For 26 years Rose Odinga had lived in Makina village, one of the nine that make up the Kibera slum. Ms Odinga, who was widowed in 1999, has a kiosk at Toi Market, where she sells toys. With two children to feed and educate, never in her wildest dreams had she imagined that she would one day have a decent roof over her head, let alone live outside the slum. However, in 2011 things started changing for the better.
Rose, then 26, and some of her women friends had formed a chama from which members borrowed to boost their small businesses.
Then, by a stroke of luck three members of the chama met a man who sold them the idea of transforming their outfit into a cooperative society, which would enable them to own houses outside the slum.
Excited by the idea, the members shared the news with their colleagues, who were very receptive. Three meetings later, Razak Housing Cooperative Society (known simply as Razak) was born and registered in March 2011. They later joined the National Housing Cooperative Union (Nachu), the umbrella body for housing cooperatives that focuses on rural and urban low-income areas with the aim of addressing poverty through housing by providing training, technical, and nancial services.
“When we met as a group with the man who brought up the idea, the members immediately decided to elect officials. I was elected the chairlady. Then we asked him to take us to the Nachu offices. That’s how our journey began,” says Ms Odinga.
Already, 124 members of Razak are the proud owners of one-bedroom houses in the Nairobi region, including in Ruai, off Kangundo Road, on the outskirts of Nairobi. DN2 caught up with a few of them. Theirs is a story of determination and extra-ordinary zeal to succeed.
Take for instance, Nafisa Burhan, who has been the treasurer of Razak since its inception. The mother of five provides for her family by making chapatis and mandazis, which she supplies to offices in the city early in the morning. But she can do this only on weekdays since most offices are closed on weekends and public holidays.
“I also make pilau and get invited to cook at weddings and other functions occasionally. I consider my job some kind of outside catering,” says Ms Burhan, bursting into peals of laughter.
Though she doesn’t earn much—between Sh20,000 and Sh30,000 a month,—Ms Burhan is happy to have been able to save and contribute towards her dream house.
“We met every two weeks and each member would bring Sh2,000. I would collect all the money and deposit it with Nachu,” she offers.
“Remember, by the time we were joining Nachu, we had Sh800,000 in our chama account. We transferred the whole amount to their account so that members could continue topping up their accounts. When every member had saved Sh70,000, Nachu bought a piece of land and started building houses for us,” adds Ms Odinga.
In the meantime, Razak was recruiting more members; by 2013, it had 72 active members. Members who had contributed Sh140,000 got keys to their houses the same year. Among them were Ms Odinga and Ms Burhan.
“The houses were built on a 40x80ft parcel of land in a gated community with a sewer system, electricity and water supply. The houses are designed to have three bedrooms but to make them affordable to us, the organisation first built a bed-room houses so you have a living room, bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. However, they left space for members to complete the construction at their own pace. In fact, if you look at the houses from outside, you will see some bricks protruding, indicating that they will be extended,” says Ms Odinga.
Nachu’s financial manager, Mr Stanley Kamau, says the women got a Sh525,000 loan each, which covers the cost of the land and the house. After getting the house keys, they were required to settle this in Sh10,500 monthly instalments (including interest) over five years. After deducting the loan application fee, mortgage insurance fee and a 5 per cent cash collateral to be left in every member’s account, the rest of the money would go towards paying for the house.
In 2015, another 36 members received the keys to their houses, with another b36 expected to get their keys in August this year.
Among those who received their keys this year is 54-year-old Asiya Mohammed, who sells vegetables in Kibera. She has three children but also takes care of her late sister’s four children. She told DN2 that it has not been an easy journey.
“It is a miracle that I managed to do this. I don’t make much from my small business. Sometimes we live from hand to mouth but in a good month I can put aside Sh5000, which is the money that has brought me this far. I started off with the first group in 2011 but could not get a house because I did not manage to reach the target. It has taken me seven years,” she says.
Ms Mohammed’s one-bedroom house is in Kamulu Phase 4, off Kangundo Road. She is planning to relocate part of her family to the new house.
