Everybody requires shelter. It is a physiological need like food, air and water, and counts in one’s very survival so much that affordability is a matter notwithstanding.
The other day we discussed informal shelter. Slum may not fit the description of conventional housing because it may lack doors, windows and flush toilet, but the reality is that for many Kenyans, that’s what they call home.
Unlike food, housing costs more. In Australia, the National Affordable Housing Summit Group developed a definition of affordable housing as that which is “reasonably adequate in standard and location for lower- or middle-income households and does not cost so much that a household is unlikely to be able to meet other basic needs on a sustainable basis”.
In the UK, affordable housing includes “social rented and intermediate housing, provided to specified eligible households whose needs are not met by the market”.
In either nation, those categorised as being in need of housing are a tiny minority. In Kenya, housing supply caters for the middle-income segment and upwards. This is what is regarded as formal housing demand.
The corollary is that the middle-low, low, lower and non-income populations are not catered for by the formal market, especially the last lot. These segments do not seem to make the promise of a profit, and of course no one is in business to lose.
But considering these four segments are the largest and most needy, they are what should be priority for public housing. Such would be built, operated and owned by the State, only let at minimal rent to these populations.
That is the point of departure with UK and Australia, because in these two nations, the needy form a tiny minority of the population, while in the Kenya the poor make more than 53 per cent of the population.
If left to their devices, real estate markets will not cater for the four segments mentioned above and slums will continue to be shelter as a last resort for these populations.
Besides unavailability of land, levels of income, collateral and the existing building regulations do affect the housing supply and demand, further complicating matters for these neglected segments.
As we roll into the devolved form of Governance also, many civil servants will head down to counties and will require housing and offices. The presumption is that the county land inventories will identify suitable sites for housing development and that investors will jump at the chance. But despite the expected increase in demand for affordable housing in counties, will there be purchasing power?
The Constitution now requires the State and county governments to avail land to meet the right for shelter. As far as I know however, most of these presumed sites are on what used to be trust land but are now in private ownership. This is illegal in the first place, whether it has been given, stolen or allocated by local authorities. This land must however revert to the public, in whose trust the local authorities held, in order to revive land banks.