOM OTIENO

Shafiq Zavery of White Gold Holdings Limited at the site of a show house under construction in Ruby Estate, a gated Community coming up in Kibos Area. PHOTO | TOM OTIENO 

SILAS APOLLO
By SILAS APOLLO
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KENYA LACKS ACCURATE DATA on housing that can help policy-makers address problems in the sector, some property developers in Kisumu claim. They say that even with the impressive growth in the housing, sector, little had been done to collect adequate data on the growth and challenges in the sector.

Mr Nickson Opande, owner of Opande Africa Investment, says that the available data is skewed and unreliable, making it hard to tell the emerging opportunities in the industry.

“The country lacks proper data on the specific housing categories, despite the dire need of units in major urban areas,” says Mr Opande.

As a result, he says, many questions remain unanswered as to whether housing shortages affect the rich, the poor, or both, as well as the impact on the shortage on families.

“We cannot identify the appropriate areas where there is a need for housing, or even pieces of land that we can buy for development,” he says, adding that in most instances, data collected around the country often fails to reflect the key areas with housing problems as it only dwells on a broad and general analysis of the problems.

A case in point, he says, is the 1999 census,  which calculated the number of households in the country based on their main source of water.

“This can be very erroneous, given that in places like Nairobi, where the surface water is sometimes polluted by burst sewers, industrial and solid waste, the number of households shown to be relying on water from ponds, lake and streams was unrealistic,” adds Mr Shafiq Zavery, of White Gold Holding.

Mr Zavery laments that the poor documentation of data has adversely affected the industry over the years so it is hard to identify some of the market’s needs.

RIGHT SOLUTIONS

“We have been disappointed over the years by the government’s failure to give us some basic information,” laments Mr Zavery.

As a result, he says, they have been forced to rely on what they have observed in the industry in the preceding year.

“We had a census in 2009, but the official government data on housing has not been released to us,” he says.

Mr Zavery links this problem to the poor and few investments that have been made in the housing sector, saying that most investors would shy away from the industry because of the lack of adequate data.

“Investors who would otherwise be able to finance the development of houses shy away from the industry. This one case reflects the serious implications the sector faces,” said Mr Zavery.

He says that as a result of the problem, property developers have to look for the relevant information at their cost, unlike in other sectors.

“As real estate developers, we need accurate information on the problems in the industry in order to plan the right solutions. Without this, one has no alternative but to source for the information from scratch, which takes more money and time,” he said.

Another investor, Mr George Nyagowa, says that due to  lack of reliable data, unscrupulous developers have infiltrated the market, leading to poor quality buildings.

“Data from the recent reports have failed to focus on the key components of the market and the changing trends resulting in major loopholes in official statistics,” he said.

He says that if not urgently addressed,  this failure could lead to a situation where achieving objectives such as vision 2030 would be thwarted, given the misallocation of resources to a particular area.

“Without this information the government’s objectives of curbing the country’s housing crisis amounts to nothing.”

Mr Zavery said that countries like Hong Kong have elaborate data on housing, giving clear pointers to the sector’s state and needs.

“Hong Kong boasts an elaborate housing data system that Kenya has not been able to achieve for reasons we, developers, do not know,” he said.

However, the Director of the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics Director, Mr Zachary Chege, defended the bureau, saying it only collects raw data on the number of houses in the country during censuses and does not analyse this information.

Thereafter, it is the responsibility of the relevant government agencies to conduct in-depth analyses of the market situation, in this case the Ministry of Housing.

“What we give as an institution is the basic information of, say the type of dwellings available and in which areas. The census just gives the basic data and not a break-down that would be useful to property developers,” he clarified.

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