In December 2001, during centenary celebrations to mark its 100 years of its existence, retired President Daniel arap Moi announced the elevation of Kisumu to a city status.
Since then, and thereafter with the inception of devolution, the lakeside city has continued to experience rapid growth over the years, which includes major infrastructural developments.
However, at a recent housing conference hosted in the city, it was revealed that the rapid expansion has presented a housing crisis.
A report recently tabled before the county's Cabinet noted that it would have been easier for Kenya’s third city to meet the housing demands were it not for land tenure challenges.
Court cases, violent attacks and killings have characterised the scramble for land as clans, communities, individuals and institutions challenge ownership of various parcels.
As he unveiled an ambitious affordable housing plan that would see construction of over 10,000 units and redevelopment of old council houses and slums last month, Governor Anyang Nyong’o faulted cited land tenure challenges as a hindrance to efforts by the regional government to get into partnerships that could help solve the housing crisis.
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According to Nyong’o, there are several partners who have shown interest in partnering with the county government to meet the growing housing demands, but endless court battles over land ownership have continued to derail development plans as the situations worsens.
The gravity of the situation was revealed by the Governor at a recent media breakfast in Kisumu: “We are in a lot of trouble when it comes to land issues in the county.”
He told journalists that preliminary findings by a task force on land matters had worrying revelations. “The report, which is to be tabled before the county Cabinet, revealed misuse of land that has affected many projects in the county at the moment,” he said.
He further said that even as the county government invites the private sector to help find solutions to affordable housing, it is cautious on some of the excesses that have characterised the sector in the past, which can be traced to the land tenure systems.
“Many state corporations hold a lot of parcels [of land] within counties, which should be provided for housing development through mutual agreements or outright ceding to counties if we have to realise meaningful number of housing units in the remaining period,” Nyong’o said.
For example, in Kisumu, corporations such as Kenya Railways have large tracts of land along the lake, some of which are underutilised or have dilapidated houses that could be brought down to construct better ones.
Moving forward, Nyong’o proposes firmer commitments, quick decisions and funding to enable the region break ground in the next one year.
“The county has spent two years trying to understand the programme, map out possible housing sites and preliminary framework agreements with the national government and potential housing development partners,” he said.
At the moment, housing deficit stands at 5,000. Nyong’o plans to build at least 10,000 units of mixed typologies with focus on low-cost housing.
President Uhuru Kenyatta’s affordable housing project seeks to build 500,000 houses nationwide by 2022.
According to the county’s housing plan, the most direct housing programmes will be witnessed in the city and the satellite urban centres of Ahero, Muhoroni, Awasi, Maseno, Katito and Kombewa, which were recently gazetted as towns in gazette notice No 1913 published on March 1 this year.
Addressing the first international conference on affordable housing in Kisumu last month, the governor said he is circumspect of the daunting task.
“We deal with real people and their real issues, which means simple housing solutions on their own are never going to be an easy fix.
"There are many moving parts which need to be dealt with separately then fitted together so that all the levers around housing and social well-being can pull in the same direction.”
To achieve this, he feels there is need for community involvement.
Apart from the Nyong’o report, in August 2016 his predecessor Jack Ranguma appointed an eight-member team chaired by Aggrey Mwamu to investigate irregular allocation of public land in the county.
The National Land Commission had also revoked hundreds of title deeds on grounds that they were irregularly acquired, according to a gazette notice dated July 17, 2018.
The report revealed a glaring picture of how senior politicians, prominent businessmen, county officials and former civic leaders are among many who have grabbed prime land within the central business district.
In documents seen by the Nation, former councillor George Weda, who chaired the information and documentation sub-committee of the task force, revealed that more than 62 institutional houses in the leafy suburb of Milimani Estate had been grabbed by powerful people in Nyanza.
The report recommended that other 27 plots be investigated too. In his sworn affidavit, Weda warned that the Kanyakwar land problem was a ticking time bomb and needed to be handled soberly.
The notice had proposed that the Kanyakwar, Kogolla clan, Kikako Welfare Association, Kajuju Kithimo Welfare Association, Kokal Ramba Community and Kolwa Development Association have no claim on the land.
But Community Initiative Action Group Kenya (CIAG) director Chris Owala blames the county government for not having the good will to deal with land and housing issues in the county.
“It is these same county officials who issue public land to individuals. The corruption and rot in this county government is why it has failed in repossessing land,” Owala said.
According to the county's Ministry of Housing Secretary, Patrick Bucha, who was present at the housing conference, cartels are to blame for the confusion on land ownership especially on issuance of multi-titles to different people.
He added that the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) is taking looking into the matter.
He further claims that many inherited parcels of land never underwent proper succession, and this has been a major issue particularly among family members.
Bucha thus advised on the need to standardise land pricing. “We have an MoU with counties where they are to provide land and we develop houses and improve informal settlements,” Nyong'o said.
He said they have identified 498 slums where they will upgrade infrastructure. Kisumu City has identified several old municipal estates for redevelopment.
“It will not be dispossessing residents but working with them to achieve better housing. Public participation and opinions are very necessary for the success of such huge public projects,” he said.
Already, estates such as Kaloleni are experiencing upgrade in the form of paved roads and improved sanitation before housing units are built. The cost of the units will be affordable.
Further, a draft housing policy will be presented before the county assembly soon. The policy pertains "establishment of county housing fund lendable to organised housing co-operatives, community saving groups and saccos and promotion of self-build initiatives”, Nyong’o said.
The county commits to provide land as equity towards realisation of housing to partners who will provide funding.
Nyong’o pointed out that all old county estates covering about 35 hectares are targeted for redevelopment though various partnerships including National Housing Corporation, Local Authorities Provident Fund and other rapid construction technology contractors.
“Attainment of housing sufficiency cannot be an exercise in isolation. We recognise that this is an activity that falls in the greater planning of land use management, and if not properly thought out it can end up being very expensive and painful to home and property owners,” he said.
Two French companies, Planning Systems and Group Quit, are advising the government on how to upgrade Maseno, Ahero, Katito and Muhoroni towns.