“Unlike in the slums, Ruai is more secure. You see, in the slum you don’t know the person next door and there are no demarcations. So you live in constant fear of your daughters getting assaulted when you’re away. Also, here [in Kibera], you find that the toilet and the bathroom are shared, and some people are not willing to keep them clean,” chips in Ms Burhan.
She told DN2 that she has already relocated her family to Ruai and even enrolled her children in school there but remained in Kibera to run her business.
Currently, 55 members of Razak are on the waiting list, but there is a problem.
“The prices of land and construction materials have gone up, so the houses we bought for Sh525,000 about seven years ago are now going for Sh1.2million,” says Ms Burhan.
So, although these 55 members have saved about Sh200,000, the monthly repayments of Sh17,500 they are expected to make for the loan is too high.
“We are looking to increase the construction period for the project to around two years so that by the time they start servicing the loan, they will have contributed enough money to reduce the monthly instalment,” says Mr Kamau.
Still, Razak’s success saw Ms Odinga represent Kenya at the International Labour Organisation’s “From Informal to Formal” conference in Tunisia last year. She addressed delegates from 58 countries on ways in which governments can empower slum dwellers to live a fulfilling life.
With data indicating that 70 per cent of Kenya’s urban residents living in slums, the story of these women is clearly indicates that it is possible to provide housing and thus change disadvantaged peoples’ lives for the better.
According to the 2009 census, one out of every 10 people lives in an urban setting while seven live in rural areas. It is estimated that by 2030, half of Kenya’s population will be urban-based, meaning that the current housing crisis is only likely to worsen.
“The movement to urban areas in Kenya is among the highest in the world. The World Bank puts the figure at 4 per cent of the population, which is about half a million people every year. So this movement will put more pressure on the demand for houses in urban environments,” says Mr Kamande.
As at 2016, the country was facing a backlog of 2 million housing units. Besides, it is estimated that the country’s annual house demand stands at 200,000 units but, notably, developers build only about 50,000 units every year.
Through public-private partnerships, the Jubilee government has promised to put up 500,000 low- cost housing in the next five years but real estate insiders say this is far from adequate.
While acknowledging that there is a need for different players in the industry to come together to address the housing problem, Mr Kamande says that as a key player, the government should move with speed to address the infrastructure around residential areas. That way, he says, private developers will not have to deal with supporting infrastructure such as feeder roads, sewer systems, electricity and water supply when building houses.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that 124 members of the Razak Housing Cooperative Society own one-bedroom houses in the Nairobi region, including those on the Kangundo Road parcel.
How incremental housing works
To make housing affordable, especially to low-income earners in informal settlements, the National Housing Co-operative Union (Nachu) has been using, and promoting, the concept of incremental housing development.
Mr Francis Kamande, the union’s national chairman, explained how the concept works: “Once we have agreed with a group on the design and size of the house, for instance, a three-bedroom house, the quantity surveyor calculates the cost. Supposing we want the client to pay for the house in seven years, how much will he or she be required to pay per month? If this amount is beyond the client’s mean, we don’t build the complete house. Instead, we build a one-bedroom house with all the other facilities such as a kitchen, living room, and bathroom and let the owner make the additions at their convenience.”
He adds that if the cost is still high, then an agreement on other cost-cutting measure has to be reached. For instance, the owner can choose not to have the ceiling installed, or opt do away with the plaster or paint on some walls, among other measures.
A case in point is that of Ms Nfisa Burhan. She told DN2 that in order to complete the construction, she took a Sh200,000 loan from Nachu. Thereafter, she sold two plots she had bought in Syokimau for Sh30,000 each in 2000, earning her Sh1 million shillings. She used the money to finish her three-bedroom house before moving her children there.
“The government needs to take deliberate steps to put up basic infrastructure. Once it does, houses will start coming up and this will not only solve the housing problem, but also reduce the cost of housing significantly,” says Mr Kamande.
Other challenges that the government needs to address include the issuance of title deeds and transfers which, Mr Kamande says, is lengthy and tedious. In addition, the government should reduce the taxes on construction materials and also address the issue of finance since most Kenyans cannot meet the terms and conditions of laid down by commercial banks, especially after the capping of interest rates.