Should The Kiambu Government Upgrade County Houses To Accommodate more People?

Over the weekend I bounced into a very heated debate relating to the alleged proposal by the County Government of Kiambu to renew the county government houses in Ofafa, Starehe and Jamuhuri.  The tenants in these county houses live in fear of inevitable evictions as the Kiambu government is said to be planning to demolish and build new modern structures that can accommodate more people.

The county government has denied harboring such plans and dismissed such as mere propaganda.

The debate in question here centered on whether or not it was right for the government of Kiambu to come up with a housing upgrade programme that would ease the housing challenge that faces the residents of Thika Town.

Those for the idea argued that domestic shelter was an important basic need in all societies saying that the demand for housing was one aspect of the problems that had given rise to illegal makeshift houses in urban areas. They reasoned that of late, there was a severe housing shortage in Thika with demand – supply gap increasing day-by-day. They stated that trends in housing since independence had marginalized low-income earners housing needs with the limited choices never matching the ever increasing demand for housing.

Thus despite the efforts at building more houses, the low-income earners still face housing problems. They were also of the opinion that the scarcity of housing was the key reason urban landlords took advantage of the residents to overcharge and mistreat their tenants. To this school of thought, the most affected were those who have least resources as providing housing nowadays is a profit-oriented industry. Housing has become very costly in the town, spurring an affordability crisis. One the men told us that some of the homeless people we saw around were so because they were running from the existing housing problems.

These people cannot purchase houses nor afford high rent, so they end up living in unfit accommodation such as in Kiandutu, Gacagi and Matharao, as the rents demanded for such an accommodation is much lower. Some very poor people prefer to squat rather than even rent an accommodation, thus leading to the growth of slums,” he said.

He further argued that the government was confronted with keeping pace with the demands for low income housing and one way of coming up with a lasting solution was to introduce low income urban housing project similars to the Mathare 4A or the Kibera Housing Slum Upgrade. He was convinced that the potential for progress of any town could be fully exploited only if lasting solutions were found to the serious problems caused by the shortage of housing and the inadequate nature of some existing housing especially those near the town centre.

He argued that the housing plan in these area had been done without anticipating population growth in Thika Town thus resulting to poor land use. They were of the opinion that there was too much wasted space that if well utilized could help accommodate so many people without having to displace those already occupying these houses.

The Kibera site has 900 housing units, 230 business stalls and a nursery school. The project is enclosed by a wall and comprises one-, two- and three-roomed units, each complete with a bathroom, kitchen and balcony. Apart from being connected to the main water supply, it also has a borehole. The project also boasts a two-storied youth centre, a social hall, office space, toilets and gigantic waste disposal bins.

To achieve such a great objective, his partner said that the county government could start by dividing JAMOFASTAR residents into zones for systematic re-development. They should then start by building the apartments in phases on the open spaces where those living in the nearest older county houses could eventually shift to allow the old houses be demolished.

Those living in these houses may not be fully opposed to this idea but fear the county government will cut deals to allow non-bona fide residents to benefit from such housing; people who really do not need government help for housing. They prefer the Kiambu Government having to make the beneficiaries sign contracts with them that will make it hard for the Kiambu Government to shortchange them with other people.

The Kiambu authorities should therefore address this by way of community participation. Community participation, being the key drive here, must service the residents with all the relevant information to allow them enjoy direct participation in the decision-making process as well as having the freedom to develop their own options to some of their needs and solutions. They should be allowed to fully participate in the formulation of the whole programme and concept.

The core consideration in the conceptualization of such a massive programme must be the improvement of living conditions all Thika residents with minimal displacement of the already existing residents. Thus emphasis must be given to the prevailing socio-economic status of the residents including affordability of improved housing, infrastructure constraints and other social constraints.

What is your Take on this whole debate?
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